In part 2 of this series, we reviewed the application of the Marketable Title Act (MTA) in a 1982 case involving a severed mineral interest and two independent chains of title. The Ohio courts appeared to struggle with the application of the MTA to the facts of that case. Courts and legislatures in neighboring states also struggled with how to handle dormant severed minerals. Those states’ case law and statutes played a role in the formulation of the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act, which was enacted in 1989 as part of the MTA. Examples of such influential laws and cases from Illinois and Indiana follow.

Illinois DMA held unconstitutional in 19801

In Illinois, at common law, once a mineral estate has been severed from the surface estate, it cannot be terminated by mere nonuse or abandonment. Uphoff v Trustees of Tufts College, 351 Ill 146, 155, 184 NE 213, 216 (Ill 1932). Thus, mineral interests can lie dormant, even through several transfers of title. This situation, over time, can result in missing or unknown owners. The difficulty in ascertaining and locating severed mineral owners had a substantial deterrent effect on would-be gas and oil developers.

The Illinois legislature responded by enacting the Dormant Mineral Interests Act in 1969. The act was intended to facilitate development of dormant oil and gas interests by permitting consolidation of mineral ownership in one person in instances where it had formerly been diffused among many unknown or missing persons. The act provided that unless an individual duly recorded his interest, his failure to actually produce oil or gas in any 25-year period created a presumption of abandonment. There was great uncertainty among oil and gas title examiners regarding the act’s validity because, at common law, abandonment required both intent to abandon and an affirmative act of relinquishment. Furthermore, the act did not require entities who sought a ruling of abandonment to give unknown mineral owners notice or an opportunity to be heard.
Continue Reading The Ohio Dormant Minerals Act: Part 3

In a case involving the assignment of oil and gas leases from one company to another, an Ohio appellate court enforced an anti-assignment provision in the original lease. Harding v. Viking Internatl. Resources Co., Inc., 4th Dist. Washington No. 13CA13, 2013-Ohio-5236.

The facts

The Hardings owned property in Washington County that was subject to three oil and gas leases signed by the prior property owners, their parents. All of the leases contained the following anti-assignment clause:

The rights of the Lessor may be assigned in whole or in part and shall be binding upon their heirs, executors and assigns. The rights and responsibilities of the Lessee may not be assigned without the mutual agreement of the parties in writing.

The original lessee, Carlton Oil Corporation, assigned the leases to Viking in 2011. Though the assignment was recorded, the Hardings were not parties nor did they provide written consent to the assignment. However, after the assignment, the Hardings completed and returned a W-9 form that Viking mailed to them and they accepted and cashed royalty checks from Viking for eight months before they objected to the assignment and filed suit against Viking to have the court declare the leases void and forfeited because of the violation of the assignment provision.
Continue Reading Anti-assignment clause in oil and gas lease enforced

In the first part of this series, we reviewed a 2010 Licking County case, which held that Ohio’s Marketable Title Act (MTA) extinguished an adjoining landowner’s claim against former railroad property. This article discusses how the MTA was used to reconcile competing claims to a severed mineral interest before Ohio’s Dormant Minerals Act was passed.

The Marketable Title Act and severed minerals: coal excepted, but not oil and gas

When the MTA was first enacted in 1961, it expressly excepted all mineral interests . But in 1973 the Ohio Legislature amended the mineral interest exception so that only coal was excepted from the operation of the MTA. That amendment set the stage for Heifner v. Bradford, 5th Dist. Muskingum No. CA-81-10, 1982 Ohio App. LEXIS 14859 (Jan. 29, 1982), overruled by Heifner v. Bradford, 4 Ohio St. 3d 49; 446 N.E.2d 440 (1983).
Continue Reading The Ohio Dormant Minerals Act: Part 2

We are in the process of posting a series of articles on the Ohio Dormant Minerals Act (DMA), in which we’ll provide analysis about Dahlgren-v-Brown, Carroll C.P., 13CVH27445, (Nov. 5, 2013). However, today we wanted to share news about this Carroll County opinion and what it may portend for future cases.

The facts

Leora Dahlgren owned severed minerals pursuant to a reservation in a deed to Walter Dunlap in 1949. When Leora passed away in 1977, her estate was probated and a Certificate of Transfer conveying the minerals to her heirs was issued and recorded — at the Probate Court rather than the Recorder’s Office — in 1978.1 More than 30 years later, in 2009, the mineral owners leased their oil and gas. During that same period of time, the surface had become owned by successors to Dunlap pursuant to deeds reciting the reservation in the 1949 deed. The surface owners filed a DMA notice of abandonment in March 2012. Within the following 60-day period, the Dahlgren mineral heirs filed their notice of claim and, in 2013, sued to quiet title.
Continue Reading Carroll County dormant minerals interest case — decision favors mineral owners

The plaintiffs in this case are a group of landowners in Nobel County who, from 2008 to 2010, entered into oil and gas leases, some of which were assigned to Chesapeake Exploration, LLC. Some of the leases had a three-year primary term, some five years, with typical provisions to extend the primary term. However, the lease provision really at issue was titled “Preferential Right to Renew,” referred to as “paragraph 14.” Both the plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment. Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. of the federal District Court in Columbus decided the case on Sept. 26, 2013. Wiley v. Triad Hunter LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143058 United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

Paragraph 14 provides, in summary, that if during the primary term and one year thereafter, the lessor receives an acceptable, bona fide third-party offer to lease, the lessor would provide the lessee with the particulars. The lessee then would have 30 days to advise the lessor of its agreement to match the offer. Also, any lease “granted by lessor in contravention of the purposes of this paragraph shall be deemed null and void.”

The plaintiffs received a bona fide offer to lease their land. At this point, let me digress. Hoping that an existing lease will expire, third parties will offer a new lease to the landowner, sometimes called a “top lease,” that will take effect upon the existing lease’s termination. Paragraph 14 would seem to protect the lessee by giving, in effect, a right of first refusal on equal terms.

Picking up the story and summarizing for brevity, apparently the new leases were a better deal. So, despite the fact that the existing leases were within their primary terms, the plaintiffs forwarded the offered lease to the lessee. In one of the letters to the lessee, the plaintiffs informed the lessee that the lease had in fact been forfeited based on the plaintiff’s interpretation of paragraph 14. The lessee responded by saying that it disagreed with the plaintiff’s interpretation and taking the position that it need do nothing pursuant to paragraph 14.
Continue Reading Ohio landowners challenge oil and gas leases; does the offer of a new lease terminate the existing one?

For estate planning purposes, in 2005 Willard and Ruth Liggett put real estate they owned into a revocable trusts with themselves as trustees. In 2008, the Liggetts signed an oil and gas lease in their personal capacity. In 2012, Plaintiffs Willard and Ruth Liggett, co-trustees under 10/10/05 Liggett Trusts, filed a complaint in Tuscarawas County. The Lessee, Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., counterclaimed. The case was removed to federal court in Youngstown, Ohio. See Liggett v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147392, United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

The Liggetts claimed the lease was unenforceable because it was signed by them personally, not as trustees, and asked for summary judgment. Chesapeake asked for a declaratory judgment that the lease is valid and enforceable, and filed counterclaims.

On Oct. 11, 2013, Judge Benita Y. Pearson ruled that the lease is valid and enforceable. Chesapeake’s motion for summary judgment for its claims against the Liggetts remain pending for trial. They are:
Continue Reading Lessors fail in an attempt to terminate — land held by a trust is subject to a valid oil and gas lease

An essential function of the law is to provide predictability as questions arise. When legal questions arise in the oil field regarding ownership rights, a consensus in the law — especially in the common law — is crucial. With that consensus, the attributes of conveyances related to those hydrocarbons (rights) can be examined. Specifically, what are the landowner’s rights with regard to the hydrocarbons under a piece of land in Ohio? Does he or she actually own them, or do they just have the right to capture them? If he or she would grant a lease to an oil company, what does the oil company own — is it an interest in real estate or is it simply a right to search? And, if found, what is the nature of the interest owned by the oil company pursuant to the lease? These fundamental questions have not been answered clearly in Ohio despite the fact that courts have struggled with them for over a century.

This ambiguity in the law puts federal courts in a potentially difficult position. Absent a clear indication of state law, federal judges deciding these issues under Ohio law are required to consider how the Ohio Supreme Court would decide the issue. Recently, a federal judge weighed in on the nature of an oil and gas lease in the case of Wellington Resource Group LLC v. Beck Energy Corporation, Case No. 2:12-CC-104 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, Sept. 20, 2013.

Whether the interest granted in the lease is an interest in real estate, or is something other than that, has implications in a variety of laws and contexts. Does the lease need to be in writing? Does the lease need to be recorded? Is a mechanics’ lien able to attach to it? How is the lease characterized in a bankruptcy context? (Read more in previously published articles about bankruptcy and mechanics’ liens.)
Continue Reading What is an oil and gas lease? A federal court in Ohio predicts Ohio law

We wrote previously about the United States District Court for the District of Columbia vacating Securities and Exchange Commission Rule 13q-1, which required certain companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments in connection with the commercial development of oil, natural gas or minerals. The SEC announced Sept. 3, 2013 that it would not appeal

In our first post about Section 16 lands, we provided background on such public lands here in Ohio. We summarized that in 1785, a Federal land ordinance granted one square mile — usually Section 16 — out of every six square mile township to be held in trust by the state and to be dedicated to support public education pursuant to federal law. The Ohio Legislature then began leasing the land, and in 1827 it authorized sale of the land with proceeds going to the “Common School Fund.” Interest from the fund was to be paid to the schools within the townships. See, Dr. George W. Knepper, The Auditor of State, The Official Ohio Lands Book, 2002. (“Knepper”).

In regard to the funds collected from the sale of all school lands, the Ohio Constitution provided:

“The principal of all funds, arising from the sale, or other disposition of lands, or other property, granted or entrusted to this state for educational and religious purposes, shall forever be preserved inviolate, and undiminished; and, the income arising therefrom, shall be faithfully applied to the specific objects of the original grants, or appropriations.” Ohio Constitution, Article VI, Section 1 1


Continue Reading Part 2: Who owns the minerals under Ohio Township Section 16?