We are finishing up our discussion of a case that’s headed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court is asked to figure out who owns the mineral rights of a parcel of land.
When we left off in our last post, we were talking about the particular laws in Pennsylvania at the time that the property was transferred and sold for taxes and transferred again. If the land were undeveloped, and the mineral rights were severed from the rights to the surface, the owner of the mineral rights was required to notify the county commission of his or her ownership stake.
The family that had retained the mineral rights in the 1899 property transfer had not filed anything with the commission. The way the system worked at the time, the county had no obligation to search through deeds to make sure the rights had not been divided. It burden was on the landowners.
Because the county had no idea that two parties had claims to the same piece of property, it taxed the land as if there were just one owner. When those taxes went unpaid, the county took the land and the mineral rights and sold it at auction.
Remember, though, that the heirs had filed a reservation of rights (see our Nov. 1 post) that was, the family argued, acknowledged in the 1959 transfer deed. By that time, it didn’t matter. The property rights had been reunited — in real estate lingo, “the estates had been joined” — because the family had never recorded their interest with the county.
So, the 1959 transfer was “subject to all exceptions and reservations as are contained in the chain of title,” but the chain of title included no reservation of rights because the county had never been informed that the mineral rights had been severed. What the chain of title hath joined together, let no unrecorded reservation of rights put asunder.
The appeals court acknowledges that the outcome is a little harsh. The court, however, is bound by the laws at the time of the transfers, and this is the result.
Here in Pennsylvania, it is not uncommon for property to be handed down from generation to generation. As mining companies look for access to the Marcellus Shale gas field, though, landowners may want to double-check their title to make sure they own what they think they own.
Philly.com, “Marcellus Shale gas boom sparks land disputes,” Andrew Maykuth, Sept. 1, 2014
Herder Spring Hunting Club v. Keller, 93 A.3d 465 (Pa.Super.,2014), via Westlaw