Landowners get court date in well ownership dispute

January 30, 2013

WAYNESBURG – Richhill Township landowners Kim and Ken Jones will see their day in court April 29 with a jury trial more than a decade after they became involved in a dispute with Consol over who owned a gas well located on their property.

On May 7, the state Superior Court issued a memorandum decision that reversed a Feb. 8, 2011, ruling by Greene County President Judge William Nalitz that determined the well was owned by Consol. Nalitz ruled that the case involved a quiet title, which establishes to whom the real property belongs and subsequently “quiets” any challenges or claims to the title.

In the appellate court’s decision, it was determined that the Joneses provided the court with the “minimal requirements of a prima facie case of ownership to the well,” opening the door for the Joneses to receive a jury trial.

According to the Superior Court memorandum, neither Consol nor the Joneses had argued for a quiet title. The court further stated that the lawsuit could not be viewed as a quiet title action because the gas well is a fixture and fixtures are not considered realty.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jane Bowes said the case did not involve the gas: “The question in this case involves the gas well itself, which is an artificial man-made structure affixed to the land, and thus, is a fixture.”

According to Kim Jones, the couple has had ongoing issues since they were approached by Consol in 2002 with a request to purchase their property. Jones said the disputed gas well allegedly interfered with Consol’s planned underground mining in the area near the family’s farm. The Joneses did not agree to the purchase and, according to court documents, Consol took the position that it owned the gas well in early 2003.

The Joneses said they requested proof of ownership from Consol and directed the company to refrain from entering their land. However, court records show Consol ignored that request and entered the property Sept. 15, 2003, to plug the gas well and continue its underground mining operations.

On Sept. 19, 2003, the Joneses sought a preliminary injunction to prevent Consol from performing any additional activities on their property related to the gas well, but Consol completed its operation Sept. 24, 2003.

On Nov. 3, 2003, the Joneses filed an amended complaint, seeking damages based on negligence, trespass, fraud, slander of title and conversion. Preliminary injunction hearings were held by the court in October, November and December 2003, despite the well already being plugged. It subsequently denied the injunction.

The case is a complicated one due to multiple old oil and gas leases for two wells on the property that were held by previous owners of the Joneses’ property. Expert testimony was presented on behalf of Consol and the Joneses regarding what the chain of the documents determined prior to Nalitz ruling in Consol’s favor.

Now it will be up to a Greene County jury to look at the evidence and make its own determination.

Tara Kinsell started her career in journalism with the National Geographic Insider Magazine and the Gaithersburg Gazette Newspaper in Montgomery County, Md. Tara has written and photographed sports, features and news stories for the Herald Standard, Greene County Messenger and Albert Gallatin Weekly. She holds degrees in journalism and graphic design from Waynesburg College, now Waynesburg University, and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, respectively.

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