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ORNER v. T. W. PHILLIPS GAS & OIL COMPANY. (09/26/60)

September 26, 1960

ORNER, APPELLANT,
v.
T. W. PHILLIPS GAS & OIL COMPANY.



Appeals, Nos. 158, 159, 160 and 161, Jan. T., 1960, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, May T., 1957, No. 4, in case of A. L. Orner et al. v. T. W. Phillips Gas & Oil Company. Decree affirmed. Equity. Before PENTZ, P.J., and a jury. Adjudication filed finding for defendant, exceptions to adjudication dismissed and decree entered. Plaintiffs appealed.

COUNSEL

F. Cortez Bell, with him Richard A. Bell, and Bell, Silberblatt & Swoope, for appellants.

W. Albert Ramey, with him Rolland L. Ehrman, and John R. Wilson, for appellee.

Before Jones, C.j., Bell, Musmanno, Jones, Cohen and Eagen, JJ.

Author: Bell

[ 401 Pa. Page 196]

OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE BELL

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in equity to cancel or alter a written gas and oil lease entered into between Sarah E. Orner and A. L. Orner,*fn1 her husband, and the Phillips Gas & Oil Company, on the grounds of fraud and material misrepresentations made by an agent of defendant, A. R. Burns, just prior to the execution of the lease. The Chancellor after hearing evidence and aided by the verdict of a jury dismissed the complaint.

In 1931 A. L. Orner purchased a tract of land containing 95 acres and title was placed in the name of his wife, Sarah E. Orner. Mrs. and Mr. Orner on January 11, 1933 leased the land to defendant "for the purpose of drilling and operating for oil and gas ..." for a period of 20 years at an annual rental of 25 cents an acre. Mr. Orner testified that just prior to the expiration of the lease Burns came to his home and the lease of 1933 was renewed in identically the same form for a period of 20 years, except that the rental payment was increased to 50 cents an acre until gas was produced and thereafter $200 a year. The renewal lease was signed by Mr. and Mrs. Orner on July 7, 1952.

[ 401 Pa. Page 197]

On June 7, 1957 plaintiffs brought this suit. In October, 1957, defendant brought in a well on this property, several months after a well had been brought in by another company on an adjoining property.

Orner testified that he was 74 years old, that he was unable to read except large print without the use of a magnifying glass, and that he signed the lease in the belief that it provided for a royalty of one-eighth of any gas produced on the property. Mr. Orner did not read the lease but took it into the house and his wife signed it after asking him if it was all right to do so. His wife was not present when any representations or alleged misrepresentations were made by Burns to her husband. Plaintiff found out in 1957 that on July 7, 1952 defendant had signed the same form of lease with three neighbors and that these leases likewise did not provide for the payment of royalties of one-eighth of the gas produced and sold from their respective properties. Some time prior to 1957*fn2 Mr. and Mrs. Orner entered into an oil and gas lease on adjoining tracts with other oil companies and these leases provided for payment to them of a royalty of one-eighth of the gas produced. Burns denied the alleged representations and misrepresentations. Burns was not told by Orner nor did he know that Orner could not readily read.

Four questions were submitted to the jury, all of which were answered by the jury in favor of the defendant. The jury found that Burns had not stated to Orner that defendant would pay a royalty of one-eighth of the gas found and produced on the premises, but on the contrary Burns had told Orner that the royalty was to be exactly as set forth in the lease. The jury ...


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