Yours, Mine or Ours?
Clarifies Surface Versus Mineral Ownership in W.Va.
On June 13, 2013, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (WVSCA) issued its decision in Faith United Methodist Church & Cemetery of Terra Alta, et al. v. Morgan
, No. 12-0080, setting forth a clear definition of the term "surface" when used in deeds and other instruments of conveyance. This definition will weigh importantly on the state's shale gas industry.
At issue in Morgan
was the meaning of "surface" in deeds conveying interests in 225 acres of property in Preston County, West Virginia. The 225-acre tract was originally acquired in 1863 by Calvin Forman. Upon his death, the property was divided equally and distributed among his seven children. By 1902, Walter Forman, Calvin's son, had acquired five of his siblings' shares of the property, making him the owner of six of the seven shares of the 225-acre tract. That same year, Walter and his sister Florence, owner of the single remaining share, conveyed by deed all the coal upon and under the tract. Finally, in 1907, Florence conveyed to Walter her "one-seventh undivided interest in the surface only (the coal and mining privileges having previously been sold)." The petitioners in Morgan
were two churches that succeeded to Florence's interest in the 225-acre tract; the respondent Marvin Morgan purchased Walter's interest in 1967.
Almost 45 years after acquiring the 225-acre tract, Morgan filed a declaratory judgment action in the Circuit Court of Preston County requesting the court find he is sole owner of all oil and gas under the tract. The defendant churches responded that Florence's 1907 deed explicitly conveyed only the surface rights; therefore, they retained a 1/7 undivided interest in the underlying oil and gas. Read the full article on our website.