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COA rules for first time on retroactivity of Mineral Lapse Act

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has held that a portion of the Mineral Lapse Act is limited in its retroactive application to only the 20-year period immediately proceeding the Sept. 2, 1971, effective date of the Act.

The first impression issue arose in Richard J. Bond and Janet A. Bond, et al. v. Templeton Coal Company, Inc., 42A01-1209-PL-419, in which Richard and Janet Bond challenged the grant of summary judgment to Templeton Coal Co. on its complaint to quiet title to certain mineral interests. The Bonds owned the real property having underlying coal and other minerals that had been conveyed to Templeton in 1960 by way of a merger. The Bonds claimed that Templeton’s interests in the minerals lapsed under the Act due to nonuse for 20 or more consecutive years, so the Bonds were the proper owners under the law.

Indiana Code 32-23-10-2 says that any interest in minerals if unused for 20 years is extinguished, with ownership reverting to the owner of the interest out of which the interest in minerals was carved. A statement of claim under this section must be filed by the owner of the mineral interest before the end of the 20-year period.

The Bonds believed that based on a 35-year period of nonuse between 1929 and 1964, Templeton’s mineral interest lapsed, despite the fact it paid taxes on those interests from 1964 on, which constitutes a use under I.C. 32-23-10-3(a)(6).

The COA determined that based on the original language of the Act, there is some retroactivity to the statute, but not as far back as the Bonds would like. It determined that Section 2 is ambiguous and should be construed to limit the application to the 20 years immediately preceding the effective date of the Act.

“Indeed, the Bonds fail to consider that, at the time Templeton’s interests were not used, 1929-1964, that nonuse was wholly consistent with the common law,” Judge Edward Najam wrote, agreeing with the rationale laid out by the District Court in the Southern District of Indiana’s decision in Am. Land Holdings of Ind. LLC v. Jobe, 655 F. Supp. 2d 882, 890 (S.D. Ind. 2009). “Considering Section 2’s ambiguity, the rule to strictly construe acts in derogation of the common law, and the Act’s underlying purposes, we hold that Section 2 is limited in its retroactive application to only the twenty-year period immediately preceding the effective date of the Act, or September 2, 1951.”

The judges affirmed summary judgment for Templeton, agreeing that Templeton holds the record title to the mineral interests and that there has been no lapse of the mineral interests under the Act.

 

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