Earlier this week, Ohio’s 7th District Court of Appeals again addressed the amount of diligence required to identify the holders of severed mineral interests under the 2006 version of Ohio’s Dormant Mineral Act (2006 DMA). In Sharp v. Miller, 2018-Ohio-4740, the Court reaffirmed its earlier ruling in Shilts v. Beardmore that the 2006 DMA only requires a surface owner to exercise reasonable due diligence to ascertain the names and addresses of mineral holders prior to serving its notice of abandonment by publication. Further, the Court held that whether a surface owner’s actions constitute “reasonable due diligence” will depend on the facts and circumstances of each individual case. Thus, there is no right-line rule or definition of “reasonable due diligence.” Actions that may be reasonable in one case may not be reasonable in another case.
In Sharp, the surface owners searched the local probate records and deed records, but their search failed to reveal the names of any heirs of the record mineral owners. Moreover, the only address the surface owners found in their search was a post office box that formerly belonged to one of the record mineral owners. Their search did produce a Release of Estate from Administration for one of the record mineral owners. However, that Release did not reference the subject mineral interest. A title report ordered by the surface owners also failed to reveal any potential heirs.
The surface owners did conduct an in-depth, 80-hour internet search for the heirs of the record mineral owners. However, that search occurred after the surface owners had already served their notice of abandonment by publication. Notwithstanding the lack of a prior internet search, the Court held that the surface owners exercised reasonable due diligence under the circumstances of this case. The Court found that a prior internet search would likely not have been helpful to the surface owners because the only names they had for such a search were the names of the record mineral owners. Further, the Court found that there is no evidence that a simple internet search could have revealed the names of the actual heirs of the record mineral owners. In making this finding, the Court was likely influenced by the fact that the surface owners were only able to create a partial list of heirs from their extensive internet search.