Partition suits are becoming more common because horizontal well drillers are using them. If a forced pooling bill had passed the Legislature, they would be doing that instead.
It used to be the typical partition suit happened when several siblings inherited a farm and could not decide how to divide it up or sell it. One heir would file a partition suit. West Virginia’s partition statutes are ancient, complicated and confusing and need replaced. But under current laws, in essence, if the farm acreage could be divided up “in kind” then each sibling would get some of the acreage. Or it could be that one sibling would end up with all the acreage but have to buy out the others. Or a real possibility if the acreage could not be divided up was that the farm could be sold on the courthouse steps and the money from the sale would be divided up — and no sibling would end up with any acreage.
More recently oil and gas drillers are using them in a different situation. In West Virginia, when a tract of mineral land is owned by several family members who have not divided it up, every family member has to sign a lease before the driller can drill anywhere into the tract of mineral land. Often the drillers can get leases from some family member owners, but not all. In order to squeeze the holdout family member into signing a lease they threaten a partition suit. If the threat does not work, the driller buys out the interest of one willing family member and then sues for partition. Since it is everyone’s property, even those who still own an interest in the land but have signed leases also have to be included.
It is hard to put good advice on a website that will be the best for everyone 1) because people and what they want are so different, and 2) because ownership and location situations are so different, and 3)because different judges in different counties deal with this situation differently. It really is a good idea to see a knowledgeable lawyer about your situation. We have some listed on our website.
If you are a member of West Virginia Surface Owners Rights organization, a lawyer for us can give you 5 or 10 minutes of advice for free to get you started. We have found that some people will figure they got some leverage from holding out as long as they have, and they go ahead and sign the driller’s last offer of lease terms hoping that they got the best terms they can. Some people who are just opposed to frac’ing figure the best thing they can do is get the best lease they can and then donate the money they get to organizations that fight frac’ing or help surface owner (A couple have even donated us the interest in the land so we can lease it and get the money and use it to help surface owners.). Some people just let the partition suit happen and accept the money the court gives them. There is certainly an opportunity to go to court and get more money. Some people fight in court against being partitioned and occasionally win!