By Alina Buccella

Today, the Fourth Circuit certified a question to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in a case involving a dispute over mining rights. The question certified is, “[w]hether the proponent of his own working interest in a mineral lease may prove his entitlement thereto and enforce his rights thereunder by demonstrating his inclusion within a mining partnership or partnership in mining, without resort to proof that the lease interest has been conveyed to him by deed or will or otherwise in strict conformance with the Statute of Frauds.”

Under West Virginia law, each partner in a mining partnership must have an interest in the land mined or an interest in the lease covering the land mined. However, the law is not clear as to whether this interest needs to be granted by deed or will exclusively, or even if it needs to be in writing at all. The outcome of this case will depend on what the West Virginia Supreme Court answers, because the plaintiff does not have evidence of actual conveyance by will or deed of his real property interest. In this case, the plaintiff relied only on parole evidence to show that he maintains a working interest in four mines operated by the defendant as a result of his proportional participation in the mining partnership. To see more details about the facts of the lawsuit, you can read the full order of certification here.