Beyond Usque ad Coelum et ad Iferos: Determining land ownership in West Virginia following Faith United Methodist v. Morgan

Author: Bradley Dunkle, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

In June, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia decided Faith United Methodist Church v. Morgan, ruling that the word “surface,” when used in a land conveyance involving a “split estate,” is not presumed ambiguous, and does have a definite and certain meaning.  This ruling ended 90 years of conflicting methods for West Virginia courts evaluating “surface only” transfers by directly overruling Ramage v. South Penn Oil Co. and leaving the Williams v. South Penn Oil Co. standard as the sole method for interpretation.[1]  The holding in Faith United Methodist provides a definition of “surface” for judges, but does not adequately resolve the issue of determining the intent of the conveyance.

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