Two recent decisions from the Ohio Supreme Court address developing issues in Ohio law. The opinions discuss 1) the Ohio Marketable Title Act relating to issues in property law concerning reservations of mineral rights and 2) an Ohio administrative law dealing with a peremptory writ of mandamus.
In Erickson v. Morrison, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-746, decided March 16, 2021, the Ohio Supreme Court held that a reference in a reservation of mineral rights in a surface landowner’s root of title and in subsequently recorded title transactions is sufficiently specific to preserve the reservation of the mineral rights under the Ohio Marketable Title Act even when the reference does not name the record owner of those rights. The majority decision, written by Justice Kennedy, reversed the appellate court decision and reinstated the trial court judgment declaring the Ericksons’ ownership of the mineral rights in the reservation and quieting title in their favor.
The surface rights to land in Guernsey County were conveyed in 1926, with the sellers retaining the mineral rights to the coal, oil, and gas by this language in the deed: “Excepting and reserving therefrom all coal, gas, and oil rights with the right of said first parties, their heirs and assigns, at any time to drill and operate for oil and gas and to mine all coal.”
The surface rights were transferred five times between 1926 and 1975 and by a deed in 1978 to the Morrisons named in the current case and subsequent transfers in the chain of title from the Morrisons to themselves and their trusts. These transfers reiterated the “excepting and reserving” language regarding the mineral rights. In 2017, an action was filed by heirs of the person to whom, in 1941, the 1926 seller transferred the mineral rights by execution of a deed specifically referring to the 1926 transaction.
The decision discussed the Ohio Marketable Title Act, Ohio Revised Code 5301.47 et seq., which provides that an unbroken chain of title to land for a period of 40 years establishes marketable record of title to the land, which generally extinguishes property interests that predate the landowner’s root of title. However, nothing in R.C. 5301.49(A) provides that a reference in an interest in the muniments of title is a general reference that is insufficient to preserve the interest when it fails to include the interest owner’s name.
The decision concluded that in enacting R.C. 5301.49(A) the General Assembly did not require a reference to an interest predating the root of title to name the interest’s owner in order to preserve the interest. Here, the root of title and subsequent conveyances of the surface rights are made subject to a specific, identifiable reservation of mineral rights using the same language that created it and notwithstanding the failure to name the owner of the reserved mineral rights, this reference is sufficient to preserve these rights from being extinguished by the Ohio Marketable Title Act.
Practice Pointer: This decision may merit attention to the language in property transfers where mineral rights may be involved. A look at the root of title referenced in previous transfers may be indicated.
Another recent decision from the Ohio Supreme Court addresses duties required of a department of the State of Ohio. A peremptory writ of mandamus was granted by the Ohio Supreme Court in the case of State ex rel. Fire Rock Ltd. V. Ohio Department of Commerce, Slip Opinion No. 2021-Ohio-673. In a per curiam opinion, dealing with the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, the Court found that Ohio Administrative Code 3796:2-1-09 does not prohibit a cultivator from submitting an expansion application on its own initiative and that the Department of Commerce had a clear legal duty to either approve or deny the application.
Fire Rock, a licensed cultivator under Ohio’s medical marijuana program, submitted an application to the Department of Commerce for approval to expand its cultivation facility since it lacked the means to produce enough product to meet customer demand. In response to its follow up inquiry, the Department said that because it had not solicited cultivation area expansion requests, it was taking not action on Fire Rock’s request. Subsequently, Fire Rock filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus ordering the Department to approve or deny its application.
The decision analyzed that a writ of mandamus will issue when a relator establishes a clear legal right to the requested relief, a clear legal duty on the part of the respondent to provide it, and the lack of an adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law, noting that an administrative rule adopted pursuant to legislative authority may provide the basis for a clear legal duty and a clear legal right in a mandamus case. The Court discussed Ohio Administrative Code 3796:2-1-09 regarding the first two prongs of the test and concluded that Fire Rock lacked an adequate legal remedy, granting a peremptory writ of mandamus ordering the Department to approve or deny the application.
Practice Pointer: This decision is rendered in a matter involving the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. However, it examines the duties an Ohio administrative entity with rules promulgated under Chapter 119 Ohio Revised Code and examines the test for granting a writ of mandamus.
As always, if you have questions about these cases or any other loss prevention topic, please feel free to contact me.
Gretchen K. Mote, Esq.
Director of Loss Prevention