Owners of record are indispensable parties to quiet title action: BAKER V. WEINBERG (COA 5/16/2008)

REAL PROPERTY: Quiet title action re: gas leases and requirement that
      titled owners be party to the action

DATE RENDERED: 5/16/2008

This appeal has at its genesis the entitlement to gas leases of property
      in Eastern Kentucky going back to the late 1800’s and a dispute over the
      existence and/or ownership of the mineral rights between certain heirs and
      purchases of the gas lease.  The matter involved the heirs of the
      surface owner who had conveyed the gas lease (aka the Cooley Lease) versus
      the heirs of those who had obtained the gas lease.  The leaseholders
      relied upon an earlier judgment for purposes of res judicata to perfect
      their title, but not all of the titled owners were parties to that action
      and thus the earlier decision had no res judicata effect.
      Furthermore, there were genuine issues of material fact on the
      leaseholder’s claim that they were entitled to the property via adverse
      possession.  Both issues were remanded.

Clean Gas is a family gas business owned by Bill Weinberg, his wife Lois Combs Weinberg, their son Jed Weinberg and, it appears, by other members of the Weinberg family. Clean Gas seeks out gas leases in Eastern Kentucky and sells the removed gas to wholesale gas distributors.
Clean Gas became interested in working the 1945 well and gas lease herein,
      and the record reflects that members of the Weinbergs’ extended family were successors to interests in the T.A. Martin Partnership which, again, had been assigned the W.W. Cooley lease in the 1940s.
      Believing that the lease was still valid, Clean Gas set about locating other successors to interests in the T.A. Martin
      Partnership. In due course Clean Gas assembled what it alleged to be a majority of the T.A. Martin Partnership interests and, in effect, obtained a vote from the partners to remove gas from the Tandy Martin mineral estate, beginning with reworking the 1945 well. As part of its preparations Clean Gas executed a Department of Mines and Minerals Well Transfer form dated August 21, 1997, purporting to transfer from Lawrence Hall (who was then deceased) to Clean Gas the operating rights to the 1945 well.      

The COA followed other jurisdictions in holding that the owner of record must be named as a party to a quiet title action, and thus amply demonstrate that it is the rule that the record owners in a quiet title action (such as the Tandy Martin heirs in the present case) are required to be named as parties to the action.  The failure to include the Tandy Martin heirs as parties to the lawsuit is fatal to the appellants’ counterclaim of adverse possession of the Tandy Martin mineral tract. The Tandy Martin heirs are record holders of title to the property pursuant to the 1912 deed. Their status as the lawful owners of the mineral estate was reaffirmed in the 1982 judgment in the coal lease case. The appellants, in effect, seek to defeat the ownership interest of the Tandy Martin heirs in the T.A. Martin mineral estate in a lawsuit in which the heirs are not present to defend their title.
As the appellants’ adverse possession claim is not properly before this COA, it did not address the issue upon the merits, nor any of the other issues listed above which are ancillary to the claim.
Accordingly, the matter was remanded upon this issue for dismissal of the appellants’ counterclaim of adverse possession, without prejudice.
The appellants contend, for various reasons, that the appellees do not possess a valid leasehold interest in the Tandy Martin mineral estate and, therefore, are not entitled to enter onto their property to work the lease. The COA agreed with the appellants that there are genuine issues of material fact relating to all of the foregoing issues and remanded on this issue, as well.


Digested by Michael Stevens


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