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Am. Canadian Expeditions, LTD. v. Gauley River Corp. - 221 W. Va. 442, 655 S.E.2d 188 (2007)

Rule:

An option given for the sale of land, supported by a valuable consideration, is not a sale of real estate, nor an agreement to sell, but is an executed contract, giving the optionee the exclusive privilege of purchasing within the time limited, and which cannot be withdrawn during the time stipulated for; and upon acceptance within that time it becomes an executory contract for the sale of land, which may be specifically enforced in a proper case.

Facts:

Plaintiff Expeditions entered into a real estate option contract with defendants Gauley et al., giving Expeditions a right for a three-year period to purchase certain tract of real estate. Gauley et al. contracted for the removal of timber from a portion of the option property. Expeditions filed suit seeking damages for the loss of timber and for damage the logging operation allegedly caused to the option property. During the pendency of this suit, Expeditions exercised the option to purchase, and the legal title to the property was conveyed to it. The trial court granted the summary judgment in favor to defendants Gauley et al. on the ground that Expeditions did not have a legal or equitable right to seek damages for timber removed from property during the time it held an option to purchase the land. Expeditions appealed the order of the Fayette County Circuit Court. On appeal, Expeditions argued that it was the equitable and beneficial owner of the property from the option contract.

Issue:

Did plaintiff, the holder of an option contract to purchase land, have an in personam right to a claim of damages to the property occurring during the life of the option but before the option was exercised?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court ruled that during the option period of a real estate option contract, the optionee has no ownership interest in the property, or the timber on it, absent specific language in the option contract to the contrary. Expeditions’ enforceable rights under the terms of this option contract were limited to being able to purchase the property at the agreed upon price within the agreed-upon period. No additional terms or conditions were stipulated in the option contract at issue. Having no equitable or legal ownership interest in the timber under established law, and preserving no special right under the contract, the only remedy to Expeditions' objection to the damage that may have occurred to the property during the option period was to not exercise the option. The Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the Gauley et al.

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