On June 19, 2019, the Seventh District Court of Appeals decided Kilburn v. Graham, 2019-Ohio-2695. Kilburn involves the interpretation of the following mineral conveyance language – “the one-half part or share of their royalty of all [the oil] and gas in and under [the property].” In 1919, Frieda and Chancy Ankrom owned the surface estate and ½ of the oil and gas royalty for 120 acres in Monroe County, Ohio. In May of 1919, the Ankroms conveyed “unto F . F Burkhart, A.C., and E.L. Peters and H.J. Cooper the one-half part or share of their royalty of all [the oil] and gas in and under [the property.” The dispute involved the present surface owner of the property (the plaintiff) and the heirs of F.F. Burkhart. According to the plaintiff, the original conveyance from the Ankroms only conveyed 1/2 of their 1/2 royalty interest. Furthermore, the plaintiff claimed that the Ankroms conveyed four separate 1/4 interests in the royalty interest, meaning F.F. Burkhart, A.C. Peters, E.L. Peters, and H.J. Cooper each received a 1/16 share of the royalty. The defendants argued that the Ankroms conveyed all of their royalty interest (a 1/2 interest) in three equal parts.
The trial court found in favor of the defendants and held that the use of the term “the one-half” in the Ankrom conveyance meant they conveyed the entirety of their interest and that the conveyance consisted of three equal, undivided parts, meaning a total of 1/6 interest in the royalties was conveyed to F.F. Burkhart, A.C. and E.L. Peters, and H.J. Cooper.
The Seventh District upheld the trial court on both points. As to the interpretation of “the one-half part or share of their royalty,” the Seventh District provided little to no analysis to support its conclusion:
At the time of the conveyance, the Ankroms owned an undivided 1/2 interest in the oil and gas royalty. The fact that the conveyance granted “the one-half part or share of their royalty” indicates that the Ankroms intended to convey their entire interest in the royalty. “[T]heir share,” indicates that the Ankroms only owned a portion of the royalty, not the whole royalty. As they conveyed “the one-half part or share,” the deed shows that the Ankroms intended to convey their entire interest in the royalty.
Based on the scant amount of legal analysis, it is difficult to believe the holding of this case will offer much precedential value to other deed interpretation cases. However, if one is confronted with interpreting a conveyance involving fractional interests, this case may help provide a little guidance as to how to interpret said conveyance.
As to the amount of shares conveyed by the Ankroms, the Seventh District held that the Ankroms conveyed three equal shares. The Seventh District relied, principally, upon the lack of a serial or Oxford comma between A.C. and E.L. Peters name. The appellate court refrained from rewriting the deed to state either “F . F Burkhart, A.C., and E.L. Peters, and H.J. Cooper” or “F . F Burkhart, A.C. Peters, and E.L. Peters and H.J. Cooper.” The court further relied upon the fact that the grantees were grouped by last names, indicating three distinct groups of grantees.
In the end, Kilburn v. Graham reinforces that each deed which severs or conveys severed mineral interests must be taken and interpreted on its own, while also emphasizing the importance of commas.
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.