ANCIENT ENERGY, LTD., DAVID E. BOWYER, AND DAVID A. DICKEY, Petitioners
PHILIP G. FERGUSON AND JOHN M. CUTRIGHT, Respondents
Submitted: September 13, 2017
from the Circuit Court of Barbour County Honorable Alan D.
Moats, Judge Civil Action No. 14-C-62
L. Tichenor, Esq. Tichenor Law Office Fairmont, West Virginia
Attorney for Petitioners.
Stephen C. Sluss, Esq. Hurricane, West Virginia and Jeffrey
R. Blair, Esq. Blair Law Firm, PLLC Hurricane, West Virginia
Attorneys for Respondents.
BY THE COURT
"Where the language of a statute is free from ambiguity,
its plain meaning is to be accepted and applied without
resort to interpretation." Syl. Pt. 2, Crockett v.
Andrews, 153 W.Va. 714, 172 S.E.2d 384 (1970).
"'"'The general rule of statutory
construction requires that a specific statute be given
precedence over a general statute relating to the same
subject matter where the two cannot be reconciled.'
Syllabus Point 1, UMWA by Trumka v. Kingdon, 174
W.Va. 330, 325 S.E.2d 120 (1984)." Syllabus point 1,
Whitlow v. Board of Education of Kanawha County, 190
W.Va. 223, 438 S.E.2d 15 (1993).' Syllabus point 6,
Albright v. White, 202 W.Va. 292, 503 S.E.2d 860
(1998)." Syl. Pt. 6, Carvey v. West Virginia State
Bd. of Educ, 206 W.Va. 720, 527 S.E.2d 831 (1999).
LOUGHRY, CHIEF JUSTICE
Energy, Ltd., David E. Bowyer, and David A. Dickey
(hereinafter collectively "petitioners") appeal the
February 29, 2016, final order of the Circuit Court of
Barbour County granting summary judgment to Philip G.
Ferguson, in his official capacity as Sheriff and Treasurer
of Barbour County, and John M. Cutright, in his official
capacity as Assessor of Barbour County (hereinafter
collectively "respondents"). The petitioners
purchased a tax lien on certain mineral interests from the
Deputy Commissioner of Delinquent and Nonentered Lands of
Barbour County on September 19, 2011, and secured a deed to
the property on January 23, 2012. In this appeal, the
petitioners contend that the circuit court erred by finding
them liable for payment of the property taxes for the years
of 2011 and 2012. Upon consideration of the parties'
briefs and arguments and the pertinent authorities, we find
no error and affirm the circuit court's order.
Factual and Procedural Background
November 2006, Sheriff Ferguson held a public auction of
properties that were delinquent because of unpaid property
taxes,  which included certain mineral interests
described as "959.69 coal unmineable, in Union District,
Barbour County, West Virginia." Because no bid was
received for these mineral interests, Sheriff Ferguson
certified a lien on the property to the West Virginia State
Auditor's office pursuant to West Virginia Code §
11A-3-8 (2017). The State Auditor is designated by statute
as the "commissioner of delinquent and nonentered
lands" and is tasked with selling those properties that
sheriffs are unable to sell to recover delinquent taxes.
See W.Va. Code § § 11A-3-33 and 11A-3-42
(2017). To accomplish this task, the State Auditor appoints a
"deputy commissioner of delinquent and nonentered lands
for each county" who holds a second auction of certified
properties if no party steps forward to redeem within
eighteen months of the sheriff's
September 19, 2011, Ancient Energy, a West Virginia
corporation in the business of oil and gas development,
purchased the tax lien on the subject property from G.
Russell Rollyson, Jr., Deputy Commissioner of Delinquent and
Nonentered Lands of Barbour County. The lien on the mineral
interests was sold to Ancient Energy for its bid amount of
one hundred dollars for the delinquent taxes for the years of
2005 through 2010. After the required statutory notices were
given and the redemption period expired, Ancient Energy
requested that the deputy commissioner prepare a deed
transferring ownership of the mineral interests to petitioners
David A. Dickey and David E. Bowyer. The deed was executed
as requested and recorded in the Barbour County Clerk's
Office on March 8, 2012.
2012, Assessor Cutright entered the property on the county
land books in the names of Dickey and Bowyer. Thereafter,
Dickey and Bowyer received and paid a tax invoice for the
2013 property taxes on or about August 19, 2013.
Approximately two months later, the Sheriff's office
returned Dickey and Bowyer's tender of payment for the
2013 taxes with a note explaining that the taxes for the
years of 2011 and 2012 remained unpaid. At the same time,
Dickey and Bowyer received separate invoices for the 2011 and
2012 taxes in the amounts of $2, 254.08 and $2, 243.70,
petitioners disputed their liability for the 2011 and 2012
taxes, arguing that because the mineral interests had been
"sold" to the State, no taxes were due for that
time period. Unable to resolve the matter with the
respondents, the petitioners filed a petition for a writ of
mandamus in the circuit court on September 23, 2014, seeking
an order requiring the respondents to "remove the back
tax assessments and accept payment from the Petitioners for
the 2013 invoice as requested." The respondents filed an
answer and a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. The
circuit court heard arguments on the motion on January 9,
2016, and then continued the matter to allow the parties time
to examine the land books to determine when the 2011 and 2012
tax assessments occurred. To clarify the issue, the parties
agreed to submit an affidavit, which the court would accept
as fact and stipulation. Thereafter, the respondents
submitted an affidavit from Assessor Cutright stating that
"[t]he Assessments for Tax Years 2011 and 2012 were
entered on the Barbour County, West Virginia, Land Records .
. . and were available for review by the taxpayers while the
books were before the Barbour County Commission Sitting as
Board of Equalization and Review in February of 2013."
Upon consideration of the affidavit, the circuit court
converted the respondents' Rule 12(c) motion to a motion
for summary judgment and entered the final order in favor of
the respondents. The circuit court concluded that "the
Petitioners' title to the property relates back to July
1, 2004, which is the first day of July of the year in which
the taxes, for nonpayment of which the real estate was sold,
were assessed and therefore the back tax for 2011 and 2012 to
Dickey and Bowyer were appropriate." This appeal
Standard of Review
the petitioners sought a writ of mandamus, the circuit court
disposed of the matter by granting summary judgment to
respondents, effectively denying the requested writ. The
circuit court rendered its decision based upon the statutes
that govern tax sales of delinquent properties. Our review of
a circuit court's decision denying a writ of mandamus or
granting summary judgment is de novo. See Syl. Pt.
1, Harrison Cnty. Comm'n v. Harrison Cnty.
Assessor,222 W.Va. 25, 658 S.E.2d 555 (2008) ("A
de novo standard of review applies to a circuit
court's decision to grant or deny a writ of
mandamus."); Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192
W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994) ("A circuit court's
entry of summary judgment is reviewed de
novo."). Likewise, when the issue on appeal
involves a question of law or statutory interpretation, our
review is de novo. See Syl. Pt. 1, Chrystal R.M.
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