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Ark Land Co v Harper

1) Case Name and Citation: Ark Land Co. v. Harper. 215 W.Va. 331 (2004); 2004 W. Va. LEXIS 24

2) Facts: Dispute involved a 75 acre tract in Lincoln County. Land was owned by Caudill family for approx. 100 years and included a farmhouse, several small barns, and a garden. Prior to 2001 the property was owned exclusively by the Caudill’s. In 2001 Ark Land Co. acquired a 67.5% interest in the land by purchasing the rights of several Caudill family members. Ark attempted to purchase the remaining interests from the other Caudill heirs, but they refused to sell to Ark. Ark sought to mine the land through strip mining. After refusal to sell by the remaining heirs (heirs no longer lived on the land but used it for family gatherings, weekend getaways, etc.), Ark filed a complaint seeking the land partitioned and sold. Pusuant to W.V. Code 37-4-3 the circuit court appointed three commissioners who conducted an evidentiary hearing and filed a report concluding the property could not be conveniently partitioned in kind. Both parties presented experts at trial regarding the ability to partition the property. Ark’s expert claiming a partition in kind would result in several million dollars in additional expense to mine, and the Caudill Heir’s presented evidence that the mining could still be completed with damage to the area of the tract where the farmhouse, etc. were located.

3) Procedural History: Lower Ct. granted partition by sale and Caudill heir’s appealed.

4) Issue: Should partition by sale be confirmed, or due to current landowners rights in the property, including sentimental and emotion interests in the property, should the land be partitioned in kind?

5) Reasoning:
a) Court noted that W.Va. allows partition according to 37-4-3 and pursuant to the statute “A party desiring to compel partition through sale is required to demonstrate (1) that the property can not be conveniently partitioned in kind, (2) that the interests of one or more of the parties will be promoted by the sale, and (3) that the interests of the other parties will not be prejudiced by the sale.”
b) In a partition proceeding in which a party opposes the sale of property, the economic value of the property is not the exclusive test for deciding whether to partition in kind or by sale; evidence of longstanding ownership, coupled with sentimental or emotional interests in the property, may also be considered in deciding whether the interests of the party opposing the sale will be prejudiced by the property's sale.
c) Enhancement in the value of property created when commercial entity purchases property because it believes it can make money from a specific use of the property can not be the determinative factor in forcing a pre-existing co-owner to give up his/her rights in property in partition by sale.
d) Thus, the moral of this case is that the court will weigh heavily the interests of the previous landowners when a partition by sale is requested. Especially when the land has been held for a long period of time. Court noted that a company purchasing a portion of an interest in land is taking the risk that they will be able to acquire the rest of the interest and cannot force previous owners to sell solely due to economic gain. Additionally court noted that the experts testified that the coal company would still be able to remove all the coal, just that it would be at additional cost. In summing up these concepts the court stated:
• “In a partition proceeding in which a party opposes the sale of property, the economic value of the property is not the exclusive test for deciding whether to partition in kind or by sale. Evidence of longstanding ownership, coupled with sentimental or emotional interests in the property, may also be considered in deciding whether the interests of the party opposing the sale will be prejudiced by the property's sale. This latter factor should ordinarily control when it is shown that the property can be partitioned in kind, though it may entail some economic inconvenience to the party seeking a sale.”

6) Holding: Reversed and remanded. Circuit courts order requiring sale is reversed and the court is directed to enter an order requiring the property to be partitioned in kind, consistent with the report and testimony provided by the Caudill Heirs’ mining expert.

7) Note: Justice Maynard concurred in part and dissented in part. She concurred with the ruling that issues other than economics should come into play in these types of cases, however, dissented in that she felt the facts of this case should have resulted in affirmation of circuit courts order for partition by sale. Specifically, Maynard noted that she believed the result was prejudiced towards coal mining, and if her opinion, if the partition issue had concerned something such as “the construction of a four-lane highway” rather than coal mining the court would have ruled differently.


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