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Porterfield v. Bruner Land Co., Inc.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Seventh District, Harrison

December 13, 2017

BRIAN G. PORTERFIELD et al., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
BRUNER LAND COMPANY, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.

         Civil Appeal from the Court of Common Pleas of Harrison County, Ohio Case No. CVH-2014-0050

          For Plaintiffs-Appellants: Atty. Michael C. Bednar Atty. Aaron. A. Richardson Blake, Bednar, Blake & Richardson.

          For Defendant-Appellee: Atty. Clay K. Keller Atty. Andrew N. Schock Jackson Kelly PLLC.

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

          OPINION

          ROBB, P.J.

         {¶1} Plaintiffs-Appellants Brian and Erin Porterfield appeal the decision of Harrison County Common Pleas Court granting summary judgment for Defendant-Appellee Bruner Land Company, Inc. This is a deed interpretation case. Appellants assert the clause drafted by Appellee did not reserve the oil, gas, and mineral interests for Appellee. Appellee contends it did. For the reasons expressed below, the trial court's grant of summary judgment for Appellee is affirmed.

         Statement of the Case

         {¶2} Consolidation Coal Company sold by limited warranty deed 160.987 acres in Harrison County, Ohio to Appellee in June 1996. The deed was recorded on January 17, 1997. That deed contains the following language, "EXCEPTING all the previously excepted and conveyed coal and mining rights." The deed did not contain any other clause reserving or excepting subterranean rights.

         {¶3} In February 1997, Appellee executed a general warranty deed to itself dividing the 160 acres into four parcels. (referred to as "Bruner to Bruner deed"). This deed describes each parcel and states, "Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil, and gas." The deed was recorded on March 7, 1997. Only two of the parcels are at issue in this case - B-1 and B-2.

         {¶4} Parcel B-2 was sold to Gary and Patricia Cooper on March 31, 1997. That deed contained the clause that was in the Bruner to Bruner deed - "Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil, and gas." The deed was recorded on April 21, 1997.

         {¶5} Parcel B-1 was sold to C.T. and Teresa Hill on April 17, 1997. This deed also contained the clause that was in the Bruner to Bruner deed - "Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil, and gas." The deed was recorded on April 29, 1997.

         {¶6} Both parcels were sold multiple times and eventually purchased by Appellants; Shane Lind sold Parcel B-1 to Appellants in August 2008, and James and Patricia Modon sold Parcel B-2 to Appellants in September 2013. The deeds in the chain of title contain the above excepting and reserving language.

         {¶7} In May 2014, Appellants filed a complaint for quiet title in the Harrison County Common Pleas Court against Appellee. 5/30/14 Complaint. Appellants claimed the gas and oil interests were not reserved by Appellee and were conveyed to every subsequent purchaser. Appellee answered asserting it owned the gas and oil interest. 6/30/14 Answer.

         {¶8} The case proceeded through discovery. Both Appellant Brian Porterfield and Doug Bruner, part owner of Appellee, were deposed. Doug Bruner testified the language used in the Bruner to Bruner deed, Bruner to Hill deed, and Bruner to Cooper deed was intended to reserve the coal, oil, and gas interest. He stated he and one of his secretaries drafted the language of the clause. Bruner deposition 14-15, 18, 21. The language used was put in the Bruner to Bruner deed to simplify later conveyances of the parcels; the parcels could be sold without having to draft new language for the conveyance. However, he admitted the Consolidation Coal Company was the former grantor to the Bruner to Bruner deed. Bruner deposition 23.

         {¶9} Following discovery, Appellants filed a summary judgment motion. They argued the deeds were plain and unambiguous, and Appellee did not reserve the coal, oil and gas interest. The language used began in the Bruner to Bruner deed and the use of "former grantors" refers to Consolidation Coal Company. However, Consolidation Coal Company was not a party to the transaction and the deed could not transfer or reserve an interest in a third party. Therefore, the clause had no effect and every subsequent recitation of that clause had no effect. Appellants claimed the coal, oil, and gas interest transferred to every subsequent purchaser because there were no other reservation clauses in any of the other deeds in the chain of title. Accordingly, since they are the current owners, the coal, oil and gas interest passed to them. They alternatively argued the clause was ambiguous and the language should be construed against the drafter. They claimed extrinsic evidence should not be used to determine the intent of the language. On that basis, they asked for summary judgment in their favor.

         {¶10} Appellee filed a combined response and motion for summary judgment. Appellee argued the language in the Bruner to Bruner deed was ineffective to reserve the interest for Consolidation Coal Company and itself, but it did show an intent to reserve the interest. Regardless, the clause in the subsequent Bruner to Cooper and Bruner to Hill deeds did reserve the interest to Bruner. Therefore, it claimed the language was plain and unambiguous. Alternatively, if the deed was deemed ambiguous, extrinsic evidence indicated it was the intent of the parties for Appellee to reserve the interest. Therefore, it contended summary judgment should be granted in its favor.

         {¶11} Appellants filed a response and Appellee filed a reply to the response. 3/28/16 ...


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