This is a deed interpretation case where the court found that an exception and reservation of the oil and gas estate to “former grantors” was effective because the grantor in the deed at question was also formerly a grantor in a prior deed.
The conflict centers around the following chain of title:
1. Deed 1: In June 1996, Consolidation Coal Company sold 160.987 acres in Harrison County, Ohio to Bruner Land Company, Inc., Appellees (hereinafter “Bruner”). Deed 1 contained the following language, “EXCEPTING all the previously excepted and conveyed coal and mining rights.”82
2. Deed 2: In February 1997, Bruner executed a deed to itself dividing the 160 acres into four parcels. Deed 2 contained the following language, “Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil, and gas.”83 Two of the four parcels were at issue in the case (hereinafter “B-1” and “B-2”).
3. Deed 3: On March 31, 1997, Parcel B-2 was sold by Bruner to Gary and Patricia Cooper. Deed 3 contained the following language, “Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil and gas.”84
4. Deed 4: On April 17, 1997, Parcel B-1 was sold by Bruner to C.T. and Teresa Hill. Deed 4 contained the following language, “Excepting and Reserving to the former grantors, their heirs and assigns, all coal, oil and gas.”85
5. Both parcels were eventually purchased by Brian G. Porterfield, et al., Appellants (hereinafter “Porterfield”). All of the remaining deeds in the chain of title contained the same excepting and reserving language as Deeds 2, 3 and 4.86
In May 2014, Porterfield filed suit for quiet title, claiming that the oil and gas estate was not reserved by Bruner and was conveyed by each deed in the chain of title. Bruner filed an answer and counterclaimed that it owned the oil and gas estate. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Bruner, concluding that the language used in Deed 3 and Deed 4 effectively reserved the oil and gas estate because Bruner was a “former grantor” in Deed 2. Porterfield raised the following assignments of error on appeal: (1) The trial court erred because the reservation in Deed 2 was invalid; (2) the trial court erred by determining the reservations in Deed 3 and Deed 4 were valid; and (3) the trial court improperly considered extrinsic evidence by deciding a disputed issue of fact when it determined Bruner was a “former grantor.”
The court addressed the first assignment of error by agreeing with Porterfield that the reservation in Deed 2 was invalid because “a reservation or exception in a deed cannot serve to vest title in a stranger to the deed.”87 However, the court concluded that the determination had no effect on the case because the trial court’s summary judgment ruling was not a determination of whether Bruner had reserved an interest in Deed 2 and that said determination has no bearing on the outcome of the case.88
In addressing the second assignment of error, the court began by addressing the meaning of “former grantors,” finding that in the instance of Deed 3 and Deed 4, “former grantors” refer to grantors in previous transactions in the chain of title.89 The court continued,
“Given that grammatically ‘former grantors’ could include [Bruner], the trial court’s analysis of the plain language used in [Deed 3] and [Deed 4] is correct. Those deeds reserved and excepted all coal, oil and gas in the former grantors. [Bruner] is a former grantor and therefore any coal, oil, and gas interests that were not reserved or conveyed were reserved to it.”90
Based on this reasoning, the court concluded that Deed 3 and Deed 4, when taken in conjunction with Deed 2, indicate that Bruner reserved the oil and gas estate.
Finally, the court addressed the third assignment of error, whether or not the trial court erred by determining that Bruner was a “former grantor” by considering the chain of title, by holding:
“… looking through the chain of title is not looking at extrinsic evidence because the use of the words ‘former grantors’ incorporates by reference the prior deeds. Ohio contract law recognizes the doctrine of incorporation by reference … When a document is incorporated into a contract by reference, that document becomes part of the contract … Therefore, the instruments must be read and construed together.”91
The court ultimately upheld the trial court’s reasoning and grant of summary judgment for Bruner.
Author’s Note: Please see the Editorial Comment in Section C for further information regarding the significance of the Porterfield v. Bruner case.
81 Porterfield v. Bruner Land Co., Inc., 7th Dist. Harrison No. 16 HA 0019, 2017-Ohio-9045.
82 Id. at ¶ 2.
83 Id. at ¶ 3.
84 Id. at ¶ 4.
85 Id. at ¶ 5.
86 Id. at ¶ 6.
87 Id. at ¶ 26, citing Lighthorse v. Clinefelter, 521 N.E.2d 1146 (9th Dist. 1987).
88 Id. at ¶ 29.
89 Id. at ¶ 33.
90 Id. at ¶ 35.
91 Id. at ¶ 39, citing Volovetz v. Tremco Barrier Sols., Inc., 2016-Ohio-7707, ¶ 26 (10th Dist.); and Key Bank Natl. Assn. v. Columbus Campus, L.L.C., 2013-Ohio-1243, ¶ 24 (10th Dist.).