Mineral Rights: The Underlying Legacy - Part II
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.