The Seventh District Court of Appeals recently issued another decision addressing the “specific reference” exception under Ohio’s Marketable Title Act, R.C. 5301.47, et seq. (the “MTA”). In Cattrell Family Woodlands v. Ragsdale, 2021-Ohio-4660, the appellant attempted to extinguish a severed one-half oil and gas interest under the MTA. The appellees argued that the MTA did not extinguish the one-half oil and gas interest because the root of title deed contained a specific reference to the oil and gas interest. The Court recognized that whether a reference is general or specific (i.e., the second step of the Blackstone inquiry) can only be answered by means of a fact driven analysis, which the Court undertook by applying the Ohio Supreme Court’s holding in Erickson and its own holding in O’Kelley to the facts in this case. First, the Court considered whether the reference leaves it unclear whether a prior interest actually exists. The Court found the reference to be unclear, stating there is nothing within the reference alerting the reader to the existence of a prior reservation and, on its face, the language appears to create a new reservation.
Second, the Court considered whether the reference contained the same reservation language as the severance deed. The Court found the language to be different, noting that the reference in the root of title deed added the language “bore and remove the same, more or less” and omitted the language “all the privileges and appurtenances to the same belonging, and all the rents, issues, and profits thereof.” In analyzing the difference, the Court distinguished the language omitted in various deeds comprising the chain of title in Erickson (four deeds omitted the word “said” before “first parties”), which the Ohio Supreme Court did not find to be significant, and the language omitted in the root of title deeds in O’Kelley (both describing the parties’ rights as to the mineral interest), which the Court found to be an important consideration. Furthermore, while the Court acknowledged that a name is not required in order for a reference to be specific, it also pointed out that the name William Cox (i.e., the person who reserved the one-half oil and gas interest) was present in the original reservation, but specifically omitted from the reference in the root of title.
Lastly, the Court considered whether the original reservation had been consistently included or referenced within the chain of title. Unlike Erickson, which relied on the fact that the reservation was included within each deed in the chain of title, the reservation here was not referenced in any other deed within the chain of title other than the root of title deed. After weighing these factors, the Court determined that the root of title contained a general reference because it contained “vague, boilerplate language that omits and adds phrases to the original reservation and has not been consistently noted within the chain of title.”