PA Superior Court Rules on Important Surface/Mineral Rights Case

Gavel fallingA complicated court case just decided by Pennsylvania Superior Court has implications for all land and mineral rights owners in PA. The case is called Wright v. Misty Mountain Farm LLC. This is how we understand it. In 1950 Fred and Jeanetta Buck sold some property in Bradford County, PA to Robert and Marjorie Wright. However, the Bucks kept the oil/gas/mineral rights for themselves, having already leased the mineral rights for the property. The mineral rights lease eventually expired in 1971. At that time, Robert and Marjorie Wright, the surface owners, figured with the expiration of the lease, the mineral rights reverted to them–so they signed a lease to allow oil and gas drilling. In 1988 the Wrights signed over the property and the lease to David and Patricia Wright (we’re assuming son and daughter-in-law). David and Patricia signed new leases on the property in both 2001 and again in 2005. Eventually Jeanetta Buck died and in 2010 while reviewing her estate and its assets, Shirley Matthews, administratrix of the estate, discovered/claimed the mineral rights still belonged to the Bucks. So Matthews conveyed the subsurface mineral rights to Misty Mountain Farm LLC. Patricia Wright argued that the when the original lease made by the Bucks in 1950 expired, ownership of the mineral rights also expired–in 1971. A lower court and then the Superior Court disagreed and ruled that unless there is specific language saying that when a lease expires so too do the mineral rights, then the mineral rights still belong to the original rights owner. Whew. Get all that? Bottom line: Just because a lease expires it doesn’t mean the party who owns the mineral rights loses their claim on those rights…

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