In Dahlgren, which involved a mineral interest severed from the surface estates in 1949, the Seventh District Court of Appeals, in an opinion authored by the Honorable Joseph J. Vukovich, held that the trial court incorrectly determined that R.C. 5301.56 (in effect prior to June 30, 2006) (“1989 DMA”) was not self-executing, meaning it deemed dormant mineral interests automatically abandoned without the need for action by the affected surface owners. The parties had stipulated before the trial court that the mineral interest at issue had not been subject to a preserving event under the 1989 DMA between March 22, 1969, and March 22, 1992. Based on those factual stipulations and the Seventh District’s prior holdings in Walker v. Shondrick-Nau, 7th Dist. No. 13NO402, 2014-Ohio-1499 and Swartz v. Householder, 7th Dist. No. Nos. 13JE24, 13JE25, 2014-Ohio-2359, the court reversed the trial court’s decision, remanded the case to the trial court, and ordered the trial court to issue an order declaring the mineral interests abandoned.
The Seventh District reaffirmed its prior holdings that the 1989 DMA was self-executing, meaning it deemed severed mineral interests abandoned and vested the same with surface owners without any action by the surface owners. In further enunciating its position that the 2006 amendments could not be applied against surface owners who had obtained vested rights under the previous version of the statute, the court stated the general rule that “the statute to be applied is the one existing at the time the cause of action accrued unless the new statute existing at the time the suit was filed enunciates that it applies to causes of action that accrued prior to the effective date.” Because the 2006 amendments contained no such express statement, they cannot be retroactively applied against surface owners who had obtained vested rights. Finally, the court held that the fact that the 2006 version of the statute contains a look-back period which contained years during which the 1989 DMA was in effect (1986 to 2006), does not mean that it contains an express statement of retroactive application and thus, it cannot be applied to surface owners who acquired vested rights under the 1989 DMA.
The Seventh District’s decision to reverse the trial court’s decision should not come as a surprise, as the Seventh District had expressed its disagreement with the Dahlgren trial court’s decision in Walker and Swartz. The Seventh District declined to address the constitutionality of the 1989 DMA. The surface owner requested that the court render a decision on whether the 1989 DMA violated the due process rights of severed mineral owners. The court, just as it had done in Walker and Swartz, held that because the parties failed to raise constitutionality with the trial court and the trial court failed to render a decision on constitutionality; it would not decide the issue on appeal.
Dahlgren v. Brown Farms Properties L.L.C., 7th Dist. Carroll No. 13 CA 896, 2014-Ohio-4001 (Sep. 9, 2014)
NOTE: This general summary of the law should not be used to solve individual problems since slight changes in the fact situation may require a material variance in the applicable legal advice.