Justices rule in favor of land buyers in oil rights case - WTRF 7 News Sports Weather - Wheeling Steubenville

Justices rule in favor of Marshall County land buyers in oil rights case

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Two Marshall County people who purchased a plot of land from another family will have another chance at obtaining the underlying oil and gas rights.

West Virginia Supreme Court justices remanded the case back to Marshall County Circuit Court to grant summary judgment in favor of purchasers, Glenn Spitznogle Jr. and Marlene Spitznogle.

The Spitznogles filed the suit against Kevin and Krista Durbin in Marshall County Circuit Court, seeking to enforce a written land contract.

In that land contract, the Spitznogles would pay $875 a month for 10 years for the 138-acre plot of land. The only exclusions listed in the contract were a house and lot trailer.

"The Durbins included no language in the contract excepting their vested remainder interest in the oil and gas rights, although they did, as noted, include language excepting a house trailer and lot," the opinion states. 

After the Spitznogles made their last payment, the opinion states the Durbins failed to tender the deed to them.

The Spitznogles followed up with a lawsuit seeking the Durbins to tender the general warranty deed including all mineral, coal, oil and gas rights.

However, the Durbins said in their answer that the Spitznogles weren't entitled mineral interests.

While the lawsuit was pending, the opinion further states, the Durbins tendered a deed excepting "all minerals and gas, underlying said property, including but not limited to, all stratas from bedrock down, coal bed methane, royalties, and other benefits whatsoever related to any and al minerals, together with any benefit arising by virtue of any existing oil and gas lease upon the property by former owners."

The opinion states the record "is silent as to whether there were any oral or written communications between parties with respect to either the tender or acceptance of this deed, and it is not contended that the acceptance of the deed effected an accord and satisfaction."

The Spitznogles then moved for summary judgment arguing the land contract didn't exclude oil and gas rights.

However, in their memorandum in opposition, the Durbins said the land contract and the deed were merged. 

The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the Durbins.

"Under the facts and circumstances of the instant case, the circuit court erred," justices wrote. "The antecedent land contract, the terms of which the Spitznogles sought to enforce, was their own contract with the Durbins, not a contract into which some predecessor in interest had entered."

Justices said the land contract was not merged with the deed and the "doctrine of merger does not extinguish the Spitznogles right to seek enforcement of the contract."

"In light of the Durbins' failure to tender a deed to the property for almost five months after the purchase price was paid in full—and then only after the Spitznogles were forced to retain counsel and file suit—it would be manifestly unfair to conclude that by recording the deed, the Spitznogles unwittingly extinguished their right to full relief," the opinion states.