Did the circuit court err in its analysis and interpretation of a 1912 Deed where the Court determined that several individuals not specifically identified as grantees in the granting clause of the deed were, nonetheless, grantees insofar as it related to oil and gas royalty and/or oil and gas in place mineral interests?
Petitioners, the Andersons, are the current owners of 75 acres of surface rights located in Pleasants County, West Virginia. The land was previously owned by Cordelia Jones who conveyed the property via a 1912 deed. The 1912 deed identified one of her sons, L. Oliver Jones, as the grantee in the granting clause. A later provision of the deed, however, stated that if oil and gas was found and produced on the property that the usual “royalty . . .shall be held in common by [seven named children of Z.T. Jones]”. The trial court granted summary judgment to the Respondent heirs, finding that, although the heirs were not specifically named in the granting clause of the deed, the intent of the grantor was to grant to those named children the oil and gas mineral interest. Those individuals were not strangers to the title and were not receiving a reservation, but were actually granted a specific interest in the minerals.
The Andersons argue that the trial court erred in its attempt to interpret an otherwise clear and unambiguous deed. They believe that the deed at issue very clearly identified only one grantee, that being L. Oliver Jones. The separate language related to the oil and gas rights could not have had any legal effect other than being a reservation in favor of parties who were strangers to the deed, which is not permitted under West Virginia law. The Andersons claim they are bona fide purchasers of the land, and that any mistake in the formalities of the drafting of the 1912 deed cannot serve to prevent them from having ownership of the mineral interest
Respondents, in a hand written brief, argue that Judge Starcher was correct in this application of the law in all respects. They argue that the true intent of the grantor under the 1912 deed was clearly to provide all of the named individuals an interest in the oil and gas royalties underlying the land, and that the true intent of the grantor should be determined and control.
This case has peculiar enough facts that it is not likely to lead to any changes to the cannons of judicial construction of deeds. I think it is unlikely that any new syllabus points will be written. The lasting impact of this case on future or pending cases should not be too great, but the case does demonstrate that the tremendous influx of oil and gas monies into our State has created litigation and cases that may not have been pursued in years past.