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Ark Land Company v. Harper

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Ark Land Company sought to purchase the remainder of the Caudill family’s property to extract coal from the property. The Caudill family refused. Ark Land Compnay brought suit seeking a partition, and Caudill family sought a partition in kind. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When considering whether one should partition in kind or by sale, the economic value of the property is not a significant factor.

    Facts.

    The Caudill family sold a portion of their property to Ark Land Company, Defendants. The Caudill family owned the property exclusively for approximately one hundred years. Defendants wanted to purchase the remainder of the Caudill family’s property because Defendant wanted to extract the coal from the entire property. Nevertheless, the members on the remainder of the property refused to sell their land. Subsequently, Defendants filed suit seeking to partition and sell the property. The Caudill family sought a partition in kind and presented expert testimony that the property was capable of being partitioned in kind. However, Defendants presented an expert’s testimony suggesting that the partition in kind would cause an increase in several million dollars in mining costs. The circuit court held that the partition in kind is an inconvenience, and, therefore, the court ordered the partition and sale of the property.

    Issue.

    Whether the economic value of a property is a significant factor in considering whether one should partition in kind or by sale.

    Held.

    No, the economic value of a property is not a significant factor in considering whether one should partition in kind or by sale.

    Concurrence.

    The majority’s holding is proper on the grounds that the longstanding ownership, along with an owner’s emotional attachment to the property is a relevant factor in considering whether to partition in kind or by sale. Nevertheless, the majority improperly applied the factors to this case. Here, the partition should be by sale because the Caudill family’s interest in the property does not outweigh the great economic burden that Defendant’s will have to endure.

    Discussion.

    Partition is defined as a division of property owned by cotenants, based on each cotenants share. Partition in kind is defined as a physical division of a property. When land is not favorable to a partition in kind, the court may order a partition by sale, which forces the cotenants to divide the proceeds of the sale of the property. Generally, a partition by sale is unfavorable because the receipt of the cash proceeds is not always a fair compensation for the loss of the property, especially when one party opposes the sale. Thus, most jurisdictions have a presumption toward partition in kind. Furthermore, the economic interest if relevant in the determination, along with the historical family ownership of the property, which includes any sentimental or emotional value to the land. In this case, the Caudill’s owned the property fore more than one hundred years, and they did not care about the economic value of the property, but rather the emotional attachment to the property. Thus, the Caudill family did not want to part ownership with the property. In turn, Defendant wanted a partition in kind because it would add several millions of dollars, once he implemented his mining plans. Overall, the court weighed the interest of both parties and found that the economic burden on Defendant’s land does not justify the sale of the Caudill’s family historical interest in the home. Therefore, the circuit court’s order is reversed and the case is remanded.


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