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Rochus v. Thompson

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Noble

June 5, 2017

ELISABETH J. ROCHUS, FKA ELISABETH J. THOMPSON PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
DENNIS THOMPSON DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

         Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division, Noble County, Ohio Case No. 207-0030

          For Plaintiff-Appellee Attorney Stephanie Church

          For Defendant-Appellant Attorney Clifford Sickler

          JUDGES: Hon. Mary DeGenaro Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Carol Ann Robb

          OPINION

          Mary DeGenaro, Judge

         {¶1} Defendant-Appellant, Dennis J. Thompson, appeals the trial court's judgment granting Plaintiff-Appellee Elisabeth J. Thompson, n.k.a. Elisabeth J. Rochus's motion to enforce the divorce decree and ordering that, pursuant to the decree, Rochus was entitled to one-half of a bonus payment from an amended oil and gas lease. For the following reasons, Thompson's assignments of error are meritless, and the judgment is affirmed.

         {¶2} Rochus filed a complaint for divorce against Thompson and the case proceeded to a final, contested divorce hearing on July 24, 2007. In 1999, while still married, the parties entered into an oil and gas lease with the Oxford Oil Company with respect to 120 acres they owned in Stock Township.

         {¶3} Pertinent to this appeal, following the presentation of testimony and evidence, the trial court issued a decision in advance of the final decree, which determined: "Oil and gas exploration is in progress on the Stock Township acreage. That real estate is valued at $65, 000.00. The current rent/royalties from production should be divided one/half to each party and action taken to have the appropriate division orders sent to the royalty payer." All other mineral rights to the parties' various parcels of real estate were retained by Thompson.

         {¶4} A final decree of divorce was issued on November 20, 2007 and a nunc pro tunc decree followed on August 20, 2008. Within the decree, the trial court ruled: "The Stock Township property has oil and gas expiration [sic] in progress. The rents and royalties received from said production shall be divided with each party receiving one-half (1/2) thereof." The trial court further determined: "All future oil and gas royalties Paid by Oxford Oil or Devco Oil shall be divided equally between the parties. Oxford Oil and/or Devco Oil are ordered to disburse one-half of each future royalty payment to Dennis J Thompson at 134 Main Street, Summerfield, Ohio 43788 and one-half directly to Elisabeth J Rochus at 54880 SR 566, Senecaville, Ohio 43780." Finally, the trial court ordered the "[r]eal estate owned by the parties shall be and become the sole property of the Defendant/Husband, free and clear of any claims of the Plaintiff/Wife."

         {¶5} With respect to the Stock Township property, Rochus quit-claimed her interest to Thompson, which contained the following reservation: "Grantor reserves her one half interest in all future oil and gas royalties paid by Oxford Oil and or [sic] Devco Oil pursuant to Judgment Entry Decree of Divorce Case No. 207-0030 filed November 20, 2007." There are no other reservations of record as to mineral rights.

         {¶6} The oil and gas lease on the Stock Township property was eventually assigned to a new lessee, Eclipse Resources-Ohio, LLC. Thompson renegotiated the terms of the lease and entered into an amended lease on March 5, 2015, which permitted the leasehold acreage to be pooled with other lands to create a larger drilling unit to facilitate hydraulic fracturing. Among other things, the amended lease increased the royalty percentage from 12.5% (a standard 1/8 royalty) to 15% and provided a bonus payment of $1, 500.00 per net mineral acre.

         {¶7} On November 18, 2015, Rochus filed a motion to enforce the divorce decree. She asserted that as she was granted one-half of the rents and royalties, she was also entitled to one-half of the bonus payment. Thompson opposed the motion. In a February 18, 2016 judgment entry, the trial court granted Rochus' motion:

The issue involves acreage in Stock Township. At the time of the Court's decree, that acreage was subject to an existing oil and gas lease and exploration for oil and gas was underway. Any "rents" and "any royalties received from said production" were to be divided equally to the two parties.
Defendant has apparently negotiated some changes to the existing lease, and a "bonus payment" is now due ...

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