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Snyder v. Ohio Department of Natural Resources

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20209
Nos. 2014-OHIO-3942, (Ohio, 09/17/2014)

The Ohio Supreme Court held that a mineral rights owner may be able to strip mine portions of a state wildlife area. The state and the mineral rights owner entered a contract granting the owner “all mineral rights, including rights of ingress and egress and reasonable surface right privileges.” The owner interpreted “reasonable surface right privileges” to entitle him to strip-mine a portion of the property. The state, meanwhile, interpreted the clause to entitle the owner to access the property to facilitate deep mining. A lower court ruled in the state's favor on motions for summary judgment, but the state's highest court disagreed. Here, the contract entitles the owner of the mineral rights to surface mine the property, subject to the reasonableness standard of the contract. Had the parties intended the phrase to mean nothing other than customary ingress, egress, and concomitant surface rights, they would have used contract language that was normal and customary for that purpose. Strip-mining was well known in the area when the contract was signed, and some areas of the property at issue were strip-mined before the state acquired it. Thus, there is reason to believe that the signatories to the original contract understood that “reasonable surface right privileges” included the right to strip-mine, and there is no reason to believe that the signatories intended to exclude strip-mining. On remand, the lower court must determine what is reasonable and consider a myriad of factors, including the extent of mining, duration of the mining, and the quality of the remediation to be done.