January 2012 - Parks & Recreation - 24

Law REvIEw continued from page 21

analysis of the 1960 deed would be governed by " the law of contract " to construe
this particular " written, contractual agreement reflecting the parties' intent. " Specifically, when a " valid written instrument...
expresses the intent of the parties in plain
and unambiguous language, " the court acknowledged such contracts are " not subject to judicial construction or interpretation
but will be applied and enforced according
to such intent. "
[I]n construing a deed, will, or other
written instrument, it is the duty of the
court to construe it as a whole, taking
and considering all the parts together,
and giving effect to the intention of the
parties wherever that is reasonably
clear and free from doubt, unless to do
so will violate some principle of law inconsistent therewith...
Where the contractual language is
clear, then, such language should be
construed as reflecting the intent of the
parties... It is not the right or province of
a court to alter, pervert or destroy the
clear meaning and intent of the parties

as expressed in unambiguous language
in their written contract or to make a
new or different contract for them.
Rather, an unambiguous written contract entered into as the result of verbal
or written negotiations will, in the absence of fraud or mistake, be
conclusively presumed to contain the
final agreement of the parties to it, and
such contract may not be varied, contradicted or explained by extrinsic
evidence of conversations had or statements made contemporaneously with
or prior to its execution.

Applying these principles to the 1960
deed at issue, the state supreme court
noted " the parties do not dispute the language employed in the deed nor the intent of the parties expressed therein. " On
the contrary, the court found everyone
agreed that the " unambiguous contract
language " in " the 1960 deed reserves
unto the Lawson Heirs the oil and gas
rights underlying the conveyed property and that, by virtue of and in addition
to such reservation, the Heirs also retain

the ability to extract those minerals. " Further, the court noted that, typically, " the
law that is in effect at the time a contract is
executed is the law that thereafter applies
to and governs the parties' agreement. "
As a result, the court found " [t]he laws
which subsist at the time and place where
a contract is made and to be performed
enter into and become a part of it to the
same extent and effect as if they were
expressly incorporated in its terms. "
The state supreme court would, therefore, " apply the law in effect at the time of
the deed's execution " to " determine what
effect, if any, the prohibitions against mineral exploitation in state parks would have
upon the 1960 deed. Since the statutory
prohibitions were not in effect at the time
of the 1960 deed's execution, " the state
supreme court held the statutory prohibitions against exploitation of minerals in
state parks " cannot be applied to bar the
issuance of the requested well permits. "
Here, the Lawson Heirs and the Logan
Civic Association executed a deed in
1960 for property that was ultimately to
become Chief Logan State Park. The
statute relied upon by the DEP Office of
Oil and Gas and the DNR as a basis for
denying the well permits requested by
Cabot to develop the minerals reserved
in the 1960 deed was enacted in 1961 after the 1960 deed had been executed.
There is no indication that the Legislature intended either the 1961 original
version of this statutory language, i.e.,
W. Va. Code § 20-4-3, or its subsequent
recodified version, i.e., W. Va. Code §
20-5-2(b)(8), to be applied retroactively.

As a result, the state supreme court affi rmed " the circuit court's order directing the DEP Office of Oil and Gas to grant
Cabot the five well permits it requested to
allow Cabot to develop the oil and natural gas reserves retained by the Lawson
Heirs in their 1960 deed. "
JamEs c. kOzLOwskI, J.d., Ph.d. is

an attorney and associate professor in the
School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism
at George Mason University in Manassas,
Virginia. Email: jkozlows@gmu.edu.
Webpage with link to law review articles
archive (1982 to present): http://mason.
gmu.edu/~jkozlows

22

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January 2012 - Parks & Recreation

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January 2012 - Parks & Recreation - 1
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