The Seventh District Court of Appeals recently issued a decision in Farnsworth v. Burkhart, 7th Dist. Monroe No. 13 MO 14 (Sept. 22, 2014) concerning the application of R.C. 5301.56, commonly known as the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (the “DMA”). The court reaffirmed its prior decisions in Dodd v. Croskey, Walker v. Shondrick-Nau, and Eisenbarth v. Reusser, holding:
- The 1989 version of the DMA can still be applied to current actions, and is self-executing in nature;
- The statute’s twenty-year look back period is fixed to the twenty years preceding the effective date of the statute and does not apply on a “rolling” basis; and
- A reference to a prior mineral reservation in a surface conveyance does not constitute a title transaction preventing abandonment.
The court declined to address arguments concerning the constitutionality of the 1989 DMA because the issue was not raised by the parties in the lower court.
Applying a fixed twenty-year look back period under the 1989 DMA, the court found that abandonment did not occur because the mineral rights were not severed until 1980. Under the 2006 DMA, the court found that the mineral holders timely filed a claim to preserve under R.C. 5301.56(H)(1), which prevents abandonment itself.
Judge DeGenaro, concurring in judgment only, found the 2006 DMA to be the controlling version of the statute for the reasons previously set forth in her concurring opinion in Eisenbarth v. Reusser. Judge DeGenaro further noted that although the doctrine of laches was not raised, a quiet title action could have been filed by the surface owners in 2000 when the mineral rights would have arguably reverted to them under the 1989 DMA (assuming that the 1989 DMA provides for a rolling twenty year period), but they failed to do so until 2012.
The issues of whether the 1989 or 2006 version of R.C. 5301.56 governs quiet title actions filed after 2006, and whether a reference to a prior mineral reservation in a surface conveyance constitutes a title transaction, are currently before the Supreme Court of Ohio. See Corban v. Chesapeake, Exploration, L.L.C., Case No. 2014-0804, and Dodd v. Croskey, Case No. 2013-1730.
This article was authored by Alex Quay, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author, see here.