Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court, Case No. CVH-2011-0019.
For Plaintiffs-Appellants: Attorney Paul Hervey, Attorney Jilliann Daisher.
For Defendants-Appellees: Attorney Rupert Beetham.
For Defendant-Appellee: Attorney Marquette Evans, (For Harriet Evans).
For Defendants-Appellees: Karen Chaney, Pro se, Patty Hausman, Pro se, Linda Boyd, Pro se, Terri Hocker, Pro se.
JUDGES: Hon. Joseph J. Vukovich, Hon. Gene Donofrio, Hon. Mary DeGenaro.
(¶1} Plaintiffs-appellants Phillip Dodd and Julie Bologna appeal the decision of the Harrison County Common Pleas Court granting summary judgment in favor of defendants-appellees John William Croskey, Mary E. Surrey, Roy Surrey, Emma Jane Croskey, Margaret Ann Turner, Mary Louise Morgan, Martha Beard, Lee Johnson, Edwin Johnson, Joann Zitko, David B. Porter, Joann C. Wesley, Cindy R. Weimer, Evart Dean Porter, Stuart Barry Porter, Brian K. Porter, Mary Elaine Porter, Kim D. Berry, Lorna C. Bower, Harriet J. Evans, Sandra J. Dodson, Karen A. Chaney, Patty Hausman, Linda B. Boyd, and Terri Hocker. This case is governed by the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56. Four issues are argued in this case.
(¶2} The first issue is whether the 2009 deed that transferred the surface rights to appellants but also contained a prior mineral reservation to Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter is a title transaction within the meaning of R.C. 5301.56. The second issue is whether appellants satisfied the notice requirement in R.C. 5301.56. The third issue is whether the affidavit filed by appellee John William Croskey, which was filed after the notice of intent to claim abandonment of mineral interests was published in the local newspaper, was a savings event under R.C. 5301.56(H). The fourth issue raised is whether the trial court erred when it did not require appellees to prove that they were the mineral interest holders.
(¶3} For the reasons expressed below, we make the following conclusions. The 2009 deed that transferred the surface rights to appellants is not a title transaction within the meaning of R.C. 5301.56. Any deficiency in the notice provided to the appellees of appellants' intent to have the mineral interests found to be abandoned is harmless because the publication notice reached at least one appellee, who filed an affidavit attempting to preserve the mineral interest. That affidavit complied with R.C. 5301.56(H) and accordingly preserved the mineral interests for appellees. Appellants did not provide any evidence to the trial court to dispute the information in the affidavit that the individuals listed in the affidavit are not mineral interest holders. Based upon those findings, we uphold the judgment of the trial court for appellees.
Statement of Facts
(¶4} In August 2009, appellants acquired 127.8387 acres of land in Harrison County, Ohio from James Coffelt. The deed provided that the conveyance was subject to the following reservations:
Excepting and reserving unto Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter all of the oil and gas in Warranty Deed to Consolidated Fuel Company filed for record May 27, 1947 in Volume 121, page 381, Deed Records for the 148.105 acre. (Note: No further transfers)
Excepting a one-third interest in the oil and gas to Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter in Warranty Deed filed for record may [sic] 27, 1947 in Volume 121, page 383, Deed Records.
August 5, 2009 Survivorship Deed.
(¶5} Shortly after acquiring the surface rights, appellants were approached by an oil and gas company seeking to purchase the mineral rights to that tract of land.
(¶6} As a result of that request, on November 27, 2010, appellants published in the Harrison News Herald a notice of intent to claim abandonment of oil and gas interests underlying their property. As the above reservations show, these interests were previously reserved by the Porters. The published notice was addressed to "Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter, their unknown successor and assigns."
(¶7} Two days later, appellee John William Croskey recorded a Quit-Claim Deed for the oil and gas interests located on the property. Then, on December 23, 2010, Croskey filed a document titled "Affidavit Preserving Minerals." Croskey claimed to be an heir of the Porters and thus, owns a portion of the mineral interests. In this affidavit, Croskey also named numerous other persons that are alleged to be heirs of Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter that likewise own an interest in the oil and gas reserves.
(¶8} On February 9, 2011, appellants filed an action to quiet title to the oil and gas interests. Appellants asked the Harrison County Common Pleas Court to find that the oil and gas interests were abandoned and thus, pursuant to the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, appellants, as the surface rights owners, were entitled to be named as owners of the oil and gas reserves. Or in other words, appellants wanted the trial court to find that the affidavit was void and did not preserve appellees' mineral interests. The complaint named all of the persons Croskey named as heirs of Samuel A. Porter and Blanche Long Porter as defendants.
(¶9} All appellees filed answers that contained denials. Thereafter, appellants moved for summary judgment claiming that pursuant to the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act they are entitled to be named the owners of the mineral interests. Appellees filed motions in opposition to summary judgment and motions for summary judgment.
(¶10} After reviewing the parties' arguments, the trial court denied appellants' summary judgment motion and granted appellees' summary judgment motion. Thus, the court deemed that the mineral interests were not abandoned and that appellees retained the mineral interests that were acquired through testate from the Porters.
(¶11} Appellants appeal from that decision.
Standard of Review
(¶12} In reviewing a summary judgment award we apply a de novo standard of review. Cole v. Am. Industries & Resources Corp., 128 Ohio App.3d 546, 552, 715 N.E.2d 1179 (7th Dist.1998). Thus, we use the same test as the trial court did, Civ.R. 56(C). That rule provides that the trial court shall render summary judgment if no genuine issue of material fact exists and when construing the evidence most strongly in favor of the nonmoving party, reasonable minds can only conclude that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. State ex rel. Parsons v. Fleming, 68 Ohio St.3d 509, 511, 628 N.E.2d 1377 (1994).
OHIO DORMANT MINERAL ACT
(¶13} The arguments raised by appellants address different aspects of the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act. The Ohio Dormant Mineral Act, as codified in R.C. 5301.56, establishes a process by which mineral interests may be deemed abandoned and deemed to have vested to the owner of the surface rights.
(¶14} The trial court provided three reasons for granting summary judgment. First, it concluded that the subject mineral interests met one of the provisions in R.C. 5301.56(B) and therefore, were not abandoned. Second, it found appellants failed to comply with the notice provisions in R.C. 5301.56(E) and that was another reason supporting the grant of summary judgment. Lastly, it found that even if the interests were not abandoned and notice was properly given, the holders of the mineral interest took the appropriate steps set forth in R.C. 5301.56(H) to preserve their mineral interests.
(¶15} Appellants find fault with each reason and alternatively argue that even if the trial court was correct in all of its conclusions, it still erred in granting summary judgment because it failed to require appellees to provide proof of their ownership of the mineral interests.
(¶16} In reviewing appellants' arguments, we will first address the trial court's third reason for granting summary judgment, preservation of mineral interests, since it provides the sole and most persuasive basis for ...