Ohio landowners and holders of mineral interests should soon receive clarification regarding certain mineral rights. On Sept. 1, 2020, the Supreme Court of Ohio accepted Fonzi v. Brown for review, a case involving the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (ODMA). Fonzi joins Gerrity v. Chervenak and West v. Bode, as the third major case on the court’s docket that raises questions about the ODMA and/or Marketable Title Act (MTA).…
The Ohio Supreme Court recently settled an open question under Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (MTA), determining that a reference to the type of interest created and to whom it was granted is all that is necessary under the MTA to preserve the interest. And interestingly, despite the existence of the Dormant Mineral Act (DMA), the Supreme Court applied the MTA to an oil and gas interest.
In Blackstone v. Moore, landowners filed a lawsuit against the owners of an oil and gas royalty interest underlying the landowners’ property, seeking to extinguish the interest under the MTA (Because the appellees (Kuhn heirs) had filed an affidavit to preserve their mineral interest within sixty days of receiving the Blackstones’ notice of intent to declare the mineral interest abandoned, there was no question that they had preserved their interests under the DMA). Created in 1915, the oil and gas royalty interest arose prior to the “root of title” (the last recorded title transaction before the preceding 40 years from when marketability is being determined) and therefore was subject to extinguishment under the MTA.…
This week, the Ohio Supreme Court issued key decisions on its pending Dormant Mineral Act (DMA) cases. The Supreme Court Announcement itemized the various decisions released this morning, which were further detailed in Court News Ohio . Only three cases received full opinions: Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., Walker v. Shondrick-Nau and Albanese v. Batman, while the remaining cases were disposed of based on the authority of those three opinions.
Overall, the Corban opinion addresses the issues that were most anticipated by oil and gas lawyers around the state, finding that the 1989 version of the DMA applied a fixed look back from its effective date, and that it was only operative until its amendment in 2006. Critically, the Court also held that the 1989 DMA is not self-executing and that a surface owner was required to obtain a judicial determination of abandonment of a severed mineral interest under the 1989 DMA. However, now that the 2006 version of the DMA has completely displaced any right to proceed under the 1989 DMA, only the 2006 version applies today.
Last year we reported on the flood of appeals pouring in to the Ohio Supreme Court raising dozens of questions about the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (DMA), which can be found at R.C. 5301.56. A year later we finally have a few answers and the surge of new DMA appeals seems to have subsided.
This blog post provides a comprehensive update on DMA cases that have been decided and which remain pending before the Ohio Supreme Court to date. Overall, two cases have been decided – Dodd v. Croskey and Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C. v. Buell – and 13 cases presenting 39 questions of law have been accepted and remain pending. There are no pending DMA appeals that have not been accepted for review.…
Litigation over Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56, (DMA) began as a trickle in 2012 and turned into a flood in 2014 that continues to confound mineral title attorneys and challenge judges. Questions about the DMA have all but paralyzed oil and gas companies still looking to acquire and develop mineral leases. Now all eyes are on the Ohio Supreme Court for guidance on myriad questions regarding the validity and application of the statute. This post provides an update of DMA appeals and issues pending before the Ohio Supreme Court to date.
Though the Ohio Supreme Court hasn’t yet issued any decisions related to DMA, that is about to change. The court has accepted five DMA cases for review — all accepted in 2014. These five cases present a total of 15 questions of DMA law. Only two of these cases (Dodd and Buell) have been argued, at least in part (the question accepted sua sponte in Dodd was not argued). The other cases have yet to be scheduled for oral argument. In addition, six more cases present another 20 questions of law that have been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court but are not yet accepted for review.
The overlap between many of the cases and issues highlights the hottest current DMA issues. However, this list of questions and issues is far from complete. In hindsight, we may find that the wave of DMA litigation crested in 2014, but experienced oil and gas attorneys expect litigation surrounding …
In Eastham v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 6th Cir. No. 13-4233, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 10531 (June 6, 2014), the Sixth Circuit court of appeals considered whether a provision in a 2007 oil and gas lease that granted Chesapeake the option to “extend or renew under similar terms a like lease” was ambiguous and whether it required Chesapeake to renegotiate the lease when it expired. The court held that the plain language of the lease allowed Chesapeake to “extend” the lease on the same terms. The decision contains insights about Ohio law and important lessons in contract drafting and interpretation.
Facts of the case
On April 9, 2007, William and Frostie Eastham signed an oil and gas lease with Great Lakes Energy Partners, LLC (“Great Lakes”) for their 49.066 acre parcel in Jefferson County, Ohio. The five-year primary term of the lease required Great Lakes to either drill a well or make delay rental payments to Mr. and Mrs. Eastham in the amount of $10.00 per acre per year until a well was drilled. The lease also provided that if the lease expired, Great Lakes would have the following option:
Upon the expiration of this lease and within sixty (60) days thereinafter, Lessor grants to Lessee an option to extend or renew under similar terms a like lease.
Sometime before the lease expired, Great Lakes assigned the lease to Chesapeake. There was apparently no dispute that the assignment was authorized by the lease and that all required delay rentals were …
The Ohio Supreme Court recently accepted a new group of civil cases; among them is Chesapeake Exploration, LLC v. Buell. In this case, the Supreme Court has agreed to answer the following two questions of Ohio law certified by United States District Judge Watson of the Southern District of Ohio in Case No. 2:12-cv-916:
- Is the recorded lease of a severed subsurface mineral estate a title transaction under the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56(B)(3)(a)?
- Is the expiration of a recorded lease and the reversion of the rights granted under that lease a title transaction that restarts the 20-year forfeiture clock under the ODMA at the time of the reversion?
An agreement to enter into an oil and gas lease is an enforceable contract in Ohio
Landowner enters into an agreement to sign an oil and gas lease, finds outs there may be a better deal elsewhere and tries to get out of the first deal. A federal court in Ohio says, “No, a deal is a deal.” Bruzzese v. Chesapeake Exploration, LLC, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division (Feb. 13, 2014).
A group of landowners in eastern Ohio had engaged attorneys to negotiate oil and gas leases on their collective behalves. They signed an Agreement to Accept Lease Offer from Chesapeake Exploration, LLC. About 75 members of the group later sued Chesapeake Exploration, LLC, claiming that the agreement was unenforceable. Chesapeake settled with all the landowners except Stephen and Elizabeth Albery.
The Alberys had printed out the agreement, filled in blanks, signed it and emailed it to the group attorneys on July 16, 2011. Immediately thereafter, Mrs. Albery’s sister told them that she had heard that other energy companies were making better offers to landowners. Under the apparent understanding that they could back out of the agreement because they believed they could still opt out of the landowners group, the Alberys sent a letter to counsel on July 24, 2011, stating that they wished to terminate the agreement.…
In the previous three parts of this series (read part 1, part 2 and part 3), we reviewed the Ohio Marketable Title Act (MTA), its application to severed minerals, and the experience of neighboring states, all of which played a role in the development of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act (DMA).
- The MTA was enacted in 1961 to make land titles marketable, i.e., free of stale claims. It included a grace period and did not require notice before a chain of title was extinguished in favor of another.
- The MTA generally applies to any property interest (presumably still including oil and gas interests) where no conveyance or claim to preserve has been filed during the past 40 years.
- The MTA does not necessarily extinguish all old severed mineral interests, even those with a root of title more than 40 years old, because the severed interest may be a separate chain of title.
- The Illinois DMA was found unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1980 as violating due process because it did not require severed mineral owners to be given notice and an opportunity to be heard.
- Indiana’s Dormant Mineral Interests Act, Ind. Code §§ 32-5-11-1 through 32-5-11-8 (1976) — which includes a grace period, a 20-year use-it-or-lose-it attribute and no notice requirement — was held to be constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. Texaco, Inc. v. Short, 454 U.S. 516, 102 S. Ct. 781, 70 L. Ed. 2d 738, (1982)
- Illinois enacted
In part 2 of this series, we reviewed the application of the Marketable Title Act (MTA) in a 1982 case involving a severed mineral interest and two independent chains of title. The Ohio courts appeared to struggle with the application of the MTA to the facts of that case. Courts and legislatures in neighboring states also struggled with how to handle dormant severed minerals. Those states’ case law and statutes played a role in the formulation of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act, which was enacted in 1989 as part of the MTA. Examples of such influential laws and cases from Illinois and Indiana follow.
Illinois DMA held unconstitutional in 19801
In Illinois, at common law, once a mineral estate has been severed from the surface estate, it cannot be terminated by mere nonuse or abandonment. Uphoff v Trustees of Tufts College, 351 Ill 146, 155, 184 NE 213, 216 (Ill 1932). Thus, mineral interests can lie dormant, even through several transfers of title. This situation, over time, can result in missing or unknown owners. The difficulty in ascertaining and locating severed mineral owners had a substantial deterrent effect on would-be gas and oil developers.
The Illinois legislature responded by enacting the Dormant Mineral Interests Act in 1969. The act was intended to facilitate development of dormant oil and gas interests by permitting consolidation of mineral ownership in one person in instances where it had formerly been diffused among many unknown or missing persons. The act provided that …
In a case involving the assignment of oil and gas leases from one company to another, an Ohio appellate court enforced an anti-assignment provision in the original lease. Harding v. Viking Internatl. Resources Co., Inc., 4th Dist. Washington No. 13CA13, 2013-Ohio-5236.
The Hardings owned property in Washington County that was subject to three oil and gas leases signed by the prior property owners, their parents. All of the leases contained the following anti-assignment clause:
The rights of the Lessor may be assigned in whole or in part and shall be binding upon their heirs, executors and assigns. The rights and responsibilities of the Lessee may not be assigned without the mutual agreement of the parties in writing.
The original lessee, Carlton Oil Corporation, assigned the leases to Viking in 2011. Though the assignment was recorded, the Hardings were not parties nor did they provide written consent to the assignment. However, after the assignment, the Hardings completed and returned a W-9 form that Viking mailed to them and they accepted and cashed royalty checks from Viking for eight months before they objected to the assignment and filed suit against Viking to have the court declare the leases void and forfeited because of the violation of the assignment provision.…
In the first part of this series, we reviewed a 2010 Licking County case, which held that Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (MTA) extinguished an adjoining landowner’s claim against former railroad property. This article discusses how the MTA was used to reconcile competing claims to a severed mineral interest before Ohio’s Dormant Minerals Act was passed.
The Marketable Title Act and severed minerals: coal excepted, but not oil and gas
When the MTA was first enacted in 1961, it expressly excepted all mineral interests . But in 1973 the Ohio Legislature amended the mineral interest exception so that only coal was excepted from the operation of the MTA. That amendment set the stage for Heifner v. Bradford, 5th Dist. Muskingum No. CA-81-10, 1982 Ohio App. LEXIS 14859 (Jan. 29, 1982), overruled by Heifner v. Bradford, 4 Ohio St. 3d 49; 446 N.E.2d 440 (1983).…
We are in the process of posting a series of articles on the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act (DMA), in which we’ll provide analysis about Dahlgren-v-Brown, Carroll C.P., 13CVH27445, (Nov. 5, 2013). However, today we wanted to share news about this Carroll County opinion and what it may portend for future cases.
Leora Dahlgren owned severed minerals pursuant to a reservation in a deed to Walter Dunlap in 1949. When Leora passed away in 1977, her estate was probated and a Certificate of Transfer conveying the minerals to her heirs was issued and recorded — at the Probate Court rather than the Recorder’s Office — in 1978.1 More than 30 years later, in 2009, the mineral owners leased their oil and gas. During that same period of time, the surface had become owned by successors to Dunlap pursuant to deeds reciting the reservation in the 1949 deed. The surface owners filed a DMA notice of abandonment in March 2012. Within the following 60-day period, the Dahlgren mineral heirs filed their notice of claim and, in 2013, sued to quiet title.…
This is the first in a series of articles delving into the history and influence of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act since it was enacted in 1989.
The oil boom at the turn of the last century led property owners selling their land to reserve from the sale, for themselves, “the oil and gas and other minerals” — thus creating severed mineral interests. During the next 40 to 50 years there were two world wars, divorces, deaths and myriad other family-changing events. In many cases, the ownership of severed mineral interests became clouded. Through the years, legislatures in the Midwest have worked to address the situation through mineral lapse acts or dormant minerals acts, whereby the severed interest is reunited with the surface.
With the advent of horizontal wells, consternation around determining who owns the minerals has become exacerbated. Horizontal wells and fracking have made severed interests, even small ones, a matter of animated debate. Furthermore, any time the legislature tries to decide who wins, the loser is bound to argue that the Constitution requires restitution. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said in one of his famous dissents, “Great cases, like hard cases, make bad law.” Northern Securities Co. v. United States, 193 U.S. 197 (1904). The severed mineral interest issue pits two fundamental principles against each other: the certainty title to land vs. the need to extinguish dormant claims so that development can proceed.
The objective of this series of articles is to trace the history and …
Businesses active in Ohio’s current oil and gas boom should be aware of how oil and gas leases are treated in bankruptcy. Unsettled Ohio law regarding whether a debtor owns unextracted oil and gas as part of the debtor’s real property can make this a difficult issue. This eBook discusses recent court opinions and examines the question of just who owns unextracted oil and gas in a bankruptcy context. Download Oil and Gas Leases in Bankruptcy.…
Siblings at odds before the North Dakota Supreme Court
Reservations of mineral interests in deeds is tricky business. A particular case in North Dakota was resolved only after five years of litigation — including a trial and an appeal to the state supreme court. As we have written previously, whether in Ohio or North Dakota, shale source rock and horizontal drilling seem to make mineral interests worth fighting for — even between siblings.
George Tank and his wife owned property in McKenzie County, North Dakota. After his wife had passed away, George executed a quitclaim deed conveying his interest in part of his property to one of his five children — his son, Greggory Tank, who had stayed on the farm to work with his parents.
George’s quitclaim deed was captioned “(Life Estate Reserved)” and contained the following reservation clauses:…
The right, but not the obligation, to renew an existing lease
As we discussed previously, state and federal courts in Ohio have been asked to interpret the meaning of “paragraph 14” in oil and gas leases. On Oct. 30, 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that paragraph 14 does not require a lessee to match a third-party offer or have the lease terminated. The federal court opinion issued in Stewart v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 22302, 2013 FED App. 0928N (6th Cir.), 2013 WL 5832343 (6th Cir. Ohio 2013) is consistent with other holdings interpreting this lease provision.
The court found the landowners’ interpretation “strange at best,” “implausible” and in conflict with several other provisions in the lease.
The court closed by holding:
“In summary, we agree with the district court that, by its terms, Paragraph 14 does not grant the landowners a right to terminate their leases, but instead grants Chesapeake a ‘preferential right to renew’ them.”
An essential function of the law is to provide predictability as questions arise. When legal questions arise in the oil field regarding ownership rights, a consensus in the law — especially in the common law — is crucial. With that consensus, the attributes of conveyances related to those hydrocarbons (rights) can be examined. Specifically, what are the landowner’s rights with regard to the hydrocarbons under a piece of land in Ohio? Does he or she actually own them, or do they just have the right to capture them? If he or she would grant a lease to an oil company, what does the oil company own — is it an interest in real estate or is it simply a right to search? And, if found, what is the nature of the interest owned by the oil company pursuant to the lease? These fundamental questions have not been answered clearly in Ohio despite the fact that courts have struggled with them for over a century.
This ambiguity in the law puts federal courts in a potentially difficult position. Absent a clear indication of state law, federal judges deciding these issues under Ohio law are required to consider how the Ohio Supreme Court would decide the issue. Recently, a federal judge weighed in on the nature of an oil and gas lease in the case of Wellington Resource Group LLC v. Beck Energy Corporation, Case No. 2:12-CC-104 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, …
In our previous two segments on Section 16 lands — Part 1 and Part 2 — we examined the dedication, by Congress, of one section in each Ohio township, usually Section 16, for the support of public education. Initially, while retaining title to such lands in trust, Ohio vested administrative control in township trustees. However, the allocation of authority to the townships did not go well and in 1914 and 1917 the legislature reallocated responsibility to the Auditor of State as administrator of school lands remaining in state hands.
From 1827 to 1917, when the township trustees were authorized to sell or lease school land to private individuals, mineral title typically passed with the fee simple title. However, this practice ended in 1917 when the auditor assumed authority.
The 1917 legislation, known as the Garver Act, was enacted to provide for better administration of school lands. H.B. No. 192, 107 Ohio Laws 357, G.C. 3203. One of the issues was confusion about the status and ownership of leases of Section 16 parcels granted by township trustees. Section 23 of the Garver Act —provided procedure by which someone claiming title could file a claim with the state supervisor who, after public notice and if satisfied that the claim was valid, would execute a new lease. The Garver Act also provided a mechanism whereby a lessee could surrender his lease and obtain a fee simple title.…
As with prior posts about oil and gas leases in bankruptcy (located here and, on Porter Wright’s Banking & Finance Law Report blog, here), this post presents another thorny issue — namely, “Is an oil and gas lease a lease at all?”
Whether an oil and gas lease is a “lease” is significant in the bankruptcy context, because the Bankruptcy Code has several provisions regarding the treatment of leases.
This post considers two cases that interpret 11 U.S.C. § 365(d)(4), which provides that unless the bankruptcy court orders an extension, “an unexpired lease of nonresidential real property under which the debtor is the lessee shall be deemed rejected, and the trustee shall immediately surrender that nonresidential real property to the lessor, if the trustee does not assume or reject the unexpired lease by … the date that is 120 days after the date of the order for relief [(typically, the commencement of the case)]….” The Code further provides that “the rejection of an … unexpired lease of the debtor constitutes a breach of such contract or lease … immediately before the date of the filing of the petition.”…
In our first post about Section 16 lands, we provided background on such public lands here in Ohio. We summarized that in 1785, a Federal land ordinance granted one square mile — usually Section 16 — out of every six square mile township to be held in trust by the state and to be dedicated to support public education pursuant to federal law. The Ohio Legislature then began leasing the land, and in 1827 it authorized sale of the land with proceeds going to the “Common School Fund.” Interest from the fund was to be paid to the schools within the townships. See, Dr. George W. Knepper, The Auditor of State, The Official Ohio Lands Book, 2002. (“Knepper”).
In regard to the funds collected from the sale of all school lands, the Ohio Constitution provided:
“The principal of all funds, arising from the sale, or other disposition of lands, or other property, granted or entrusted to this state for educational and religious purposes, shall forever be preserved inviolate, and undiminished; and, the income arising therefrom, shall be faithfully applied to the specific objects of the original grants, or appropriations.” Ohio Constitution, Article VI, Section 1 1…
This is the second post in a two-part series examining ownership of minerals located under bodies of water and roads. See part I discussing the ownership of minerals under adjoining waters.
Who owns the minerals underneath public roads in Ohio? This is really two questions:
- What ownership interest does the state, county, or township have in the land underlying the road?
- What is the rule for abutting landowners in the event the government owns less than a fee simple absolute?
Historical Ownership Interest of the State, Counties and Municipalities
Over time, the interest acquired in the land underlying roads has changed for states, counties, and townships. Ownership interests are transaction specific, but there is a general trend. Municipal roads were usually taken in fee, while roads outside municipalities are likely to be easements unless they were granted in the past 30 years, in which case they are likely to be held in fee.…
Understanding rights and obligations associated with oil and gas leases can be challenging. Imprecise lease language, implied legal duties, formulaic statutes and evolving case law all affect oil and gas leases in different ways. We’ve written several articles on these topics during the past several months and have compiled them into an eBook to help bring clarity to some of these issues. Download our Common Oil and Gas Lease Conundrums eBook.…
This post is the first of two articles examining ownership of minerals located under bodies of water and roads.
Who owns the minerals under bodies of water? When oil and gas were being produced in meager quantities, not many people cared. But the story is different when lease bonuses are thousands of dollars per acre and royalties could be worth millions. Now, every acre in eastern Ohio is cast in a different light and suddenly there is enormous interest in figuring out who owns the minerals beneath Ohio’s lakes, rivers, ponds, streams and reservoirs. The following press release helps drive home the point about what is at stake:…