Somerville v. Jacobs – 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Case Name: Somerville v. Jacobs
Plaintiffs: W.J. Somerville and Hazel M. Somerville
Defendants: William L. Jacobs and Marjorie S. Jacobs
Citation: 170 S.E.2d 806 (W. Va. 1969)

Issue: Whether the plaintiff, Somerville, can be awarded just compensation for improvements which he made on land which he did not own, but had reason to believe he owned and made a reasonable mistake of fact in good faith.

Key Facts: The  Somervilles owned three lots and wished to erect a warehouse building on one of their lots. They got a surveyor’s report and then mistakenly constructed the warehouse on a lot that was owned by the Jacobs, the defendants.
The Jacobs learned that the building was on their property and claimed ownership on the theory of annexation – the improvements passed to them as part of their land. The Somervilles concede this but assert that the Jacbos cannot keep and retain the building without compensating them for the value of the improvements.

Rule: An individual who improves land of another through a reasonable mistake of fact and in good faith is entitled to recover the value of the improvements from the landowner or to purchase the land which was improved for the value of the land less the improvements.

Dissent: The majority’s opinion has giving the errant party equitable treatment while not providing equitable treatment for the party which was not at fault and did not make a mistake.