Double the Trouble: Tax Sales of Duplicate Mineral Assessments in West Virginia

Institute for Energy Law Oil & Gas E-Report

(by Adam Speer)

Anyone dealing with land and title issues in West Virginia quickly learns the importance of real property assessments. The relative ease in which an interest in land, including mineral rights, can be lost in a tax sale means that landmen and title practitioners who fail to examine a property’s tax assessment history do so at their peril. Those histories are found in the volumes of “landbooks” maintained by each county assessor’s office. A relatively common and beguiling problem arises when the title examiner discovers that a property has been double assessed. Such duplicate assessments are rarely obvious, as assessed interests are often described by brief and vague notations and sometimes assessed in the name of a long-gone predecessor in title.

Recently, in Haynes v. Antero Resources Corporation, Hill v. Lone Pine Operating Company and L&D Investments Inc. v. Mike Ross, Inc., the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia considered the validity of several tax deeds that stemmed from the duplicate assessment of certain oil and gas interests created by the Harrison County Assessor’s Office. In each of the cases, the court reaffirmed its long-standing precedent that holds that in the case of two assessments of the same land under the same claim of title, the state can only require one payment of taxes under either assessment. The cases highlight the potential consequences of duplicate tax assessments of severed mineral interests in West Virginia and the need to have interests properly assessed. The Haynes, Lone Pine and L&D Investment decisions should be maintained in any title practitioner’s toolkit for analyzing interests conveyed by a tax sale and determining the likelihood of a successful challenge to set aside a tax deed.

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