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Pennsylvania Superior Court Upholds “Title Washing”

In Woodhouse Hunting Club, Inc. v. Hoyt, an unpublished opinion filed February 2, 2018, the Pennsylvania Superior Court upheld the practice of “title washing” of unseated land in Pennsylvania. Prior to January 1, 1948, title washing occurred through a tax sale of unseated land from which oil, gas and/or minerals (the “subsurface estate”) had been previously severed. If the subsurface estate had not been separately assessed, the tax sale of the unseated land would extinguish the prior severance and vest the tax sale purchaser with full ownership in the surface and subsurface estates. If the oil and gas had been separately assessed, then the tax sale of the surface would have no effect on the subsurface estate. After January 1, 1948, mineral estates were no longer separately assessed from the surface in Pennsylvania and title washing could no longer occur. In 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld the practice of “title washing” of unseated or unimproved land in Pennsylvania. Herder Spring Hunting Club v. Keller, 143 A.3d 358 (Pa. 2016).

Prior to the Superior Court ruling, the trial court had quieted title in favor of Woodhouse Hunting Club, Inc. based upon the Club’s argument that Hoyt did not own subsurface mineral rights due to a 1902 title wash. In issuing its ruling in Hoyt, the Superior Court noted that the Herder Spring decision addressed and disposed of all of Hoyt’s issues in the case. Therefore, the Superior Court relied on the holding in Herder Spring in affirming the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment and quiet title in favor of Woodhouse Hunting Club, Inc.