The appellant and defendant below, Robert Hatfield, appeals a final order of the Circuit Court of Cabell County entered on December 29, 2008, in this partition suit filed by the appellee and plaintiff below, Vernon Thompson. The circuit court ruled that Mr. Thompson has a two-sevenths interest in the subject property and that the remaining five- sevenths interest is owned by Mr. Hatfield. The circuit court also ordered that Mr. Thompson be afforded a right-of-way by necessity to access his two-sevenths interest in the real estate. Finally, the circuit court ordered that the property be surveyed and that the parties split the costs of the survey and establishment of the right-of-way in proportion to their respective interests.
In this appeal, Mr. Hatfield maintains that he owns the entire parcel of land in fee simple. He contends that the circuit court's order fails to set forth sufficient factual findings to permit meaningful appellant review; that he was entitled to have his adverse possession claim considered by a jury; and that genuine issues of material fact exist concerning who has an interest in the property. Assuming, arguendo, that the circuit court did not err in dividing the real estate, Mr. Hatfield contends that the court erred by summarily determining that the real estate should be surveyed and divided with the costs split by the parties in accordance with their respective interests, and further, that the court erred by determining that Mr. Thompson has a right-of-way by necessity and that the costs associated with the establishment of said right-of-way should also be split by the parties in accordance with their respective interests.
This Court has before it the petition for appeal, the entire record, and the briefs and argument of counsel. For the reasons set forth below, the final order is reversed, and this case is remanded for the circuit court to include in its final order the legal and factual basis for its decision.
Mr. Hatfield states that on three occasions, third parties have completed title
examinations and concluded that he possesses record title to the subject real estate. Two of
the examinations were completed when he used the property as collateral to obtain a loan.
The third instance involved him leasing the minerals on the property. Mr. Hatfield says that
he posted the land in 1988 and has controlled access to the land since 1969, only permitting
certain relatives, neighbors, and friends to use the property for various activities.
In contrast, Mr. Thompson claims that he inherited a two-sevenths interest in the property. According to Mr. Thompson, the subject property was initially acquired by Thomas Hatfield by two separate deeds: one deed conveying thirty acres in 1891 and a second deed conveying twelve acres in 1905. Thomas Hatfield and his wife both died intestate leaving the property to their seven children: Herbert, Ben, Shem, Odie, (See footnote 1) Edith, Ethel, and Lillie. Each child had a one-seventh interest in the property. Thereafter, Odie purchased the interests of Ben, Shem, and Lillie, giving him a total interest of four-sevenths. Herbert purchased Ethel's interest from her only child and sole heir. Herbert then left his entire estate including his two-sevenths interest in the subject property to his wife, Hazel. She left the two-sevenths interest in the property by will to her son, Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson claims that the remaining one-seventh interest owned by Edith
Hatfield Vance was passed on to her six children. Mr. Thompson does not claim any part of
this one-seventh interest. Notice of this partition suit was given to the Vance children and
some of them have apparently ceded their interest to Robert Hatfield. (See footnote 2)
Mr. Thompson filed his complaint on October 25, 2004, seeking to have the land partitioned. A lengthy discovery period followed. On January 5, 2006, Mr. Thompson filed a motion for summary judgment; however, discovery continued. Finally, following a status conference on October 11, 2007, the circuit court entered an order directing the parties to submit memoranda setting forth their respective positions. Thereafter, the final order was entered. This appeal followed.
In Syllabus Point 3 of Fayette County National Bank v. Lilly, 199 W. Va. 349, 484 S.E.2d 232 (1997), this Court held:
Although our standard of review for summary judgment remains de novo, a circuit court's order granting summary judgment must set out factual findings sufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. Findings of fact, by necessity, include those facts which the circuit court finds relevant, determinative of the issues and undisputed.
In Lilly, it was explained that [t]his Court's function, as a reviewing court is to determine whether the stated reasons for the granting of summary judgment by the lower court are supported by the record. 199 W. Va. at 353, 484 S.E.2d at 236. Obviously, [t]his Court
cannot perform its function unless the circuit court's order contains both the factual and legal basis for its ultimate conclusion. Nestor v. Bruce Hardwood Flooring, L.P., 206 W. Va. 453, 456, 525 S.E.2d 334, 337 (1999). See also Ayersman v. West Virginia Div. of Enviromental Protection, 208 W. Va. 544, 546, 542 S.E.2d 58, 60 (2000) ([A] summary judgment order must set forth findings substantial enough to allow this Court to make an informed judgment on the propriety of the lower court's actions.).
The circuit court's final order in this case clearly does not comply with this Court's holding in Lilly. The order is completely silent with regard to the basis for the circuit court's decision. Accordingly, we find that the circuit court committed reversible error by granting summary judgment without including findings of fact and conclusions of law sufficient for meaningful review by this Court.
Reversed and remanded.