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Herder Spring Hunting Club v. Keller

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 9, 2014

HERDER SPRING HUNTING CLUB, Appellant
v.
HARRY AND ANNA KELLER, Appellee

Argued December 10, 2013.

Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Centre County, Civil Division, No(s): 2008-3434. Before LUNSFORD, J.

David C. Mason, Philipsburg, for appellant.

Brian K. Marshall and Timothy A. Schoonover, State College and Laurinda J. Voelcker, Danville, for appellees.

BEFORE: DONOHUE, J., OTT, J., and PLATT, J.[*] OPINION BY OTT, J.

OPINION

OTT, J.:

Herder Spring Hunting Club (Herder) appeals from the judgment entered July 12, 2011, in the Court of Common Pleas of Centre County, on the orders of September 29, 2010 and June 20, 2011, denying its motions for summary judgment and granting the heirs of Harry and Anna Keller (" Keller heirs" ) cross motions for summary judgment and awarding the Keller heirs fee simple ownership of the subsurface rights of the Eleanor Siddons Warrant.[1] Herder claims the trial court erred in: (1) failing to recognize that a prior sale of the land for non-payment of real estate taxes effectively rejoined the subsurface and surface rights, and (2) failing to recognize that it had obtained subsurface rights through adverse possession. After a thorough review of the submissions by the parties and amicus curiae briefs filed on behalf of each party, the certified record,

Page 466

and relevant law, we agree with Herder's first argument. Therefore, we vacate the judgment entered July 12, 2011, on the orders of September 29, 2010 and June 20, 2011, and remand for entry of an order consistent with this decision.

We quote the factual background as stated by the trial court in its opinion and order dated September 29, 2010.

On August 14, 2008, [Herder] initiated this action by filing a Complaint in the nature of an Action to Quiet Title. [Herder] subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint on October 27, 2008. [Herder] contends a 1935 tax sale extinguished the 1899 reservation of subsurface rights by Harry and Anna Keller and conveyed fee simple title to the tax sale purchaser, Max Herr. [Herder] argues Defendants failed to report their reservation of subsurface rights as required under the Act of March 28, 1806. [Herder] also asserts it has adversely possessed the mineral rights for a period in excess of twenty-one (21) years. The adverse possession claim has not been addressed by either party in the Motions for Summary Judgment.[2]
This suit arises out of a dispute over subsurface rights. In 1894, Defendant Harry and Anna Keller1 acquired a tract of " unseated2" real estate containing 460 acres strict measure, known as the Eleanor Siddons Warrant [3] (hereinafter also referred to as the " property" ) at a tax sale. On June 20, 1899, the Kellers transferred the surface rights of the property to Isaac Beck, Isaiah Beck and James Fisher by deed but reserved unto themselves, their heirs and assigns all subsurface rights therein:
1 Harry Keller served as a Court of Common Pleas Judge in Centre County, Pennsylvania. Judge Keller served from 1926 to 1927.
2 The distinction of seated and unseated land was part of Pennsylvania tax assessment law prior to 1961. Unseated land was unoccupied and unimproved whereas seated land contained permanent improvements as indicate a personal responsibility for taxes. See Hutchinson v. Kline, 199 Pa. 564, 49 A. 312 (1901).
[e]xcepting and reserving unto the said parties of the first part, their heirs and assigns forever all the coal, stone, fire clay, iron ore and other minerals of whatever kind, oil and natural gas lying or being, or which may now or hereafter be formed or contained in or upon the said above mentioned or hereafter be formed or contained in or upon the said above mentioned or described tract of land; together with the sole and exclusive right liberty and privilege of ingress and egress unto, upon and from the said land for the purpose of examining, digging and searching for, and of mining and manufacturing any minerals oil, or natural gas found therein or thereon for market, and the transportation and removal of the same without hindrance or molestation from the said parties of the second part, there [sic] heirs executors administrators, lessees or assigns, or any of them; together with the right and privilege onto the said parties of the first part, their heirs or assigns, to take from said land such timber as may be necessary for the purposes aforesaid, and for the said purposes to build, construct or dig common roads, railroads,

Page 467

tramways, or monkey drifts and make all and every other improvement that may be necessary either upon or under the surface of said land, on and over which may be transported or manufactured all mineral, oil and natural gas formed in or on said land, and to erect such buildings structures and other necessary improvement thereon as the parties of the first part hereto their heirs or assigns, may deem necessary for the convenient use of working of said mines mills or works, and the manufacturing and preparing of the out put [sic] of the same for market with the right to deposit the dirt and waste from said mines, mills and works upon the surface of said land as may be necessary for convenient and for all of said foregoing uses and purposes to take and appropriate such land for their exclusive use as the said parties of the first part, their heirs or assigns may deem necessary.
The deed was recorded on August 8, 1899 in Centre County Deed Book 80, Page 878. The property was subsequently transferred on various occasions.
In February 1910, the Becks sold the property to Arthur Baird. In August of 1910, Mr. Baird sold the property to Robert Jackson and Thomas Litz. In 1922, Ralph Smith acquired the property via deed from Jackson and Litz. In November of 1935, the Centre County Commissioners acquired title to the property via Treasurers Sale. The property was offered for sale by the Treasurer for unpaid real estate taxes. No bidder bid the upset price and the Commissioners purchased the property. At the time the land was unseated. By deed dated June 3, 1941, the Centre County Commissioners sold the property to Max Herr. Max Herr died intestate on February 2, 1944.
In 1959, [Herder was] interested in purchasing the property from Mr. Herr's widow. A title search was performed and [Herder] became aware of the reservation. [Herder's] attorney, Richard Sharp, Esquire,3 suggested to grantor's attorney, Roy Wilkinson, Jr., Esquire,4 that Mr. Wilkinson " cover the exception by a specific clause making the conveyance subject to all exceptions and reservations as are contained in the chain of title." (Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment 3/11/2010 Exhibit E) [Herder's] deed dated November 30, 1959 reflected " this conveyance is subject to all exceptions ...

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