There's a new Tyrannosaurus rex lawsuit in western South Dakota.
Last July, Darwin and Patty Hauser, a ranching couple from outside Faith — near the Hell Creek Formation, a dinosaur hotbed home for 60 million years to the famous T. rex named Sue — sued a dinosaur excavator called In the Beginning Fossils based in rural Custer. The Hausers alleged In the Beginning sold a T. rex skeleton dug up with their permission to a Colorado company as a "prepared" skeleton, rather than an "unprepared" skeleton, which would give them a larger cut of the sale.
"The fossil was in substantially the same condition at the time of sale as it was in upon the removal from the Hauser Ranch and is therefore deemed not prepared," the complaint states.
Both sides agree a T. rex was found on the Hausers' land and Jared Hudson, president of In the Beginning, dug it up (with help), and sold it. They disagree on whether the landowners should get 50 percent or 60 percent of the proceeds.
The Hausers ask for declaratory relief, saying, "cleaning a portion of the Fossil and removing matrix from certain parts of the Fossil does not mean the Fossil is 'prepared.'"
So did Hudson just excavate the bones and drive off to sell them or did his company assemble and prepare the bones for sale? In a counterclaim, In the Beginning Fossils say that's exactly what they did.
"After removal of the fossil from the real property, ITBFI and his agents spent countless hours preparing, cleaning, and marketing the fossil for sale."
The counterclaim states preparation may include cleaning, restoration, and "mounting of the specimens."
Soon a judge may need to settle the dispute. After a year of filing claims and counterclaims, after a media-blackout stipulation, Darwin and Patty Hauser will be deposed on June 26 by the defendant's attorney, Greg Erlandson of Bangs McCullen Law Firm in Rapid City.
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What is known at this point is that the Hell Creek Formation, an old beach to a historic sea, is fertile ground for dinosaur predators.
"Hell Creek is a very productive deposit for dinosaur and contemporaneous non-dinosaur fossils," said Sally Y. Shelton, associate director of the Museum of Geology and Paleontology Research Laboratory at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.
In an email to the Journal Shelton said preparation depends on "many factors," such as the specimen's level of preservation and the surroundings — rock or soil?
"It also depends on what the desired end result is," Shelton said. Does the buyer want a museum specimen? That's not always the case as she said researchers will leave specimens in their "original orientation" in order to be accessible to later scholars.
It's also not disclosed in court documents what this T. rex sold for. In 2016, a T. rex skull was posted for $1.8 million on an Asian auction house. There actually aren't many T. rexes in the world. Shelton said around 50 have been found worldwide. In the purchase agreement for the February 2017 of the Perkins County T. rex, the Hausers and Hudson both contributed to an escrow fund of $450,000 to finance any legal dispute.
The T. rex's purchaser — noted in court documents as a Colorado company called Wizard Bear Holdings who agent is Charles Willhoit — is staying mum. Email and phone messages to an investment company listing Willhoit as president were not returned. Attorney for the Hausers, Quentin Riggins of Gunderson Palmer Nelson Ashmore law firm in Rapid City did not return request for an interview. Neither did Erlandson, representing In the Beginning.
It's unlikely this T. rex is as complete as Sue, still the best preserved lizard king to ever be discovered and who after a long legal battle ended up in the Chicago Field Museum. But if a ranch couple is fighting for 10 percent of the proceeds, it's pretty sure the dinosaur fetched a pretty penny.
After the June 26 deposition, attorneys may proceed with case, settle out-of-court or do more discovery, unearthing not more bones but facts about just how gussied up the T. rex was before the big sale.