Wetzel man sues church, others for mineral rights, royalties

NEW MARTINSVILLE – A Wetzel County man is suing St. Joseph Catholic Church after he claims it has claimed an interest in his property without any rights to it.

Chesapeake Appalachia, LLC; Chesapeake Operating, Inc.; Statoil USA Onshore Properties, Inc.; and the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, Bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston were also named as defendants in the suit.

On March 6, 1993, Joseph N. Blatt died and under the terms of his will, he devised his interest in the Blatt Family Farm to his sister, Hilda M. Weigand, which meant Weigand became vested with a total of 7/24ths interest in the Blatt Family Farm, including all mineral, oil and gas interested, according to a complaint filed May 16 in Wetzel Circuit Court.

When Weigand died on July 2, 1998, she devised all of her undivided interest in the Blatt Family Farm to James E. Blatt, which meant he became vested with 13/42nds—or 30.95 interest—in the mineral, oil and gas interests in the Blatt Family Farm.

James Blatt claims he leased his oil and gas interests in both the 100 acre parcel, known as Parcel 31, and the 9.80 acre parcel of the Blatt Family Farm, known as Parcel 32, to Chesapeake Appalachia.

Pursuant to the leases, Chesapeake Appalachia and/or Chesapeake Operating and/or Statoil USA have included approximately 71.7 acres in the Brett Berisford Unit and have included approximately 28.2 acres of Parcel 31 and the entire 9.80 acres of Parcel 32 in the Gordon Stansberry Unit for the purpose of the pooled production of oil, gas and other products, according to the suit.

James Blatt claims the defendants began production of oil, gas and other products from the Brett Berisford and Gordon Stansberry units and have made certain payments to him for the Brett Berisford unit.

The defendants initially paid James Blatt a percentage of royalty for productions from the Brett Berisford unit based upon and recognizing an interest owned by James Blatt in the gas and oil rights in the Blatt Family Farm of 13/42nds or 30.95 percent for the period of February 2010 through July 2011, according to the suit.

James Blatt claims the defendants informed him after July 2011 that the royalty payments for production from the Berisford and Stansberry units would be reduced to an amount based upon the position of defendants that he was entitled to only 11/224ths of a royalty interest in Parcel 31 and 1/56th of a royalty interest in Parcel 32.

To the best of James Blatt's knowledge and believe the action to reduce the royalty payments was based upon the defendants' interpretation and application of a "quit claim deed dated October 8, 1999, made by Leona M. Kirkland, executrix of the Estate of Hilda M. Weigand, to the St. Joseph Catholic Church" of Proctor, W.Va., according to the suit.

James Blatt claims Kirkland's deed is invalid, void and ineffective to convey the property because Kirkland lacked the authority under the last will and testament of Weigand to execute a deed for the conveyance of real property and that the grant of property in the deed is inconsistence with and exceeds the devise made to the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Weigand's will.

St. Joseph Catholic Church acting by and through Bransfield, claims an interest and estate in the property of James Blatt that is adverse to him and the claims are without any right, according to the suit.

James Blatt is seeking that the decree of the court declare and adjudge that he owns a 13/42nds interest in the mineral, oil and gas reserves and the right to royalty payments from the same within and under the Blatt family farm; that the court declare the deed from Kirkland to St. Joseph Catholic Church be null, void and of no effect; that Chesapeake Appalachia, Chesapeake Operating and Statoil USA be ordered to abide by the decree of the court and pay him a percentage of royalty in the lease; and that the court grant Blatt an order directing the defendants to pay all royalties from the Berisford and Stansberry units to the court clerk in an amount equivalent to the percentage of such royalty that is in dispute. Blatt is being represented by Daniel J. Guida and Louis H. Khourey.

The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge David W. Hummel Jr.

Wetzel Circuit Court case number: 12-C-35

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