Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The Supreme Court reversed in part the circuit court's decision affirming the order of the family court in this divorce proceeding, holding that under the provisions of W. Va. Code § 43- 1-2(a)–(e), where a spouse conveys a security interest in her separate real property by a deed of trust and fails to give notice of the conveyance to the non-title holding spouse within thirty days of the transaction, then in the event of a divorce within five years of the conveyance, the real property shall be deemed a part of the conveyancer’s marital property for purposes of determining equitable distribution or support awards and assigned a value equal to its fair market value at the time of the conveyance. The family court here initially concluded that the fair market value of the wife's separate property was attributable as a marital asset. The circuit court reversed in part, concluding that the value of the real estate conveyed by a deed of trust was not the total market value of the property but the value of the security interest. On remand, the family court recalculated equitable distribution pursuant to the circuit court's directive. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded for a recalculation of equitable support. View "Raymond H. v. Cammie H." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment ruling that Lawrence Pifer and Michael Pifer were entitled to damages related to condemnation blight and the jury's award of damages for condemnation blight but reversed and remanded with directions for the trial court to recalculate interest on the award in accordance with W. Va. Code 54-2-14a, holding that the trial court erred when calculating interest on the jury award. The Pifers were operators of a family business operated on a 2.45 acre parcel. The Division of Highways filed a petition to condemn the Pifers' land for a public use. The parties disagreed on the matter of just compensation, and the matter went to trial. In addition to seeking compensation the Pifers claimed that they suffered damages for rental loss due to condemnation blight. The jury found that the Pifers suffered damages related to condemnation blight. The trial court calculated pre-petition interest at ten percent and ten percent interest to the total award from the date of the petition. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the jury's award of damages for condemnation blight was proper but that the trial court erred in calculating interest on the jury award. View "West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways v. Pifer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's final order finding that Kenneth and Aimee Bragg had met every element of their adverse possession claim as a matter of law, despite questions of fact pertaining to permissive use of the 9.21 acres of disputed property, holding that summary judgment was not appropriate in this case. Teubert Family Farms, LLC filed a complaint against the Braggs seeking to quiet title, requesting injunctive relief, and alleging slander of title. The Braggs filed a counterclaim alleging adverse possession as to the disputed property. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the Braggs. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred by finding no material question of fact was in dispute as to whether the Braggs satisfied every element required of an adverse possession claim. View "Teubert Family Farms, LLC v. Bragg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court refusing to enforce an arbitration agreement, holding that individuals may agree to arbitrate a dispute regarding a cloud on the title to real estate. Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a contract whereby Plaintiff would convey almost 1,000 acres of mineral interests to Defendant. The contract contained an arbitration clause requiring the parties to refer any dispute about the parties' performance of the contract to arbitration. Later, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant seeking, inter alia, a declaratory judgment to determine whether a cloud on the title to the mineral interests existed. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss and to compel the parties to arbitrate. The circuit court refused the motion, finding that Plaintiff's claims fell outside the scope of the arbitration clause because, as a matter of public policy, property rights are not subject to arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) parties may agree to submit to arbitration questions concerning clouds on the title to any estate, right, or interest in real property despite W. Va. Code 51-2-2(d) vesting circuit courts with jurisdiction to resolve those questions; and (2) there was an, enforceable agreement to arbitrate here, and the parties' controversy fell within the scope of that arbitration agreement. View "Golden Eagle Resources,II, LLC v. Willow Run Energy, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's renewed motion for summary judgment and granting declaratory relief, holding that judicial estoppel applied to this appeal. Robert May brought an injunction proceeding against Mark-Banbury, LLC, the owner of property that it developed as The Lakes, after Mark-Banbury, LLC began draining water across May's land without May's permission. The circuit court awarded damages and an injunction prohibiting Mark-Banbury, LLC from future development of The Lakes until flooding and damages were stopped. The judgment order was recorded. Banbury Holdings, LLC subsequently purchased The Lakes and filed this collateral proceeding for declaratory judgment requesting that the circuit court declare that the judgment order in the injunction proceeding as void as to Banbury Holdings and its successors in title. The circuit court denied relief, finding that the prior litigation, in which Banbury Holdings was a party, ran with the land and was binding upon Banbury Holdings and all its successors in title. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Banbury Holdings was judicially estopped from asserting conflicting positions in this collateral proceeding. View "Banbury Holdings, LLC v. May" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court refusing Petitioners' petition for injunctive relief and determining that an easement did not exist across certain property, holding that Petitioners failed to establish either a prescriptive easement or an implied easement. In this dispute among five adult siblings, Petitioners, four siblings, filed a petition for injunctive relief against the fifth sibling, who owned the property at issue, claiming that an easement was necessary for them to access their property. The circuit court refused the injunction, concluding (1) Petitioners' use of the property was permissive so that Petitioners failed to prove adverse use required for a prescriptive easement; and (2) Petitioners failed to establish an implied easement because Petitioners offered no credible evidence of strict or reasonable necessity of prior use. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the superior court's judgment. View "Cantrell v. Cantrell" on Justia Law

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In this ongoing Marcellus shale litigation arising that arose from claims asserted by Plaintiffs - surface owners of several tracts of land - the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the Mass Litigation Panel (MLP) granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants - the leaseholder of the gas and oil estates and the company who was conducting the drilling - holding that there were no genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. Plaintiffs alleged that their use and enjoyment of their land was being improperly and substantially burdened by horizontal wells being used to develop the Marcellus shale underlying their properties even where the wells were not physically located on Plaintiffs' properties. In granting summary judgment for Defendants the MLP concluded that the effects on the surface owners resulting from the horizontal drilling were within the implied rights to use the surface granted by virtue of the relevant severance deeds and did not impose a substantial burden on the surface owners. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the effects on their surface estates were reasonably necessary to develop the mineral estate or whether they were being substantially burdened by Defendants' activities. View "Andrews v. Antero Resources Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to LML Properties, LLC on Hanover Resources, LLC's complaint alleging breach of contract against LML for enforcement of $4.7 million in mechanic's liens on the basis that the mechanic's liens were invalid under West Virginia law, holding that the mechanic's liens at issue were invalid. The liens in this case were filed under W. Va. Code 38-2-31 and -32 by Hanover, a provider of coal mining services, against the fee interest of a mineral estate partially owned by LML. The circuit court concluded that the liens were invalid and granted summary judgment to LML. The Supreme Court affirmed after considering the undisputed facts in the form of stipulations by the parties regarding their contractual responsibilities along with the framework in the mechanic's lien statutes and relevant case law, holding that the circuit court did not err in granting LML's motion for summary judgment. View "Hanover Resources, LLC v. LML Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the declaratory judgment order entered by the circuit court interpreting a 1977 quitclaim deed whereby the grantor gave the grantee a parcel of land and entering judgment in favor of the grantee's successors, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's findings. In the deed, the grantor imprecisely defined the parcel's southern border, leaving the questions of whether the grantee received a 93.15-acre parcel or only a 33-acre parcel. The trial court found the 1977 deed was unambiguous and then, after a trial, concluded that the grantee's successors owned the entire 93.15-acre parcel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court's decision was well supported by the record and was not clearly erroneous. View "Harrell v. Cain" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order granting partial summary judgment, finding that Defendant trespassed on Plaintiffs' surface lands to the extent it was drilling for and removing minerals from neighboring properties and awarding Plaintiffs $190,000 in damages, holding that the partial summary judgment order and judgment order were supported by the record. The circuit court found that Defendant trespassed to the extent it used Plaintiffs' surface tracts to conduct operations under neighboring mineral estates. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a mineral owner or lessee does not have the right to use the surface to benefit mining or drilling operations on other lands in the absence of an express agreement with the surface owner permitting those operations; and (2) the circuit court correctly found that Defendant trespassed on Plaintiffs' surface lands to the extent it used those lands to extract minerals from neighboring properties. View "EQT Production Co. v. Crowder" on Justia Law