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Plum Creek Timberlands, L.P. v. Yellow Poplar Lumber Company, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

March 31, 2014

PLUM CREEK TIMBERLANDS, L.P., Plaintiff,
v.
YELLOW POPLAR LUMBER COMPANY, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

Francis H. Casola, Woods Rogers PLC, Roanoke, Virginia, Aaron B. Houchens, Stanley, Houchens & Griffith, Moneta, Virginia, and T. Shea Cook, Richlands, Virginia, for Plaintiff; Wade W. Massie and Mark L. Esposito, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendants EQT Production Company and Range Resources-Pine Mountain, Inc.; J. Scott Sexton, H. David Gibson, Gregory D. Habeeb, and Kathleen L. Wright, Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore LLP, Roanoke, Virginia, for Defendants Edwin F. Legard, Jr., Elizabeth Anne Cox, Trustee, William B. Baker, Jr., Trustee, Matthew Trivett, and Michael Trivett; John E. Jessee, Jessee & Read, P.C., Abingdon, Virginia, for Defendants Donald A. McGlothlin, Jr., Mary L. Burton, Leah Anne McGlothlin, and Kevin T. McGlothlin; John M. Lamie, Guardian ad Litem for Unknown Successors in Title to Yellow Poplar Lumber Company, Inc.; and Charles S. Bartlett, Pro Se Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JAMES P. JONES, District Judge.

The plaintiff Plum Creek Timberlands, L.P. ("Plum Creek") filed this action in the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Virginia, seeking a declaration that it was the lawful owner of certain natural gas interests located in that county and that a 1930 deed purporting to convey such property was null, void, and of no effect. The property in question was formerly owned by Yellow Poplar Lumber Company, Inc. ("Yellow Poplar"), which entity had been the subject of bankruptcy proceedings in the Western District of South Carolina at the time of the 1930 deed. Plum Creek bases its claim on an earlier deed from Yellow Poplar's bankruptcy trustee.

This case was removed from state court to the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Virginia by defendants EQT Production Company and Range Resources-Pine Mountain, Inc. ("Range Resources"). At the request of Plum Creek, this court withdrew reference of the case from the bankruptcy court. See 28 U.S.C.A. ยง 157(d) (West 2006 & Supp. 2013).

Plum Creek has moved to remand the case to state court on the ground that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. In addition Range Resources and other defendants have filed cross claims and counterclaims seeking adjudication of their respective interests in the property. Motions to dismiss have been filed by Plum Creek and certain defendants as to these claims, all of which, along with Plum Creek's Motion to Remand, have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision.[1]

I find that this court does have subject-matter jurisdiction of the case and that the various motions to dismiss must be denied.

I. MOTION TO REMAND.

In its Amended Complaint, Plum Creek contends that by decree dated September 13, 1929, the United States District Court for the Western District of South Carolina, acting in bankruptcy, directed the trustee of Yellow Poplar, the bankrupt, to convey to W.M. Ritter Lumber Company in fee certain tracts of land located in Buchanan County, Virginia. The court's decree described the four tracts of land to be conveyed, but also included the following catch-all description:

It being the intention to embrace herein and convey hereby all of the tracts, pieces or parcels of land, or interests in land owned by Yellow Poplar Lumber Company on the watersheds of Levisa River and Dismal Creek and their tributaries in said Buchanan County, Virginia, whether hereinabove described, or referred to, or not.

(ECF No. 6-4, page 628.) Accordingly, a deed dated September 21, 1929, was made and duly recorded from Gallie Friend, Trustee, to W.M. Ritter Lumber Company ("Ritter Lumber"), which deed included the property descriptions set forth in the court's decree. The conveyance was thereafter approved by the court.

At the time of its bankruptcy, Yellow Poplar was the owner of certain tracts of land described as Tracts 10 and 11 in a deed dated January 6, 1906, from Excelsior Coal and Lumber Company ("Excelsior") to Yellow Poplar. In the bankruptcy proceeding, a decree of the district court directed the conveyance of Tract 10 to C.G. Jackson. That deed, dated October 16, 1930, is the target of Plum Creek's action. Plum Creek claims to be the successor in title to Ritter Lumber and because Tract 10 is on the watershed of the Levisa River, asserts that it could not have been conveyed by the later C.G. Jackson deed. Similarly, Plum Creek contends that as the successor to Ritter Lumber, it owns interests in Tract 11, which it asserts is also on the watershed of the Levisa River and thus included in the Ritter Lumber deed.

In their pleadings, the defendants who have appeared deny the claims of Plum Creek and contend that they are the proper successors in title under the C.G. Jackson deed. In addition, they assert other sources of title to their claimed interests in the property.

Based upon the allegations of the Amended Complaint, I find that subject-matter jurisdiction exists.

The standard for removal jurisdiction is well established. "The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is placed upon the party seeking removal. Because removal jurisdiction raises significant federalism concerns, [I] must strictly construe removal jurisdiction. If federal jurisdiction is doubtful, a remand is necessary." Mulcahey v. ...


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