Samsell v. State Line Development Co., No. 12840

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCALHOUN; HAYMOND
Docket NumberNo. 12840
Parties, 1 ERC 1304 T. R. SAMSELL, Director of the Department of Natural Resources, etc., and Public Land Corporation, etc. v. The STATE LINE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, Inc.
Decision Date15 May 1970

Page 318

174 S.E.2d 318
154 W.Va. 48, 1 ERC 1304
T. R. SAMSELL, Director of the Department of Natural
Resources, etc., and Public Land Corporation, etc.
v.
The STATE LINE DEVELOPMENT COMPANY, Inc.
No. 12840.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted Feb. 18, 1970.
Decided April 7, 1970.
Dissenting opinion May 15, 1970.

Page 320

Syllabus by the Court

1. 'The sate is not bound by the unauthorized or illegal acts of its officers, nor can its title to a tract of land be transferred, divested, or affected, in any manner or to any extent, by such unauthorized or illegal acts; and all persons who deal with such officers do so at their peril, in all matters wherein such officers exceed their legitimate powers.' Point 3 Syllabus, Totten v. Nighbert, 41 W.Va. 800 (24 S.E. 627).

2. 'The finding of a trial court upon facts submitted to it in lieu of a jury will be given the same weight as the verdict of a jury and will not be disturbed by an appellate court unless the evidence plainly and decidedly preponderates against such finding.' Point 2 Syllabus, In re: Thacker, 152 W.Va. 455 (164 S.E.2d 301).

3. 'Lack of knowledge on the part of a principal, of any of the material facts connected with an unauthorized act of his agent, [154 W.Va. 49] done on his behalf, will prevent the silence of the principal, or his failure to repudiate the act, from amounting to a ratification thereof.' Point 4 Syllabus, Thompson v. Laboringman's Mercantile & Manufacturing Company, 60 W.Va. 42 (53 S.E. 908).

4. 'Acts of a private agent may bind the principal where they are within the apparent scope of his authority; but not so with a public officer, as the State is bound only by authority actually vented in the officer, and his powers are limited and defined by its laws.' Point 4 Syllabus, State v. Chilton, 49 W.Va. 453 (39 S.E. 612).

5. 'A state is not bound by the unauthorized acts of public officers. Their misconduct is no estoppel against the state.' Point 5 Syllabus, State v. Chilton, 49 W.Va. 453 (39 S.E. 612).

6. By reason of the provisions of Code, 1931, 20--1--15, as amended, the Public Land Corporation of West Virginia is a public corporation vested with title of the state in all public lands, the title to which is absolutely vested in the state, and such public corporation is authorized and empowered, with exceptions stated in the statute, to contract or lease for the proper development of oil, gas or minerals on such lands and to expand the income arising from such development of public lands for the purpose of liquidating obligations incurred in acquisition of such lands, until all such obligations have been fully paid and thereafter to pay such income into the state fund for general revenue purposes and uses.

7. The doctrine of estoppel should be applied cautiously, only when equity clearly requires that it be done, and this principle is applied with especial force when one undertakes to assert the doctrine of estoppel against the state.

Crockett, Tutwiler & Crockett, J. Strother Crockett, Charles A. Tutwiler, Welch, for appellant.

[154 W.Va. 50] Chauncey H. Browning, Jr., Atty. Gen., Frank M. Ellison, Deputy Atty. Gen., Charleston, for appellees.

CALHOUN, Judge.

This case, on appeal by the defendant from a final judgment of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, involves a declaratory judgment action instituted by T. R. Samsell, as the Director of the Department of Natural Resources of West Virginia, which hereafter in this opinion may be referred to as the department, and the Public Land Corporation of West Virginia, a public corporation, which hereafter may be referred to in this opinion as the Land Corporation, as plaintiffs, against the State Line Development Company, Inc., a corporation, as the defendant. The plaintiffs instituted the action for the purpose of determining the question of the legal validity and the binding effect of a coal mining lease between the Department of Natural Resources, the Public Land Corporation

Page 321

and the defendant, State Line Development Company, which may be hereafter referred to in this opinion as State Line, as the lessee or as the defendant.

The pertinent facts of the case are not in controversy. On September 1, 1962, the Department of Natural Resources, the Public Land Corporation and State Line executed a written contract, designated as a lease, purporting to lease to the defendant, State Line, 'all merchantable coal * * * underlying Panther State Forest in McDowell County, West Virginia' with the right to go upon the land and to 'mind said coal, either by deep, slope, shaft or other mining methods, but expressly excluding strip mining, auger, bench, or any other form of high wall mining method.' The term of the lease was for ten years, 'with the right to renew same for a period of ten additional years on the same terms and conditions * * *.' The lease further provided that the lessee, State Line, was required to pay a royalty at the rate of fifteen cents a ton for coal produced pursuant to the provisions of the lease.

The lease was signed and executed by Warden M. Lane in his capacity as Director of the Department of Natural [154 W.Va. 51] Resources, by Warden M. Lane in his capacity as Secretary of the Public Land Corporation, and by H. R. Pauley in his capacity as president of State Line Development Company.

The land which is subject to the lease was obtained by the State of West Virginia for the use and benefit of the Conservation Commission of West Virginia by two separate deeds dated September 30, 1940, and March 3, 1941, respectively. The tracts of land thus obtained are now operated by the Department of Natural Resources, successor of the Conservation Commission, as the 'Panther State Forest'.

By a letter dated February 27, 1967, T. R. Samsell, who was at that time the Director of the Department of Natural Resources, notified Charles O. Davis, who then was the president of State Line, that the mining lease between the parties for the removal of coal from Panther State Forest was terminated for the reasons that 'such lease and mining operations conducted thereunder are not in the best interests of the State of West Virginia and are not compatible with the intended use of Panther State Forest'; that State Line had violated the terms of the lease; and further that 'the lease agreement is null and void because the Director of Natural Resources had no authority to enter into such an agreement.'

Almost a month later, Davis, by a letter dated March 23, 1967, responded to the charges made by Samsell in his letter, by stating that State Line considered the lease to be a valid and subsisting one and that the lessee felt that it had fully complied with the terms set out in the lease. In the interest of settling the dispute amicably, Davis proposed in his letter that, among other things, his company would discontinue active mining in the immediate recreation area and begin to reclaim and to rehabilitate the land as required by the lease, and he further proposed that State Line would not open any new mines or build any new roads.

By a registered letter dated June 23, 1967, and signed by Harrison Everett as Executive Secretary of the Public Land Corporation of West Virginia, Davis was notified that, on [154 W.Va. 52] June 23, 1967, the Pubic Land Corporation held a meeting at which it considered the mining operations conducted by State Line on the state lands known as Panther State Forest; that the lessee had not performed its mining operations pursuant to the terms of the lease; and that the Land Corporation had ordered that, 'due to violation of the terms of said lease by State Line Development Company, the lease is terminated and further approves the action of the Department of Natural Resources in terminating said lease.'

On August 14, 1967, T. R. Samsell, as Director of the Department of Natural Resources,

Page 322

and the Public Land Corporation instituted this declaratory judgment action in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. The complaint alleges that a controversy existed between the parties concerning the validity of a coal mining lease; that the controversy could not be adjusted or settled by the parties; that title to the lands which were subject to the lease in question was held by the Department of Natural Resources; that Warden M. Lane had no statutory or legal authority to bind the Department of Natural Resources to the lease; that the Land Corporation has authority under Code, 1931, 20--1--15, as amended, to contract for the development of minerals on state lands but that such authority is limited to the lands to which the Land Corporation holds title; and that title to the lands in question being held by the Department of Natural Resources, the signature of Warden M. Lane as Secretary of the Public Land Corporation could not legally bind the Land Corporation by the provisions of the lease.

The answer filed in behalf of the defendant State Line Development Company admits some of the allegations in the complaint but denies that title to the lands subject to the lease is held by the Department of Natural Resources and avers that the title to the property is held by the Public Land Corporation and that the signature of Warden M. Lane, acting in his official capacity as Secretary of the Public Land Corporation, is valid and binding upon the plaintiffs. By way of affirmative defense, the defendant lessee alleges in its answer that it entered into the lease in good faith, relying [154 W.Va. 53] on its opinion that the Land Corporation held title to the land and that, relying on the validity of the lease, the defendant and its contractors have expended more than $500,000 in the development and mining of the coal and have paid $119,595.39 in royalties to the Department of Natural Resources.

It was stipulated by counsel in the trial court that the land in question was purchased with funds of the State Conservation Commission,...

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16 practice notes
  • Freeman v. Poling, No. 16316
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 20, 1985
    ...v. Blue Cross Hospital Service, Inc., 174 W.Va. 605, 609, 328 S.E.2d 356, 360 (1985); Syllabus Point 1, Samsell v. State Line Dev. Co., 154 W.Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970); Cunningham v. County Court, 148 W.Va. 303, 309-10, 134 S.E.2d 725, 729 Recently, in Syllabus Point 2 of West Virginia ......
  • Kondos v. West Virginia Board of Regents, Civ. A. No. 2744.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • October 26, 1970
    ...that the state may not be held liable for illegal or unauthorized acts of its officers. Samsell v. State Line Development Co., W.Va., 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970); State v. Chilton, 49 W.Va. 453, 39 S.E. 612 (1901); Carper v. Cook, 39 W.Va. 346, 19 S.E. 379 (1894); Armstrong Products Corp. v. Mart......
  • McFillan v. Berkeley County Planning Com'n, No. 21667
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 13, 1993
    ...force when one undertakes to assert the doctrine of estoppel against the state." Syllabus Point 7, Samsell v. State Line Development Co., 154 W.Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 6. Land-use regulations will not constitute an impermissible taking of property under the Fifth Amendment to the United Stat......
  • Bayles v. Jeffrey N. Evans, Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., No. 18-0871
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 24, 2020
    ...3, Humble Oil & Ref. Co. v. Lane , 152 W. Va. 578, 165 S.E.2d 379 (1969). Accord, Syllabus Point 7, Samsell v. State Line Dev. Co. , 154 W. Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970) ("The doctrine of estoppel should be applied cautiously, only when equity clearly requires that it be done[.]"). "The doc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
16 cases
  • Freeman v. Poling, No. 16316
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 20, 1985
    ...v. Blue Cross Hospital Service, Inc., 174 W.Va. 605, 609, 328 S.E.2d 356, 360 (1985); Syllabus Point 1, Samsell v. State Line Dev. Co., 154 W.Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970); Cunningham v. County Court, 148 W.Va. 303, 309-10, 134 S.E.2d 725, 729 Recently, in Syllabus Point 2 of West Virginia ......
  • Kondos v. West Virginia Board of Regents, Civ. A. No. 2744.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
    • October 26, 1970
    ...that the state may not be held liable for illegal or unauthorized acts of its officers. Samsell v. State Line Development Co., W.Va., 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970); State v. Chilton, 49 W.Va. 453, 39 S.E. 612 (1901); Carper v. Cook, 39 W.Va. 346, 19 S.E. 379 (1894); Armstrong Products Corp. v. Mart......
  • McFillan v. Berkeley County Planning Com'n, No. 21667
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 13, 1993
    ...force when one undertakes to assert the doctrine of estoppel against the state." Syllabus Point 7, Samsell v. State Line Development Co., 154 W.Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 6. Land-use regulations will not constitute an impermissible taking of property under the Fifth Amendment to the United Stat......
  • Bayles v. Jeffrey N. Evans, Ameriprise Fin. Servs., Inc., No. 18-0871
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 24, 2020
    ...3, Humble Oil & Ref. Co. v. Lane , 152 W. Va. 578, 165 S.E.2d 379 (1969). Accord, Syllabus Point 7, Samsell v. State Line Dev. Co. , 154 W. Va. 48, 174 S.E.2d 318 (1970) ("The doctrine of estoppel should be applied cautiously, only when equity clearly requires that it be done[.]"). "The doc......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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