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M&H Partnership v. Hines

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Harrison

March 13, 2017

M&H PARTNERSHIP, et al. PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS
v.
WALTER VANCE HINES, et al. DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES

         Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Harrison County, Ohio Case No. CVH-2012-0059

          For Plaintiffs-Appellants Attorney Andrew Lycans Attorney Clint Leibolt

          For Defendants-Appellees, Walter Hines, Richard Hines, Drue Hines Danz, and David Hines Attorney T. Beetham

          For Defendant-Appellee, Chesapeake Exploration, LLC Attorney Clay Keller

          Attorney J. Quay Attorney Michael Alvater

          Hon. Mary DeGenaro Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Carol Ann Robb

          OPINION

          DeGENARO, J.

         {¶1} Plaintiffs-Appellants, M&H Partnership, William P. Ledger and Judith A. Ledger appeal the decision of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants-Appellees, Walter Vance Hines, Richard Scott Hines, Drue Anne Hines Danz, and David Chris Hines in an action involving Ohio's Dormant Mineral Act, R.C. 5301.56. As Appellants' assignments of error are either meritless or moot, the judgment of the trial court is affirmed.

         Facts and Procedural History

         {¶2} Appellants are the surface owners of real property in Harrison County. The Hines Heirs claim to be the owners of the severed mineral rights beneath that property. On April 9, 2011, at Appellants' request, the Harrison News Herald published a notice of abandonment with regard to the mineral rights, directed to Vance and Eleanor Hines, their heirs, beneficiaries, next-of-kin, successors and assigns. The notice asserted that the severed oil and gas rights had been abandoned because none of the savings events listed in R.C. 5301.56 had occurred during the preceding 20 years.

         {¶3} On May 11, 2011, the Hines Heirs filed a document entitled Affidavit Preserving Minerals with the Harrison County Recorder. In that document, Richard Scott Hines recited when Vance Hines, Eleanor Hines and Walter Vance Hines died, along with the survivors of each. He identified the Hines Heirs as the "current owners" of the severed mineral interest. He did not identify any savings event that had occurred within the 20 years immediately preceding the date on which the notice of abandonment was published. He stated that "the claimants herein do not intend to abandon their rights in the mineral interest, but intend to preserve their rights."

         {¶4} On October 31, 2011, the Hines Heirs entered into an oil and gas lease with Defendant-Appellee Chesapeake Exploration, LLC.

         {¶5} On June 5, 2012, Appellants filed a complaint against the Hines Heirs and Chesapeake requesting quiet title relief and seeking a declaration that any interest the Hines Heirs or their predecessors owned in the property had been deemed abandoned and vested in the surface owners prior to the signing of the Chesapeake lease, which was therefore invalid. Chesapeake filed an answer and the Hines Heirs filed an answer and counterclaim for quiet title and declaratory judgment.

         {¶6} The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the disputed issues included: which version of R.C. 5301.56 applied, 1989 or 2006; whether the mineral interest was preserved under the statute; and whether the Hines Heirs are successors in interest to the individuals who severed and reserved the mineral interest and had standing to challenge the notice of abandonment.

         {¶7} After briefing on summary judgment had concluded, the Hines Heirs filed a notice of supplemental filing, which included the following documents: an affidavit of heirship; a certificate of transfer issued by the Defiance County Probate Court, demonstrating that Eleanor Hines died testate in 1966 at which time the mineral interest passed to her son, Walter Hines; and a certificate of transfer issued by the Harrison County Probate Court, demonstrating that Walter Hines died testate in 2001 at which time the mineral interest passed to his four children, the Hines heirs.

         {¶8} Two days later, the trial court had an oral hearing on the summary judgment motions, which is included in the appellate record. Appellants' counsel did not object to the timing of the supplemental filing, nor did he argue that the trial court could not consider the documents therein. Instead counsel merely argued that the trial court should not give the certificates of transfer much evidentiary weight.

         {¶9} The trial court analyzed the case under both the 1989 and 2006 versions of R.C. 5301.56 and concluded under either version the Hines Heirs sufficiently preserved their severed mineral interest. But the trial court ultimately held that the 2006 version controlled. Therefore, the trial court denied Appellants' motion for summary judgment and granted the Hines Heirs' motion. This appeal was stayed pending the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in multiple cases regarding, inter alia, whether the 1989 or the 2006 version of R.C. 5301.56 controls.

         {¶10} In Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration, LLC, Slip Opinion No. 2016- Ohio-5796 (Sept. 15, 2016), ¶ 2, the Court held "the 2006 version of the Dormant Mineral Act, which is codified at R.C. 5301.56, applies to all claims asserted after June 30, 2006[.]" On October 19, 2016, this case was returned to the active docket.

         2006 DMA Controls

         {¶11} For clarity of analysis, we first turn to Appellants' third, fourth, fifth, and sixth assignments ...


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