This case dealt with the ownership of mineral rights. Specifically, the Court analyzed mineral ownership after the application of the Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (hereinafter “ODMA”).
The case centered on a dispute over the ownership of the minerals under approximately 30 acres (hereinafter “Property”) in Guernsey County, Ohio. The minerals to the Property were first severed in May of 1927, then purportedly severed again in November 1927 and a third time before 1983.53 In December 1983, Charles E. Hutchens and Martha Hutchens obtained a surface interest in the Property.54
Upon the passing of Charles E. Hutchens, Martha Hutchens recorded an Affidavit of Survivorship. In 1998, she conveyed the Property (hereinafter “1998 Deed”), purporting to reserve the oil and gas estate in the Property to the Grahams.55 Ten years later, the Grahams conveyed the property to David Graham and other unnamed individuals (Appellees). The 2008 conveyance (hereinafter “2008 Deed”) did not include a property description, but instead included a copy of the 1998 Deed and its oil and gas reservation. In 2012, the Appellees published a Notice of Abandonment in the newspaper, served notice, and then recorded an Affidavit of Abandonment.56 In 2014, George Hutchens and Jack Hutchens57 (Appellants) filed of record an Affidavit to Transfer Interest in Real Estate, which purported to transfer the mineral rights reserved in the 1998 Deed. In 2015, an Amended Certificate of Transfer was filed of record, which also purported transfer the reserved minerals.58
In May 2015, Appellants filed suit against the Appellees, seeking both to quiet title and a declaratory judgment ruling the minerals had automatically reverted to Martha Hutchens under the 1989 ODMA. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The case was stayed pending Ohio Supreme Court decisions involving various ODMA issues, and was returned to the active docket after the Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C.59 decision. In January 2017, the trial court dismissed the Appellants’ complaint, quieting title in the minerals to the Appellees. Appellants appealed.
The Court of Appeals analyzed the mineral ownership under the ODMA, as well as the Appellants’ point of error arguing that the Affidavit of Abandonment was invalid due to improper notice. The Court relied on Corban, which held that the 1989 ODMA was not self-executing. This decision rendered moot the Appellants’ argument that the 1989 ODMA automatically revested the mineral interest with the surface, because the surface owner had to obtain a judgment in a suit to quiet title before the 2006 ODMA took effect. 60 Therefore, Martha Hutchens only owed a surface interest in the Property at the time she executed the 1998 Deed, and was never a mineral owner.
As to the Appellants’ point of error regarding notice: The Appellants argued that the appropriate notice was not served to Martha Hutchens, which invalidated the Affidavit of Abandonment. However, as already discussed, Martha Hutchens only owned a surface interest in the Property, and therefore was not a record holder requiring notice.61 Thus, the Affidavit of Abandonment recorded by the Appellees was effective to revest the minerals of the Property with their surface interest.62
In conclusion, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision that the Appellees’ Affidavit of Abandonment was valid and deemed the severed minerals in the Property abandoned and revested in the surface as of March 1, 2012, the date the Affidavit was filed of record. It overruled the point of error regarding notice to the Appellants or their predecessor-in-interest. This case provides an analysis of how to apply the ODMA to a complicated chain of title, simplifying the application. Both landmen and attorneys can benefit from understanding such analysis for future ODMA issues.
52 Hutchens v. Graham, 5th Dist. Guernsey No. 17 CA 4, 2017-Ohio-7829.
53 Id. at ¶ 2. These mineral severances were revested with the Property after the Affidavit of Abandonment was recorded. They are not the central point to this case brief, and are not discussed further.
54 Id. at ¶ 3-4.
55 Id. at ¶ 5-7.
56 Id. at ¶ 8-9. The Affidavit of Abandonment was valid as to statutory requirements, and its validity is not at issue with the Court.
57 Sarah Hutchens was substituted as a party at some point during the proceedings.
58 Hutchens v. Graham at ¶ 10.
59 Corban v. Chesapeake Exploration L.L.C., 149 Ohio St.3d 512, 2016-Ohio-5796, 76 N.E.3d 1089.
60 Id. at ¶ 26-28 (citing Corban, supra).
61 R. C. § 5301.56(E)(1) (2006 ODMA).
62 Id. at ¶ 29-31.