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Stone House Owners Want to Limit Quarrying

Plaintiffs who own an 18th century colonial “Stone House” on a 100-acre tract in Buchanan have stated a claim for a declaratory judgment in their lawsuit seeking to limit limestone quarrying on the property by the owner of the mineral rights, under multiple deeds dating from 1849; the Roanoke U.S. District Court denies the mineral rights’ owner’s motion to dismiss the suit.

There appears to be substantial disagreement between the parties as to the extent of defendants’ limestone rights and defendants also appear to disagree with plaintiffs’ description as to what deeds are in defendants’ chain of title to the mineral rights, what types of tenancies certain of those deeds created and what the language of certain of those deeds means. The court will assume, for purposes of ruling on the motion to dismiss, that defendants’ chain of title is properly set forth in the amended complaint.

Defendants argue first that plaintiffs seek to restrict the limestone owner’s rights under an 1849 deed, which only restricts their rights if the Stone House is occupied. As plaintiffs have not alleged the Stone House is occupied, defendants contend that, to the extent they rely on the 1849 deed, they fail to state a claim for relief. The court is not persuaded.

The amended complaint alleges the 1849 deed severed the mineral rights from plaintiffs’ predecessor in interest and conveyed them to defendants’ predecessor in interest. The 1849 deed provides that the conveyance of the stone included a number of restrictions, and also requires payment to plaintiffs’ predecessor, his heirs and assigns, for any damage to the crops on the land resulting from burning or taking away any of the stone.

The conveyance of the easement also provides the owner of the stone is not to blast, quarry or take away any stone within the enclosure of the yard attached to the dwelling house, for the protection of the family and its heirs and assigns, “or other persons who may be in occupancy of the house from annoyance.” Plaintiffs contend the “yard” is a substantial area around the House and defendants are prohibited from engaging in any mining activities (especially modern-day methods of quarrying) that might come within the “yard.”

By its own terms, the language of the conveyance explains why the “yard” restriction is inserted, but the restriction on activities within the enclosure of the yard is not conditioned upon occupancy, explicitly or implicitly. It is even plausible that the language concerning “occupancy” of the house modifies only “other persons” and does not even apply to the families of the predecessor or his heirs or assigns. Under defendants’ interpretation, the rights of the owner of the mineral estate would vary depending on whether the owners of the surface estate were living in the house at any given point or not, which would seem to produce anomalous results and lead to uncertainty as to the rights of both parties. Plaintiffs have stated a viable claim for a declaration of respective rights of the parties with regard to the restriction.

Defendants’ remaining arguments focus on three subsequent deeds (1901, 1902 and 1992 deeds) that plaintiffs allege are in defendants’ chain of title. The court reaches the general conclusion that with the language of these three deeds, plaintiffs have, at the very least, asserted an interpretation of the deeds that could “plausibly” limit defendants’’ mineral rights on the property. Dismissal would be in appropriate.

Motion to dismiss denied.

Thomas v. Carmeuse Lime & Stone Inc. (Turk) No. 7:12cv00413, Dec. 17, 2012; USDC at Roanoke, Va. VLW 012-3-627, 16 pp.

 

VLW 012-3-627

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