Orville Young, LLC v. Bonacci, No. 20-0030

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJenkins, Chief Justice
Citation866 S.E.2d 91
Docket NumberNo. 20-0030
Decision Date18 November 2021
Parties ORVILLE YOUNG, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company; and Rolaco, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company, Defendants Below, Petitioners v. Frank A. BONACCI and Brian F. Bonacci, Plaintiffs Below, Respondents and Louise S. Coulling; Clark H. Coulling; Heidi Schenk Bruhn; Mary Schenk Hamilton; Gary P. Hamilton; Karen Schenk Sligar; Terry B. Sligar; and White Horse Farm, LLC, a West Virginia Limited Liability Company, Defendants Below, Respondents

866 S.E.2d 91

ORVILLE YOUNG, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company; and Rolaco, LLC, a Florida Limited Liability Company, Defendants Below, Petitioners
v.
Frank A. BONACCI and Brian F. Bonacci, Plaintiffs Below, Respondents
and
Louise S. Coulling; Clark H. Coulling; Heidi Schenk Bruhn; Mary Schenk Hamilton; Gary P. Hamilton; Karen Schenk Sligar; Terry B. Sligar; and White Horse Farm, LLC, a West Virginia Limited Liability Company, Defendants Below, Respondents

No. 20-0030

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: October 5, 2021
Filed: November 18, 2021


William J. Leon, William J. Leon, LC, Morgantown, West Virginia, Attorney for the Petitioners

Michael S. Garrison, SPILMAN THOMAS & BATTLE, PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, David R. Croft, W. Eric Gadd, Christina S. Terek, Gerald E. Lofstead III, SPILMAN THOMAS & BATTLE, PLLC, Wheeling, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Respondents, Frank A. Bonacci and Brian F. Bonacci

Jenkins, Chief Justice:

The petitioners herein and defendants1 below, Orville Young, LLC, and Rolaco, LLC,

866 S.E.2d 94

which are both Florida limited liability companies (collectively, "the Petitioners"), appeal from the December 16, 2019 order entered by the Circuit Court of Marshall County. By that order, the circuit court granted summary and declaratory judgment to the respondents herein and plaintiffs below, Frank A. Bonacci and Brian F. Bonacci (collectively, "the Bonacci brothers"), finding that the Bonacci brothers were the owners of the undivided oil and gas estate at issue because the tax deeds through which the Petitioners allegedly had obtained title to the same mineral estate were void. On appeal to this Court, the Petitioners contend that the circuit court erred in determining that the Bonacci brothers, and not the Petitioners, own the subject oil and gas estate. Upon a review of the parties’ arguments, the appendix record, and the pertinent authorities, we agree with the circuit court's conclusion that the underlying tax deeds were void because the Bonacci brothers’ predecessors in interest had paid the property taxes assessed on the subject, undivided oil and gas estate; the taxes thereon were not delinquent; and no tax lien attached to the mineral estate that could be sold at a tax sale. Accordingly, we affirm the circuit court's December 16, 2019 summary and declaratory judgment order determining the Bonacci brothers are the owners of the undivided and unsevered oil and gas estate at issue in this case.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Bonacci brothers instituted this proceeding by filing a complaint in the Circuit Court of Marshall County against the Petitioners and the additional respondents to this appeal2 seeking declaratory judgment and to quiet title to the subject oil and gas estate, in which they claim an undivided ownership interest, underlying a 202-acre surface tract of property in Marshall County, West Virginia. The chain of title giving rise to their claim of ownership is as follows. In June 1906, Albert M. Schenk ("Mr. Schenk"), the Bonacci brothers’ great-great-grandfather, acquired,

866 S.E.2d 95

by deed, over 500 acres of farmland in Marshall County. Thereafter, in 1919, Mr. Schenk leased the oil and gas interests underlying a 202-acre surface tract of his property to a third party, but Mr. Schenk retained ownership of the oil and gas estate, himself, as there is no deed severing this mineral estate from the surface estate of the property he owned.

By will probated following Mr. Schenk's death in 1930, Mr. Schenk's grandson, Albert Schenk, III ("Mr. Schenk, III"), received the entirety of his grandfather's real property, including the entire 500+-acre estate, which contains the 202-acre surface tract and the subjacent oil and gas estate at issue herein. This property was not immediately transferred to Mr. Schenk, III, though; rather it was held in trust for him until he attained the age of 40. The trust transferred the aforementioned real estate to Mr. Schenk, III, by deed in 1957. Following the death of Mr. Schenk, III, in 1995, the property passed to his wife, who, by deed in 2000, conveyed several tracts of land to her daughter, Katherine Schenk Bonacci, which were a part of the 202-acre surface tract under which the oil and gas estate at issue herein is situate; the remainder of the subject property, including the remaining portion of the 202-acre surface tract containing the subject oil and gas estate, was conveyed to Mr. Schenk's other children, who are Katherine's siblings and who have been named as parties of interest herein but who have not participated in these proceedings.3 By deeds recorded in 2011 and 2012, Katherine Schenk Bonacci conveyed all of her ownership interest in the subject property to her sons, as tenants in common, the Bonacci brothers. The Bonacci brothers thereafter subdivided the 162.78-acre tract they had received from their mother, and which is part of the 202-acre surface tract under which lies the oil and gas estate at issue in this case, so that they each now own an 81.39-acre tract thereof.

At all times, from Mr. Schenk's ownership of the property, to the trust's holding of the property and the ownership of the property by Mr. Schenk, III, to his heirs’ ownership of the property, including the Bonacci brothers, the real property taxes have been paid on the entirety of the 500+-acre estate, of which the 202-acre surface tract and the oil and gas estate subjacent thereto form a part.

Following the 1919 lease of the oil and gas interests subjacent to the 202-acre surface tract by Mr. Schenk, the trust for Mr. Schenk, III, and Mr. Schenk's estate entered into agreements with the Natural Gas Company of West Virginia to reduce the royalties payable on two wells, i.e. well numbers 629 and 630, drilled pursuant to the 1919 oil and gas lease. Thereafter, in 1935, the Marshall County Assessor ("the Assessor") entered two assessments against Mr. Schenk's estate and trust for the subject realty: one for the 500+-acre parcel and another denominated as "202 Royalty Wells #629-630 Nat Gas Co. W. Va.," which description reflected the oil and gas leasehold interests, as evidenced by the payment of royalties thereon pursuant to the 1919 lease, of the 202-acre portion of the 500+-acre parcel.4 The Assessor had made this assessment pursuant to his practice of separately assessing mineral interests once a lease of such interests had been entered into and royalties had been paid in accordance therewith. The estate, trust, and/or heirs of Mr. Schenk paid both of these assessments for 1935, but, in 1936, the estate, trust, and/or heirs paid only the assessment for the 500+-acre parcel and did not pay the assessment for the oil and gas interests of the 202-acre portion thereof.

Thereafter, the taxes assessed on the oil and gas leasehold interests of the 202-acre surface tract were declared to be delinquent; the oil and gas interests were offered for sale at a sheriff's tax sale at which there were no interested purchasers; and ultimately the oil

866 S.E.2d 96

and gas interests5 of the 202-acre surface tract were sold at a sale of forfeited and delinquent lands to Everett Moore ("Mr. Moore") by tax deed recorded in 1949. Several years later, the taxes on the oil and gas interests6 of this tract again were declared to be delinquent, and Orville Young ("Mr. Young") purchased the same at a sheriff's tax sale in 1995, as reflected by the 1997 tax deed therefor. Mr. Young then formed Orville Young, LLC,7 in 2013, the members of which were his three sons, and transferred his interest in the oil and gas interests of the 202-acre surface tract to Orville Young, LLC, by quitclaim deed in 2013. Later in 2013, Mr. Young's sons formed Rolaco, LLC,8 and, in 2018, Orville Young, LLC, transferred the subject oil and gas interests of the 202-acre surface tract to Rolaco, LLC, also by quitclaim deed.

The Bonacci brothers filed the instant declaratory judgment proceeding to establish the ownership of and to quiet title to the oil and gas estate of the 202-acre surface tract of which the entire 162.78 acres they received from their mother are a part. Ultimately, the Bonacci brothers moved for summary judgment, which motion the circuit court granted by order entered December 16, 2019. In so ruling, the circuit court determined that the Assessor's separate assessment of the subject oil and gas leasehold interests, which began in 1935, were duplicative of the assessment simultaneously levied on the entire 500+-acre parcel owned by Mr. Schenk, and later his estate, trust, and heirs, because the oil and gas estate underlying the 202-acre surface tract thereof had never been severed from the surface estate. As such, the circuit court declared the 1949 tax sale of the oil and gas interests to Mr. Moore void, as well as any subsequent deeds purportedly conveying the same, unsevered oil and gas interests. The petitioners now appeal the circuit court's ruling.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The case sub judice is before this Court on appeal from the circuit court's order granting the Bonacci brothers’ motion for summary judgment as well as declaratory relief. We apply a plenary review to a circuit...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT