The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Rochelle S. Friedman, Senior Judge
Argued: December 12, 2011
BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge*fn1
HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge
OPINION BY SENIOR JUDGE FRIEDMAN
Ginger Golden (Recorder), in her capacity as Wayne County Recorder of
Deeds, appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Wayne
County (trial court), dated April 21, 2011, granting Chesapeake
Appalachia, LLC‟s (Chesapeake) motion for summary judgment in
declaratory relief and ordering the Recorder "to rescind her policy
against recording "blanket assignments‟ and to record all documents
that are within the scope of Pennsylvania‟s recording statutes,
provided they are properly acknowledged and the appropriate statutory
fee has been paid." (Tr. Ct. Op. and Order, 4/21/11, at 5.)*fn2
At issue here are 211 leases that are the subject of four
multiple lease assignments, which Chesapeake, a natural gas
exploration and production company and the assignor in this case,
submitted for recording on March 29, 2010.*fn3 We
The Recorder is the duly-elected Recorder of Deeds of Wayne County, who took office in January 1988. The Recorder‟s office is comprised of four full-time staff members in addition to the Recorder. According to the Recorder‟s brief, there has been, in the past three to four years, a thirty-percent increase in the volume of documents submitted for recording due to an increase in oil and gas-related activities in Wayne County, as a result of the Marcellus Shale Formation. As of July 6, 2010, Chesapeake, an Oklahoma limited liability company based in Oklahoma City, had recorded 3,391 oil and gas leases in Wayne County.
On June 3, 2010, Chesapeake commenced this action by filing a complaint that sought declaratory, injunctive and mandatory relief as a result of the Recorder‟s refusal to record certain documents related to oil and gas leases in Wayne County.*fn4 After a number of other pleadings were filed, the trial court issued an order resolving most of the issues before it. Chesapeake and the Recorder then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In her summary judgment motion, the Recorder asserted that her policy of rejecting multiple lease, or "blanket," assignments is proper because of her inability to index the assignments as to the lessors of each underlying lease as required by Pennsylvania law. In its summary judgment motion, Chesapeake asserted that the Recorder is obligated to record documents as they are prepared and presented by the parties and the Recorder cannot set a policy against recording multiple lease assignments. Chesapeake thereafter withdrew its summary judgment request with respect to the remaining documents that were not categorized as multiple lease assignments.
On April 21, 2011, after oral argument in which Chesapeake, the Recorder, and the Pennsylvania Recorder of Deeds Association (PRODA), as amicus curiae, participated, the trial court granted Chesapeake‟s motion for summary judgment, directing the Recorder to "record all documents that are within the scope of Pennsylvania‟s recording statutes," so long as they are "properly acknowledged and the appropriate statutory fee has been paid." (Tr. Ct. Op. at 5.) The Recorder then appealed to this court.*fn5
On appeal,the Recorder argues that the trial court erred as a matter of law in compelling the Recorder to accept Chesapeake‟s multiple lease assignments for recording.*fn6 Specifically, the Recorder asserts that the trial court improperly granted Chesapeake relief in mandamus because Chesapeake did not meet its burden of proving entitlement to such relief.*fn7 In this regard, the Recorder contends that Chesapeake has shown neither a clear legal right to have its multiple lease assignments recorded nor a corresponding duty in the Recorder to record them. We disagree.
Preliminarily, we note the Recorder‟s admission that "leases, and assignments of leases, are documents that are entitled to be recorded pursuant to statutory law." (Recorder‟s Br. at 20.) There is no question that the relevant statutory language not only supports this statement, but proceeds further to require the Recorder to record the instruments of writing that are presented to her. For example, section 1 of the Act of May 12, 1925, P.L. 613, as amended, 21 P.S. §351 (emphasis added), specifically provides:
All deeds, conveyances, contracts, and other instruments of writing wherein it shall be the intention of the parties executing the same to grant, bargain, sell, and convey any lands, tenements, or hereditaments situate in this Commonwealth, upon being acknowledged by the parties executing the same or proved in the manner provided by the laws of this Commonwealth, shall be recorded in the office for the recording of deeds in the county where such lands, tenements, and hereditaments are situate. . . . Further, section 1 of the Act of April 24, 1931, P.L. 48, 21 P.S. §356 (emphasis added), specifically provides:
All agreements in writing relating to real property situate in this Commonwealth by the terms whereof the parties executing the same do grant, bargain, sell, or convey any rights or privileges of a permanent nature pertaining to such real property . . . shall be acknowledged according to law by the parties thereto or proved in the manner provided by law, and shall be recorded in the office for the recording of deeds in the county or counties wherein such real property is situate.
In Penn Title Insurance Company v. Deshler, 661 A.2d 481, 486 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995), this Court explained that the Recorder of Deeds of Monroe County was charged with recording a deed or mortgage instrument as the parties had prepared and executed it. We also explained that principles of statutory construction, when applied to the statute relevant therein,*fn8 did not require otherwise. Similarly, here, the mandatory and unambiguous language of 21 P.S. §§351 and 356 requires the Recorder to record the subject documents as they are presented to her.*fn9
While not binding on this court, the reasoning of our sister court, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in Lesnick v. Chartiers Natural Gas Company, 889 A.2d 1282 (Pa. Super. 2005), ...