"Farm Office Live" returns this summer as an opportunity for you to get the latest outlook and updates on ag law, farm management, ag economics, farm business analysis, and other related issues. Targeted to farmers and agri-business stakeholders, our specialists digest the latest news and issues and present it in an easy-to-understand format.
The live broadcast is presented monthly. In months where two shows are scheduled, one will be held in the morning and one in the evening. Each session is recorded and posted on the OSU Extension Farm Office YouTube channel for later viewing.
|July 23, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am||December 17, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am|
|August 27, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am||January 19, 2022||7:00 - 8:30 pm|
|September 23, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am||January 21, 2022||10:00 - 11:30 am|
|October 13, 2021||7:00 - 8:30 pm||Februrary 16, 2022||7:00 - 8:30 pm|
|October 15, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am||February 18, 2022||10:00 - 11:30 am|
|November 17, 2021||7:00 - 8:30 pm||March 16, 2022||7:00 - 8:30 pm|
|November 19, 2021||10:00 - 11:30 am||March 18, 2022||10:00 - 11:30 am|
|December 15, 2021||7:00 - 8:30 pm||April 20, 2022||7:00 - 8:30 pm|
Topics we will discuss in upcoming webinars include:
- Coronavirus Food Assitance Program (CFAP)
- Legislative Proposals and Accompanying Tax Provisions
- Outlook on Crop Input Costs and Profit Margins
- Outlook on Cropland Values and Cash Rents
- Tax Issues That May Impact Farm Businesses
- Legal Trends
- Legislative Updates
- Farm Business Management and Analysis
- Farm Succession & Estate Planning
To register or to view a previous "Farm Office Live," please visit https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive. You will receive a reminder with your personal link to join each month.
The Farm Office is a one-stop shop for navigating the legal and economic challenges of agricultural production. For more information visit https://farmoffice.osu.edu or contact Julie Strawser at email@example.com or call 614.292.2433
Tags: Farm Office Live, farm management, Farm Succession, Estate Planning, Farm Business, Dairy Production, Farm Tax, Agricultural Law, Resource Law
Perhaps it’s an overused phrase but “sometimes you win, sometimes you lose” has relevance to agriculture lately. It’s a fitting response to several new decisions from the federal courts. Some of the decisions align with positions advocated by agricultural interests but others do not. We wrote last week about a case in the “sometimes you lose” category--the Court’s ruling in favor of small refineries claiming exemptions from renewable fuels mandates. Several members of Congress have already proposed legislation that would nullify the Court’s decision in that case. A second loss came with a challenge to California’s animal welfare standards and a third with the court striking down a waiver of E15 ethanol blends. The sole win came with a challenge to a California statute allowing union organizing activities on private property. Here’s a summary.
California Proposition 12 – North American Meat Institute v. Bonta
The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not grant certiorari and review a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ on California Proposition 12. Voters approved Proposition 12, the “Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act,” in 2018. The Act establishes housing standards for egg-laying hens, breeding hogs and veal calves and prohibits the confinement of animals in spaces that don’t meet the standards. Business owners and operators in California may not sell meat or egg products from animals that are not confined according to the standards. Standards for calves (43 square feet) and egg laying hens (1 square foot) became effective in 2020 while standards for breeding pigs and their offspring (24 square feet) and cage-free provisions for egg laying hens are to be effective beginning January 1, 2022.
The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) sought a preliminary injunction against Proposition 12 in 2019, arguing that it violates the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which grants only Congress the authority to regulate commerce among the states. NAMI claimed that the Act establishes a “protectionist trade barrier” that would protect California producers from out-of-state competition and control conduct outside of its state borders.
Both the federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with NAMI. The appellate court affirmed the District Court’s conclusions that Proposition 12 is not discriminatory on its face and does not have a discriminatory purpose or effect, as there was no evidence that the state had a protectionist intent and the Act treats in-state and out-of-state producers the same. Nor does the Act try to directly regulate out-of-state conduct or impose burdens on out-of-state producers, but instead only precludes sale of meats resulting from certain practices, the courts concluded. The federal government and 20 states joined NAMI in a request for a rehearing of the case by the full panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit but were unsuccessful.
NAMI turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking a review of the case on the basis that the Ninth Circuit’s decision conflicts with holdings by other appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the request for review on June 28, offering no explanation for its decision. The legal challenges to Proposition 12 do not end with that denial, however. A separate case filed by the National Pork Producers Association and American Farm Bureau Federation is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It also argues that Proposition 12 negatively impacts interstate commerce and will increase consumer costs for pork and that the federal district court judge who dismissed the case failed to examine the practical effects the law would have on producers. The Ninth Circuit heard the appeal in April, so we may see a decision in the next few months.
E15 waiver: American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers v. EPA
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held in favor of a claim by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) challenging a Trump Administration rule in 2019 that waived restrictions on summer sales of E15 due to higher fuel volatility in summer temperatures. The decision could mean that current sales of E15 must end unless further legal challenges follow.
The 2019 Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) waiver for E15 allowed fuel stations to sell 15% ethanol blends during the summer months rather than limiting those sales to 10% ethanol, a move that would increase ethanol sales. As expected, the oil and gas refining industry responded to the waiver issuance with a legal challenge, arguing that the administration lacked the authority to grant the RVP waiver for fuels over 10% ethanol.
The volatility waiver authority derives from the Clean Air Act, which establishes when the EPA may alter volatility limits through the waiver process and specifically allows the EPA to grant an ethanol waiver for “fuel blends containing gasoline and 10 percent denatured anhydrous ethanol” in Section 745(h)(4). The EPA relied upon the ethanol waiver language in the Clean Air Act back in 1992 to waive volatility standards for E10. But whether the EPA could use the Clean Air Act language to issue a waiver for ethanol beyond 10 percent is the question at the heart of the dispute. The EPA and intervenors in the case representing biofuel interests claimed the language was ambiguous enough to allow the EPA to grant waivers for fuel with 10% ethanol or more.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that “the text, structure, and legislative history” of the Clean Air Act do not allow EPA to extend a waiver to E15. The court found the statutory language straightforward, lacking any modifiers that would establish a range of ethanol blends rather than the 10 percent stated in the statute. Legislative actions at the time also supported an interpretation that the 10 percent language addressed E10 and not ethanol blends in excess of 10 percent.
The next critical question for this case is what the Biden Administration EPA will do with case and the E15 waiver. A request for further review of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion is possible. Or perhaps the EPA will pursue a legislative fix that increases the statutory reference from 10 percent to 15 percent ethanol. And it’s always possible that no further action will occur and E15 summer sales will no longer be an option.
Union organizer access as a taking – Cedar Point Nursery v Hassid
In the “win” column for agricultural employers is a case that asks whether a state regulation granting access to private property for union activities is a “taking” of property under the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court’s answer to the question is “yes,” although three of the Justices dissented from the majority opinion.
A regulation formed under the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975 gives labor organizations a “right to take access” to an agricultural employer’s property “for the purpose of meeting and talking with employees and soliciting their support.” The regulation requires agricultural employers to allow union organizers to be on the property up to three hours per day and four 30-day periods per year but cannot be “disruptive” and must provide written notice to employers. An employer who interferes with the organizers can be subject to sanctions.
After representatives from United Farm Workers accessed Cedar Point Nursery and engaged in disruptive conduct and sought to access Fowler Packing Company, both occasions without notice to the employers, the companies filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction from the federal District Court. They argued that the regulation was a physical taking of their properties because it granted an easement to the union organizers, which required compensation under the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments of U.S. Constitution.
The District Court did not grant the injunction and held that the regulation is not a physical taking because it doesn’t allow the public a permanent and continuous right of access to the property for any reason. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision, agreeing that it wasn’t a physical taking, but a strong dissent argued that the union activities were a physical occupation and taking of property. The agricultural companies sought but were denied a hearing before all of the Ninth Circuit judges, leading to a request for review granted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The majority of the Justices concluded that the California regulation is a physical taking because it grants union organizers a right to invade an agricultural employer’s property. Particularly important to the majority was the regulation’s removal of an owner’s right to exclude people from their private property, which is a “fundamental element” of property rights according to the Court. The Court rejected the argument that the access must be continuous and permanent to be a physical taking and dispensed with claims that the holding could endanger regulations that allow government entries onto private land. The Court’s holding was clear: the access regulation amounts to simple appropriation of private property.
Read the court opinions in these three cases here:
Poison hemlock and Canada thistle are making unwelcome appearances across Ohio, and that raises the need to talk about Ohio’s noxious weeds law. The law provides mechanisms for dealing with noxious weeds—those weeds that can cause harm to humans, animals, and ecosystems. Location matters when we talk about noxious weeds. That’s because Ohio law provides different procedures for dealing with noxious weeds depending upon where we find the weeds. The law addresses the weeds on Ohio's noxious weeds list in these four locations:
- Along roadways and railroads
- Along partition fence rows
- On private land beyond the fence row
- On park lands
Along roadways and railroads. The first window just closed for mandatory mowing of noxious weeds along county and township roads. Ohio law requires counties, townships, and municipalities to destroy all noxious weeds, brush, briers, burrs, and vines growing along roads and streets. There are two mandated time windows for doing so: between June 1 and 20 and between August 1 and 20. If necessary, a cutting must also occur between September 1 and 20, or at any other time when necessary to prevent or eliminate a safety hazard. Railroad and toll road operators have the same legal duty, and if they fail to do so, a township may cause the removal and bring a civil action to recover for removal costs.
Along partition fence rows. Landowners in unincorporated areas of the state have a duty to cut or destroy noxious weeds and brush within four feet of a partition fence, and the law allows a neighbor to request a clearing of the fence row if a landowner hasn’t done so. If a landowner doesn’t clear the fence row within ten days of receiving a request to clear from the neighbor, the neighbor may present a complaint to the township trustees. The trustees must visit the property and determine whether there is a need to remove noxious weeds and if so, may order the removal and charge removal costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.
On private land beyond the fence row. A written notice to the township trustees that noxious weeds are growing on private land beyond the fence row will trigger another township trustee process. The trustees must notify the landowner to destroy the weeds or show why there is no reason to do so. If the landowner doesn’t comply within five days of receiving the notice, the trustees may arrange for destruction of the weeds. The township may assess the costs against the landowner’s property tax bill.
On park lands. If the township receives notice that noxious weeds are growing on park land or land owned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the trustees must notify the OSU Extension Educator in the county. Within five days, the Educator must meet with a representative of the ODNR or park land, consider ways to deal with the noxious weed issue, and share findings and recommendations with the trustees.
Even with noxious laws in place, we recommend talking before taking legal action. If you’re worried about a noxious weed problem in your area, have a talk with the responsible party first. Maybe the party isn’t aware of the noxious weeds, will take steps to address the problem, or has already done so. But if talking doesn’t work, Ohio law offers a way to ensure removal of the noxious weeds before they become a bigger problem.
We explain the noxious weed laws in more detail in our law bulletin, Ohio’s Noxious Weed Laws. We’ve also recently illustrated the procedures in a new law bulletin, Legal Procedures for Dealing with Noxious Weeds in Ohio’s Rural Areas. Also see the OSU Agronomy Team’s recent article about poison hemlock in the latest edition of C.O.R.N, available through this link.
It’s that time of year again. A time full of excitement and hope. Kids and students are eagerly waiting for that final bell to ring, releasing them into weeks of freedom and fun. Some are celebrating with their closest loved ones as they prepare to embark on their next journey. And lastly, some parents have circled a certain fall date for when things return back to normal. It is finally nice to see hope, joy, and excitement return to our lives. These past 18 months have been a real wake-up call, and by no means is it over, but the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. This past week has also been abuzz with interesting agricultural and resource issues. This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you some interesting lawsuits, reports, and initiatives from across the country affecting agriculture and the environment.
USDA expands aquaculture disaster assistance. The USDA has announced a policy change that makes food fish and other aquatic species eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP). Previously, only losses of farm-raised game and bait fish were eligible under ELAP. Under the program, eligible producers can receive financial assistance for losses due to disease and certain severe weather events. To be eligible, losses must have occurred on or after January 1, 2021. The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is waiving the requirement to file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days for farm-raised fish and other aquatic species death losses that occurred prior to June 1, 2021. Producers must still provide records to document any eligible losses. The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is January 31, 2022. The USDA also announced that it will purchase up to $159.4 million in domestically produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to domestic food assistance programs in order to address disruptions in the food production and supply chains resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oregon ballot initiative seeks to redefine animal cruelty. Supporters of Oregon Initiative Petition 13 (“IP13”) have succeeded in meeting their first requirement to putting their proposed law on the 2022 Oregon ballot. IP13 seeks to amend the definition of what constitutes animal cruelty and who can be punished. Oregon, like many other states, does have an animal cruelty law that prohibits individuals from unnecessarily harming animals. Additionally, Oregon’s current law specifically exempts certain practices from being assumed to be animal abuse (activities like farming, breeding livestock, hunting, fishing, wildlife management practices, rodeos, slaughter, and scientific or agricultural research). However, IP13 seeks to remove all the above listed exemptions and would make it a crime to engage in those types of activities. IP13 only exempts individuals that harm an animal because the animal posed an immediate risk of danger and veterinarians. Supporters of IP13 claim that no one should be above the law and should be held accountable for any and all animal abuse and neglect. Opponents of IP13 fear that if the initiative passes and becomes law, Oregon’s animal agriculture industry will be destroyed. Opponents argue that IP13 makes common farming practices like breeding and slaughtering livestock for food, illegal. If supporters of IP13 continue to collect signatures and meet the required thresholds, IP13 will be voted on by the citizens of Oregon in 2022.
Indiana passes law to purchase locally grown food from youth agricultural education programs. Indiana’s governor signed a bill into law that allows schools to purchase up to $7,500 worth of food from youth agricultural education programs. The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Steve Davisson, was born after local Indiana FFA students were raising hogs and growing hydroponic lettuce to sell to their school cafeteria but hit a roadblock because of state laws and requirements. House Bill 1119 provides an avenue for local youth agricultural programs to sell to their respective school districts and not compete against wholesale distributors. Rep. Davisson hopes the program will expand into other Indiana schools to give students practical agricultural experience and potentially launch students into a career in agriculture.
Federal lawsuit about USDA’s RFID tags for cattle dismissed. Last month we reported that farmers and ranchers from South Dakota and Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the USDA and its subagency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”), for improperly using advisory committees to create new rules in violation of federal law. Well, last week a Wyoming federal court dismissed the complaint against the USDA and APHIS. The court concluded that APHIS did not “establish” the Cattle Traceability Working Group (“CTWG”) or the Producer Traceability Council (“PTC”) as advisory councils to create the RFID tag rules. The court also found that the advisory groups were completely private and consisted of cattle industry representatives, showing that APHIS did not “establish” these advisory groups. Additionally, the court held that APHIS did not “utilize” or control the actions of the advisory groups. The court reasoned that the advisory groups and APHIS were working on parallel tracks to achieve the same goal, preventing and tracing animal disease for livestock moving across state lines, and that APHIS only provided input to the advisory groups. The court held that the USDA and APHIS were not in violation of federal law because the advisory groups were not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act. As it stands, the USDA and APHIS have rescinded their July 2020 notice that RFID tags would be required for cattle crossing state lines. However, attorneys and interest groups representing the farmers and ranchers in the Wyoming case still fear that APHIS and the USDA will use the information provided by these advisory groups to implement an “unlawful mandate” in the future.
South Dakota farmer suing the USDA over a mud puddle? On May 05, 2021, Arlen and Cindy Foster filed a federal lawsuit in South Dakota claiming that the USDA has improperly identified a mud puddle in the middle of their farm field as a federally protected wetland and that the Swampbuster Act violates the U.S. Constitution. Under the Swampbuster Act, farmers that receive USDA benefits cannot produce crops on or around a federally protected wetland or they risk losing all federal agriculture benefits. The Fosters contend that Arlen’s father planted a tree belt in 1936 to help prevent soil erosion which is now causing snow to accumulate under the tree belt producing a puddle in the field when the snow melts. The Fosters argue that this makes the puddle in their field an unregulated “artificial wetland” and is not subject to the Swampbuster Act or the USDA’s control. Additionally, the Fosters claim that the Swampbuster Act violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that the federal government cannot regulate the Fosters’ alleged wetland. The Fosters reason that if their puddle should be considered a wetland, any regulation of that wetland should come from the state of South Dakota, not the federal government.
Hawai’i man fined over $600,000 for pouring poison into Paahe’ehe’e Stream. Hawai’i’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (“BLNR”) fined a Hilo resident $633,840 for pouring poison into a North Hilo stream and causing the death of an estimated 6,250 Tahitian prawns. North Hilo has a history of individuals using poison to harvest Tahitian prawn. DLNR, in conjunction with other natural resource protection entities, are continuously concerned with the impact that the poison will have on the local wildlife and environment. The $633,840 fine is the largest in BLNR history and advocates hope that it is a step in the right direction to let illegal fishers know that Hawai’i is committed to prosecuting individuals that engage in harmful environmental practices to the full extent of the law in order to protect Hawai’i’s natural resources.
Montana man sentenced to prison for cattle theft. A ranch manager has been sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay back $451,000 after pleading guilty to wire fraud and to selling cattle that he did not own. The Montana man was a ranch manager at Hayes Ranch in Wilsall, Montana from 2008 to 2017 and also started his own cattle company in 2015. When the owners of Hayes Ranch were out of town, the ranch manager began stealing cattle from his employer and selling them as if they were his own. The ranch manager was ordered to repay his former employer $241,000 for the stolen cattle. Additionally, the ranch manager was ordered to pay Northwest Farm Credit Services over $200,000 for selling cattle that he pledged as collateral for loans obtained from the lender.
The return of the U.S. Jaguar? Environmental groups and scientists recently published a paper urging U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest. Advocates argue that reintroducing jaguars to the region is essential to species conservation and restoration of the ecosystem. In July 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a jaguar recovery plan as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. While the recovery plan does not call for the reintroduction of jaguars into the Southwest region of the U.S., federal officials have been increasingly focused on sustaining habitat, eliminating poaching, and improving public acceptance for jaguars that naturally make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border. The southwest region of the U.S. makes up 1% of the jaguar’s historic range but is suitable for sustaining the big cat. Jaguar sightings have been reported in the area, although very rarely. Jaguar advocates hope that potential opposition to the reintroduction of jaguars, specifically from ranchers and rural residents, can be eased by implementing compensation programs focused on things like increased livestock deaths.
We learn early in law school that it’s an uphill battle when challenging agency actions in court, as the law typically grants agencies discretion to apply expertise and professional judgment when making decisions. A landowner in Clark County just learned this lesson. The landowner appealed the Ohio tax commissioner’s adoption of the 2016 Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) table, but the Ohio Supreme Court found no showing of an abuse of discretion by the agency.
The case arose from the CAUV valuation update in 2016 of William Johnson’s land in Clark County. In setting the CAUV values, the county auditor consulted the unit-value table adopted by the tax commissioner. The unit-value table lists soil types and ratings of each soil type along with per-acre values for each soil type. The tax commissioner annually adopts the table using a potential-income approach, as required by Ohio law, which determines typical net income from agricultural products for each type of soil, assuming typical management, yields, and cropping and land use patterns. A county auditor refers to the unit-value table when determining CAUV farmland values, applying the per-acre values from the table to the soil types on a parcel.
Johnson claimed that his CAUV value was too high because the 2016 unit-value table adopted by the tax commissioner did not list separate values for drained and undrained soils on his land. The table does list differing values for Adrian, Carlisle and Linwood soils—one value for drained soils and one value for undrained soils. However, the table lists just one value for all Crosby, Kokomo, and Patton soil types, the soils contained on the Johnson’s parcel. Johnson argued that the tax commissioner erred by adopting the unit-value table without establishing separate values for drained and undrained Crosby, Kokomo, and Patton soil types.
The Supreme Court explained that Johnson’s challenge required showing that the tax commissioner committed an “abuse of discretion” in adopting the unit-value table. Two important principles apply to the “abuse of discretion” standard, the first being that the court will not substitute its judgment for the agency’s judgment unless the agency acted with an unreasonable, arbitrary, or unconscionable attitude. The court also presumes that an agency’s decision is carried out in good faith and with sound judgment, unless there is proof to the contrary.
According to Johnson, the tax commissioner abused his discretion in several ways: by departing from the USDA’s taxonomy of soils, excluding data for land lacking artificial drainage, and not listing all soils with drained and undrained variations. The court found no abuse of discretion, however, and no evidence to support the Johnson’s claims. The court pointed out that the commissioner, as required by law, consulted with the “agricultural advisory committee” in preparing the table and referred to both Ohio State University’s Bulletin 685 and updates to the USDA taxonomy for guidance on soil types. Explaining that the CAUV potential-income approach required the commissioner to determine “typical” management practices, the court stated that the commissioner was justified in not establishing a separate value for the Johnson’s “atypical practice” of not installing artificial drainage for the specific soils on his property. Considering investments required for artificial drainage for some soil types but not for others doesn’t prove an abuse of discretion, the court stated.
The court’s conclusion reiterates the lesson on the difficulty of challenging an agency decision:
“To repeat: the differential treatment of soil types reflects the exercise of judgment by the commissioner, which we presume to be sound. . . The record does not disclose the rationale for every consideration underlying the unit-value table, but it was not the commissioner’s burden to demonstrate the reasonableness of the CAUV journal entry—it was Johnson’s burden to show an arbitrary or unconscionable attitude on the part of the commissioner. He has not done so.”
Ohio landowners have seen it before: when the snow flies, so do the snowmobilers. Landowners are forced to watch snowmobilers crossing their fields and driveways and cutting through woods and homesteads, without permission and apparently without concern for property damage. Two common questions from landowners arise at this time: what can I do about them, and will I be liable if there’s an accident? While the answers aren’t always satisfactory to landowners, several Ohio laws try to address these two questions.
What can you do about snowmobilers on your land?
One possibility for dealing with unwanted snowmobilers is to call local law enforcement. That might not get the results you’d like, given the difficulty of identifying and catching snowmobilers and limited law enforcement resources in rural areas. Trail cameras, pictures, or other ways of verifying the sleds and riders might be helpful. Look for the registration decal on the front of the sled, which allows tracking it to its owner. Despite these challenges, there are two sections of Ohio law that provide for criminal actions against trespassing snowmobilers if you can apprehend them:
- Ohio criminal trespass laws make it a fourth degree misdemeanor to knowingly or recklessly be on another’s land without permission or to fail to leave after seeing “no trespass” or similar signs of restricted access or being notified by an owner. Committing this type of trespass while on a snowmobile doubles the fine to up to $500, and up to 30 days in jail is also possible. The court could also award damages for harm to the landowner victim of the criminal trespass. A second offense can result in impoundment of the title to the snowmobile.
- Ohio motor vehicle laws also address snowmobilers specifically. The law prohibits a snowmobiler from operating on any private property or in a nursery or planting area without the permission of the landowner or tenant of the property. The penalty for doing so is a fine of $50 to $500 and potential jail time of three to 30 days. Note that snowmobilers are also not allowed to operate on state highways, railroad tracks and railroad rights of way, and anywhere after sunset without required lighting. The law does allow snowmobilers to drive on berms and shoulders of roads, across highways if done safely, and on county and township roads if permitted to do so by the county or township.
Another potential legal strategy is to bring a civil action against trespassing snowmobilers. Again, that requires knowing who they are and proving that they were on your property. A few laws that could apply are:
- Ohio’s law on civil trespass is a court made law, and it requires showing that a person intentionally entered another’s land without permission and caused harm to the land. If a snowmobiler harmed the property while trespassing, this type of claim allows a landowner to seek compensation for that harm. Examples of harm that might arise include damaged fences, culverts, drives, and crops.
- If the snowmobiler behaved recklessly and caused damage, another law comes into play. Ohio law prohibits a person from recklessly destroying or injuring vegetation on another’s land, which includes crops, trees, saplings, vines, and bushes. “Recklessly” means with heedless indifference to the consequences of an act. To punish the reckless behavior, the law awards compensation to the landowner for three times the value of the destroyed vegetation. This law can be particularly helpful when the ground is not frozen and snowmobiling damages the crop beneath the snow.
Other than legal action, a few management practices might be helpful in deterring snowmobilers. We’ve removed many of the old fences that used to fence in our farms, but fencing is an obvious although costly solution. If you put up a fence, it should be noticeable and not just a thin wire or two. Consider flagging the fence with neon markers. Beyond fences, other actions can help mark property boundaries clearly. No trespassing signs serve this purpose, but make sure they are easy to see when there’s snow, are visible from a distance, and are placed where snowmobilers might enter the property. You may have other ways to restrict access to the area where snowmobilers enter, but be aware that you could be liable if you set up a “trap” or dangerous situation that harms a snowmobiler, discussed in the next section.
Will you be liable if there’s a snowmobile accident on your land?
Attorneys often prefer to answer a question with “it depends” but in this case, we could add “but probably not.” Generally, Ohio law doesn’t favor making a landowner liable for harm that a trespasser suffers while trespassing. But there are a few exceptions to the general rule:
- One exception is if the landowner commits a willful, wanton, or reckless act that harms a trespasser. Shooting at a snowmobiler is a good example, as is placing a single strand of barbed wire or thin wire across a drive or opening to “stop” snowmobilers. Landowners could be liable for harm resulting from these and similar intentional acts that could harm a snowmobiler.
- Another exception to non-liability is if a landowner knows or should know that a trespasser is in a “position of peril” and fails to take ordinary care to prevent harm from the perilous situation. For example, if you know there’s a big hole in the middle of the field where snowmobilers always cross and you don’t mark it off so the snowmobilers can see it, you might be failing to protect them from a “position of peril.” Remember, the landowner must be aware of the perilous situation and must fail to take any protective measures for this exception to apply. Landowners don’t like knowing they can be liable to trespassers in such a situation, but the law expects us to protect people from harms we know of even if those people are trespassing.
The good news is that Ohio has a law that can make landowners completely immune from any liability for snowmobilers. The Recreational User Statute applies to non-residential premises like farms and parks, and states that the owner or occupant of the premises has no duty to keep a “recreational user” safe and no liability for injuries caused to or by recreational users. The catch, though, is that a recreational user is someone who has “permission” to be engaging in a recreational use on the property and is not paying for that use, unless the payment is through a leasing situation.
The practical outcome of the Recreational User Statute is that it protects landowners only if the snowmobilers have permission to be snowmobiling on the property. What if the snowmobilers never came to you for permission, or you don’t even know who they are in order to go and give them permission? One court in Ohio dealt with this situation, and concluded that a landowner who “acquiesces” to recreational users and does not tell them to leave is in effect granting permission. In that case, a snowmobiler who had snowmobiled across a farm for years without ever asking permission sued the landowners after wrecking in an area where the landowners had installed new drain tiles. Because the landowners had never told the snowmobiler to leave the property, the court held that the landowners had indeed granted permission. If other courts follow this reasoning, landowners have liability protection under the Recreational User Statute if they allow snowmobilers to use the property by way of not telling them to leave.
What solutions are we missing in Ohio?
There currently isn’t a perfect legal solution to the snowmobile problems many landowners are facing this winter. Owners can secure and mark their properties, call the sheriff, file a legal action, and hope the Recreational User Statute protects them from liability. But understandably, landowners may still get agitated and feel hopeless when they hear the snowmobiles coming.
Are there solutions that could better address landowner concerns about snowmobilers? After reviewing how other states have tackled snowmobile problems, it appears that our trespass laws are quite similar to other states. Some states have a "purple paint" law that allows landowners to mark their boundaries with purple paint marks on trees and posts, making it easier to identify the boundaries. Ohio has tried but failed to pass a purple paint law.
A more noticeable difference between Ohio and other states is that Ohio has only 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, according to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations. Compare that to 20,000 miles in Minnesota; 6,500 miles in Michigan; 6,000 miles in Pennsylvania and 2,500 in Illinois. Could the lack of available snowmobile trails be a contributor to our problem in Ohio?
Some of the trails in other states are on public lands while others are a mix of public and private lands. Several states work directly with private landowners to enhance their trail systems. In Indiana, local snowmobile clubs maintain and monitor 200 miles of groomed trails that the state leases from private landowners. Minnesota’s United Snowmobilers Association works with landowners who allow snowmobile trails on their property through a “Landowner Trail Permit” system. Local snowmobile clubs maintain the trails and provide signage, and only registered snowmobilers may use the trails. State law protects the landowners from liability for trail use.
Before the snow flies next year, maybe we can develop these and other new ideas to address the old problem of snowmobile trespassing in Ohio.
The Ohio General Assembly is off and running in its new session. Many bills that affect agriculture in Ohio are already on the move. Here’s a summary of those that are gaining the most momentum or attention.
Tax Conformity Bill – S.B. 18 and H.B. 48. The Senate has already passed its version of this bill, which conforms our state tax code with recent changes to the Internal Revenue Code made in the latest COVID-19 stimulus provisions of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Both the Senate and the House will also exempt forgiven Paycheck Protection Program second-draw loan proceeds from the Commercial Activity Tax. The Senate version additionally exempts Bureau of Workers Compensation dividend rebates from the Commercial Activity Tax beginning in 2020, but the House bill does not. Both bills include “emergency” language that would make the provisions effective in time for 2020 tax returns.
Beginning farmers tax credits – H.B. 95. A slightly different version of this bill is returning after not passing in the last legislative session. The bi-partisan bill aims to assist beginning farmers through several temporary income tax credits:
- Businesses that sell or rent agricultural assets such as land, animals, facilities or equipment to certified beginning farmers can receive a 5% income tax credit for sales, a 10% of gross rental income credit for cash rents, and 15% of gross rental income for share rents.
- Certified beginning farmers can receive an income tax credit equal to the cost of participating in a certified financial management program.
Beginning farmers, among other requirements, are those in or seeking entry into farming in Ohio within the last ten years who are not a partner, member or shareholder with the owner of the agricultural assets and who have a net worth of less than $800,000 in 2021, which adjusts for inflation in subsequent years. Beginning farmers must be certified by the Ohio Department of Agriculture or a land grant institution. The House Agriculture and Conservation Committee will discuss the bill at its meeting on February 16.
Wind and solar facilities – S.B. 52. In addition to revising setback and safety specifications for wind turbines, this proposal would amend Ohio township zoning law to establish a referendum process for large wind and solar facility certificates. The bill would require a person applying for a certificate for a large wind or solar facility to notify the township trustees and share details of the proposed facility. That notification sets up opportunities for the township trustees or residents of the township to object to the application and submit the proposed application to a vote of township residents. A certificate would not take effect unless approved by a majority of the voters. A first hearing on S.B. 52 will be held on Tuesday, February 16 before the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
Grants for broadband services – H.B. 2 and S.B. 8. The Senate passed its version of this bill last week, which sets up a $20 million competitive grant program for broadband providers to extend broadband services throughout the state. The proposal would also allow broadband providers to use electric cooperative easements and poles, subject to procedures and restrictions. The bill had its second hearing before the House Finance Committee last week.
Eminent domain – H.B. 63. Based on a similar bill that didn’t pass last session, this bill changes eminent domain law in regard to property taken for the use of recreational trails, which include public trails used for hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, ski touring, canoeing and other non-motorized recreational travel. H.B. 63 would allow a landowner to submit a written request asking a municipality or township to veto the use of eminent domain for a recreational trail within its borders. The bill would also allow a landowner to object to a use of eminent domain for any purpose at any time prior to a court order for the taking, rather than limiting that time period to ten days as in current law. The bill had its first hearing before the House Civil Justice Committee last week.
Minimum wage increases. S. B. 51 and H.B. 69. Bills on each side of the General Assembly propose gradually increasing the state minimum wage to $15, but have different paths for reaching that amount. S.B. 51 proposes increasing the wage to $12/hour in 2022, followed by $1/hour increases each year and reaching $15 by 2025, which is when a federal bill proposes to establish the $15 minimum wage. H.B. 69 begins at $10/hour in 2022 with $1/hour increases annually, reaching $15 in 2027. S.B. 51 was referred last week to the Workforce and Higher Education Committee and H.B. 69 was referred to the Commerce and Labor Committee.
In our final part of our blog series analyzing the Ohio Supreme Court's recent decisions on mineral rights, we analyze the Court's decision in West v. Bode regarding the relationship between the Dormant Mineral Act and Ohio’s Marketable Title Act.
West v. Bode
Timeline of Events:
1902: George and Charlotte Parks sold 1/2 of the royalty interest in the oil and gas under their 66 acres of land located in Monroe County (the “severed royalty interest”) to C.J. Bode and George Nally; the transfer was recorded.
1916: Bode and Nally transferred the severed royalty interest to E.J. Wichterman, Clara Thompson, and M.M. Mann; the transfer was recorded.
1929: Parks transferred to Lettie West the 66 acres, but retained their 1/2 royalty interest in the oil and gas under the property and mentioned the severed royalty interest; the transfer was recorded.
1959: The surface land was transferred to George West; the transfer was recorded but did not mention the severed royalty interest (the “root title”).
1996: George West transferred property to Wayne West; the transfer was recorded but did not mention the severed royalty interest.
2002: Wayne West transferred a portion of the 66 acres to Rusty West; the transfer was recorded but did not mention the severed royalty interest.
Wayne and Rusty West (the “Wests”) filed an action in Monroe County Court of Common Pleas asking for a declaratory judgment that Ohio’s Marketable Title Act extinguished the severed royalty interest, and that the severed royalty interest had vested in the Wests. The remaining interested parties filed a counterclaim arguing they were owners of a portion of the severed royalty interest (the “interested parties”).
The interested parties claimed that the Wests failed to state a valid claim under the Marketable Title Act because the more specific provisions of Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act displace the general provisions of the Marketable Title Act. The Wests argued that since neither the transfer from Lettie West to George West nor any recorded document since mentioned the severed royalty interest, the severed mineral interest vested back to the Wests under Ohio’s Marketable Title Act.
The Monroe County Court of Common Pleas agreed with the interested parties and declared them owners of the severed royalty interest. The Seventh District Court of Appeals reversed and asked the Common Pleas Court to adjudicate the case under the Marketable Title Act. The interested parties then appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Does the Dormant Mineral Act Supersede the Marketable Title Act?
The Ohio Supreme Court was tasked with determining whether Ohio’s Marketable Title Act applies to severed interests in oil and gas because of the enactment of the newer Dormant Mineral Act.
The Dormant Mineral Act (R.C. §5301.56) is part of a series of laws known as the Ohio Marketable Title Act (§R.C. 5301.47 et seq.) Under Ohio law, courts should interpret potentially conflicting statutes in a way that gives effect to both laws. However, if there is an irreconcilable conflict between two laws, a more specific law will prevail over a more general one. Therefore, the Ohio Supreme Court determined that the issue in this case was whether there existed an irreconcilable conflict between the Marketable Title Act and the Dormant Mineral Act.
First, the Court looked at the intent of each act. The Court found that the Ohio General Assembly enacted the Marketable Title Act to extinguish interests and claims in land that existed prior to the root title so as to simplify and facilitate land transactions by allowing individuals to rely on a record chain of title. Similarly, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the Ohio Legislature enacted the Dormant Mineral Act to provide a method to terminate dormant mineral interests and reunify the abandoned mineral interest with the surface interests in order to promote the use of the minerals under the land.
But how do the two operate together? The Ohio Supreme Court analyzed that under the 1961 Marketable Title Act, property interests are extinguished after 40 years from the effective date of the “root title” unless some saving event has occurred. Once an interest has been extinguished under the Marketable Title act, it cannot be revived. An event that would save an interest from being extinguished under the Marketable Title Act include: (1) the interest being identified in the documents that form the record chain of title; (2) the interest holder recording a notice claiming the interest; or (3) the interest arose out of a transaction that was recorded subsequent to the effective date of the root title.
The Court also explained that the Dormant Mineral Act was enacted in 1989 (and amended in 2006) to supplement the Marketable Title Act. In order for mineral interests to be deemed abandoned the surface landowner must either send notice to holders of the mineral interest or publish the notice if the holders cannot be located. If a holder does not respond, a surface landowner can file with the county recorder an affidavit showing that notice was sent and published, and no saving event occurred within the 20 years prior to the notice. A saving event under the Dormant Minerals Act include: (1) existence of title transactions; (2) use of the minerals; (3) use of the interest for underground gas storage; (4) issuance of a permit to use the interest; (5) claims of preservation; and (6) issuance of separate tax parcel number for the interest.
The Ohio Supreme Court held that the Dormant Mineral Act operates differently than the Marketable Title Act thus no irreconcilable conflict exists. The Marketable Title Act extinguishes interests by operation of law, whereas the Dormant Mineral Act deems interests abandoned and vested in the owner of the surface. Essentially, the Court found that the two acts work in conjunction with one another, not against each other. The Court reasoned that the Dormant Mineral Act is not self-executing like the Marketable Title Act, but rather provides evidence that a surface owner may use in a quiet-title action to eliminate the abandoned mineral interest.
The Court stated that a surface owner may use the Dormant Mineral Act to reunify the surface and mineral interests prior to the 40-year time limit prescribed in the Marketable Title Act, thus making the Dormant Mineral Act a more abrupt way to reunify the two interest. This, the Court rationalized is why the Dormant Mineral Act works in parallel to the Marketable Title Act rather than against it. The Court found that the Dormant Mineral Act provides an additional mechanism to surface owners to reunify surface and mineral interests.
The Court ultimately held that a mineral interest holder’s interest may be extinguished by the Marketable Title Act or deemed abandoned by the Dormant Mineral Act, depending on the surrounding circumstances.
Takeaways from Part I and Part II
Make sure your interests are recorded! With any transaction, recording transfer of title (or mineral interests) can be crucial to protecting your assets. If you have any questions about whether your interests have been recorded, please contact a local attorney, it could be what saves your legacy.
Do the terms “abandoned mineral rights” mean anything to you? Do you currently own land that you don’t have the mineral rights to? Do you own mineral rights, but haven’t really done anything to make sure your rights are still protected?
Mineral rights are valuable asset in our personal portfolios that can allow us to build our legacy and provide for future generations. However, sometimes what we once thought as part of our legacy, is in fact now the legacy of another. The Ohio Supreme Court recently decided two cases dealing with abandoned mineral rights and the procedure in which a surface landowner can reunify the mineral rights with the surface rights.
This two-part blog series will first analyze the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion regarding the notice requirements under Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act and the second part will analyze how the Dormant Mineral Act and Ohio's Marketable Title Act work together.
Gerrity v. Chervenak
The Ohio Supreme Court addressed and clarified the notice requirements under the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, Ohio Revised Code §5301.56.
John Chervenak is a trustee of the Chervenak Family Trust (“Chervenak”) which owns approximately 108 acres in Guernsey County. The rights to the minerals under the Chervenak property were retained by T.D. Farwell, the individual who transferred the 108 acres to the Chervenak family.
In 2012, a title search for the Chervenak property identified Jane Richards, daughter of T.D. Farwell, as the owner of the mineral rights under the property. The records listed a Cleveland address for Ms. Richards. Unfortunately, Ms. Richards passed away in 1997. At the time of her passing, Ms. Richards was a resident of Florida and had one son, Timothy Gerrity.
In 2012, Chervenak sought to reunite the severed mineral interest with the surface estate interest pursuant to Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act. Chervenak recorded with the Guernsey County Recorder an affidavit of abandonment of the severed mineral interest. The affidavit stated that Chervenak sent notice by certified mail to Ms. Richards at her last known address – the Cleveland address – but the notice had been returned and marked undeliverable. The affidavit also stated that Ms. Richards’ heirs, devisees, executors, administrators, next of kin, and assigns had been served notice of the abandonment by publication in a Guernsey County newspaper.
In 2017, Gerrity filed an action in the Guernsey County Court of Common Pleas seeking to quiet title to the mineral rights under the Chervenak property and for a declaratory judgment that Gerrity was the exclusive owner of the mineral rights. Gerrity claimed that he was the rightful owner to the mineral rights under the Chervenak property as a result of the probate of his mother’s estate in Florida. The Guernsey county records, however, revealed no evidence of Ms. Richard’s death or of Gerrity’s inheritance of the mineral interest.
Further, Gerrity claimed that Chervenak did not comply with Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act in two ways: (1) Gerrity argued that under the Dormant Mineral Act Chervenak must identify all holders of the mineral interest and notify them by certified mail; and (2) Chervenak did not employ reasonable search methods to locate all holders of the mineral interest before serving notice by publication.
Both the Guernsey County Court of Common Pleas and the Fifth District Court of Appeals declared Chervenak the owner of the mineral rights under the Dormant Mineral Act. Gerrity then sought the Ohio Supreme Court’s review.
The Dormant Mineral Act
Under current Ohio law, unless a severed mineral interest is in coal or is coal related, held by a political body, or a savings event has occurred within the 20 preceding years, a mineral interest will be considered abandoned and vested in the owner of the surface lands, so long as the surface landowner complies with Ohio Revised Code §5301.56(E).
R.C. §5301.56(E) states:
Before a mineral interest becomes vested in the surface landowner, the landowner shall do both of the following:
- Serve notice by certified mail to each holder or each holder’s successors or assignees, at the last known address of each, of the landowner’s intent to declare the mineral interest abandoned. If service of the notice cannot be completed, then the landowner shall publish notice of the landowner’s intent to declare the mineral interest abandoned in a newspaper of general circulation in each county in which the land is located.
- 30 days after serving notice, the landowner must file an affidavit of abandonment in the County Recorder’s office in each county that the land is located in.
Gerrity claimed that under the Dormant Mineral Act, his mineral interest cannot be deemed abandoned and vested in Chervenak because under R.C. §5301.56(E)(1) Chervenak is required to identify Gerrity and serve him Chervenak’s notice of intent to declare the mineral rights abandoned. The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed. While the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that Gerrity was considered a “holder” under the Dormant Mineral Act, Chervenak was not required to identify every possible holder and serve them notice, especially holders that do not appear on public record.
The Ohio Supreme Court found that such a stringent requirement would undo the intent behind the Dormant Mineral Act. The Court analyzed the text of the Dormant Mineral Act and found that because the Ohio General Assembly allows for a surface landowner to publish its notice of intent to declare the mineral rights abandoned in §5301.56(E)(1), the surface landowner is not required to identify and serve notice to each and every potential mineral interest holder.
The Court reasoned that no surface owner, no matter how much effort put forth, will ever really be certain that he or she has identified every successor or assignee of every mineral interest owner who appears on public record. This is why, the Court articulated, that the General Assembly allows for publication of a landowner’s intent to declare the mineral rights abandoned, because there will be instances when a holder may be unidentifiable or unlocatable.
Second, Gerrity argued that Chervenak must employ reasonable search methods to identify and locate all mineral interest holders – which include not only searching public records but also internet searches and searches of genealogy databases before publishing the notice in a newspaper. The Court agreed that a surface landowner must use reasonable diligence to try and identify mineral interest holders but disagreed with Gerrity to the extent in which a surface owner must go in order to have exercised reasonable diligence. The Ohio Supreme Court found that determining whether or not a surface landowner has exercised reasonable diligence to identify mineral interest holders will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court found that Chervenak did exercise due diligence in trying to locate all holders. The Court determined that by searching through Guernsey County records and Cuyahoga County records (the county in which Cleveland is located), Chervenak fulfilled their due diligence requirement. The Court declined to impose a requirement that every surface landowner search the internet, especially due to the inconsistent reliability of such searches, or consult with any subscription-based service to identify a potential mineral interest holder. The Court held that a search of county property records and county court records will usually establish a baseline of due diligence by the surface landowner.
Ohio’s “petition ditch laws” are at last receiving a major revision. The Ohio General Assembly has passed H.B. 340, updating the laws that address the installation and maintenance of drainage works of improvement through the petition process. Some of Ohio’s oldest laws, the drainage laws play a critical role in maintaining surface water drainage on Ohio lands but were in serious need of updating.
An updating process began over seven years ago with the Ohio Drainage Law Task Force convened by the County Commissioners Association of Ohio (CCAO). CCAO charged the Task Force with the goals of clarifying ambiguous provisions in the law and embracing new technology and processes that would result in greater efficiencies, fewer misunderstandings and reduced legal costs for taxpayers. Task Force members included county commissioners, county engineers and staff, county auditors, Soil and Water Conservation District professionals, Ohio Farm Bureau staff, and Ohio State University's Agricultural & Resource Law Program and other OSU faculty. Rep. Bob Cupp sponsored the resulting H.B. 340, which received unanimous approval from both the House of Representatives and Senate.
Here are a few highlights of the legislation:
- Mirroring the timeframes, deadlines, notices, and hearings and appeals procedures for petitions filed with the county engineer and with the county soil and water conservation district.
- The use of technology may substitute for a physical view of a proposed drainage improvement site.
- The minimum width of sod or seeded strips will be ten feet rather than four feet; maximum width remains at fifteen feet.
- The entire amount of sod or seeded strips will be removed from the taxable valuation of property, rather than the current provision removing only land in excess of four feet.
- Factors to consider for petition approval are the same for SWCD board of supervisors and county engineers, and include costs versus benefits of the improvement, whether improvement is necessary, conducive to public welfare, will improve water management and development and will aid lands in the area by promoting economic, industrial, environmental or social development.
- Clarification that the lead county in a multi-county petition is the county in which a majority of the initial length of the proposed improvement would exist, and assignment of responsibilities to officials in the lead county.
- The bond amount for county engineer petitions increases to $1,500 plus $5 for each parcel of land in excess of 200 parcels.
- Additional guidance for factors to be considered when determining estimated assessments.
- Current law allows county commissioners to repair an existing drainage improvement upon complaint of an assessed owner if the cost doesn’t exceed $4,000. The new law increases that amount to $24,000 and allows payment of repair assessments in 10 semiannual installments rather than four.
We’re working with other Task Force members to prepare detailed explanations of the bill’s provisions and a guideline of the new procedures. County engineers and SWCD offices will begin following the revised law on the bill’s effective date of March 18, 2021, just in time for Spring rains and drainage needs.