Plaintiffs, Roy A. Ison and others are the owners of the surface of approximately one acre of land situate in Magnolia District, Mingo County, West Virginia, and seek in this action of trespass on the case to recover of the defendant, Daniel Crisp Corporation, damages for the casting of waste materials, refuse and water upon plaintiffs' property, both directly and indirectly as a result of the obstruction of a stream, as a consequence of defendant's strip and auger mining operation on adjacent property. Defendant filed its "Special Plea No. 1" to the declaration setting out in toto a deed from Red Jacket Coal Corporation, sometimes hereinafter referred to as Red Jacket, by which plaintiffs acquired their title to the property, and asserting that under the reservations and covenants contained therein, plaintiffs are precluded from any recovery in the instant action. The pertinent portions of such deed are as follows:
The deed then provides that such reservations and covenants shall be deemed
Plaintiffs replied to said "Special Plea No. 1" admitting their derivation of title under the deed alleged, but alleged that subsequent to the execution of said deed Red Jacket Coal Corporation entered into an agreement with defendant, whereby defendant, for valuable consideration, agreed to mine and remove by auger mining methods all of the mineable and merchantable coal from certain lands belonging to Red Jacket, including land adjacent to the plaintiffs', which agreement included the following provision:
Plaintiffs' replication then alleges that their deed from Red Jacket was one of scores of like deeds made by Red Jacket, the greater number of which, like plaintiffs', were made to employees of Red Jacket and that the above quoted provision of "FIVE (B)" was incorporated in the agreement between Red Jacket and defendant in furtherance of Red Jacket's desire to protect the properties theretofore conveyed to its employees from all damages resulting from the mining operations of defendant under its agreement with Red Jacket.
Defendant demurred to plaintiffs' replication on the grounds: (1) the provisions of the agreement between Red Jacket and defendant do not alter or impair the preexisting reservations and provisions in Red Jacket's deed to plaintiffs and defendant is immune from liability thereunder as a licensee and assignee of Red Jacket; (2) the provisions of the agreement do not manifest any intention by Red Jacket to protect
The Circuit Court of Mingo County overruled defendant's demurrer to the replication and on its own motion, and the joint motion of the parties, certified the questions arising thereon to this Court.
It is obvious, and apparently conceded by counsel for plaintiffs, that the defendant is immune from this action, by virtue of being "successors, lessees, licensees and assigns," of the Red Jacket Coal Corporation, from all claims "for damages arising from * * the pollution or diversion or obstruction of streams," under the reservation contained in the deed from Red Jacket Coal Corporation to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs rely, as they must, upon Section "FIVE (B)" of the agreement between Red Jacket and the defendant, and this language thereof is the basis for the instant action against the defendant: "* * * it being understood and agreed that Contractor hereby assumes all liability for any damage caused to surface landowners, adjacent landowners or riparian owners by reason of the said disposal of said refuse or waste material, or by reason of its mining operations hereunder." The right of the plaintiffs to maintain this action in tort is predicated solely upon the allegation that the language contained in Section "FIVE (B)" of the contract was made for their benefit, and therefore as third party beneficiaries to that contract, they may waive the contract and maintain this action in tort.
It is contended by counsel for the plaintiffs that inasmuch as Red Jacket had already rendered itself immune from liability to the plaintiffs under the reservations in its deed, it had no need for any indemnity undertaking on the part of defendant in that respect, and, if Section "FIVE (B)" of the contract was not specifically included therein to impose a liability on defendant for the benefit of the plaintiffs, it is superfluous because of the clear provision of section "ELEVEN" of the contract between Red Jacket and Daniel Crisp Corporation, which provides that "the party of the second part shall indemnify the party of the first part hereto against liability resulting from any death or injury to persons or damage or loss to property that may be sustained by any person, firm or corporation whomsoever as the result of the work of the party of the second part and its operations hereunder, * * *." However, the pleadings show that many of the lots or parcels of land adjacent to the property holdings of Red Jacket were owned at the time of this contract by persons other than grantees of Red Jacket and the language in "FIVE (B)" indicates clearly that Red Jacket was protecting itself against damage not only to its grantees but to "surface landowners, adjacent landowners or riparian owners". The rule with reference to third party beneficiaries to a contract is stated in 12 Am.Jur., Contracts, at page 832: "The question whether a contract was intended for the benefit of a third person is one of construction. The intention of the parties in this respect is determined by the terms of the contract as a whole, construed in the light of the circumstances under which it was made. Ordinarily, it is sufficient if the contract was evidently made for the benefit of the third person. A provision in a contract that it was made for the benefit of a third person or that he should have the right to enforce the same would clearly indicate the intention of the parties that the promise
The following statement is contained in the opinion of German Alliance Insurance Co. v. Home Water Supply Co., 226 U.S. 220, 33 S.Ct. 32, 35, 57 L.Ed. 195, 42 L.R. A.,N.S., 1000, decided by the Supreme Court of the United States: "* * * But even where the right is most liberally granted it is recognized as an exception to the general principle, which proceeds on the legal and natural presumption that a contract is only intended for the benefit of those who made it. Before a stranger can avail himself of the exceptional privilege of suing for a breach of an agreement to which he is not a party, he must, at least, show that it was intended for his direct benefit. * * *" This language was contained in the contract construed by this Court in United Dispatch v. E. J. Albrecht Co., 135 W.Va. 34, 62 S.E.2d 289, 291: The contractor "shall be responsible for all damages to persons that occur as a result of his fault or negligence in connection with the prosecution of the work. * * * the contractor shall be responsible for all loss or destruction of or damage to property that occurs as a result of his fault or negligence in connection with the prosecution of the work, * * *." In that case this Court held that a third party who was damaged as a result of the construction work of the contractor was not entitled to recover and in the opinion said: "* * * we can reach no conclusion except that it was made for the sole benefit of the contracting parties. The provisions relied upon by plaintiff as giving it a right of action on the contract were intended for the benefit and protection of the Government of the United States of America and not for the sole benefit of the plaintiff or for the sole benefit of a class of which plaintiff is a member. * * *"
It is the view of this Court that all of the provisions of Sections "FIVE (B)" and "ELEVEN" of the contract between Red Jacket Coal Corporation and defendant were made for the benefit of Red Jacket. There is nothing contained in the language of either of those sections of the contract indicating that Red Jacket intended that the benefits thereof should accrue to any third party. If all of the parties against which protection was sought had been grantees of Red Jacket, the argument would be more feasible that Red Jacket was attempting to, and did, extend the benefits of the contract to those parties. However, it is not confined to the employees, former employees or grantees of Red Jacket. On the contrary, it includes "all surface landowners, adjacent landowners or riparian owners" and the record shows that many of those persons were not grantees of Red Jacket. It is true, as contended by plaintiffs, that Section "FIVE" is entitled "Mining Requirements—Inspection" and that under that title there is a specific provision that the defendant "assumes all liability for any damage caused to surface landowners, adjacent landowners or riparian owners by reason of the said disposal of said refuse or waste material, * * *" which is the basis of this action by plaintiffs. The provisions of Section "ELEVEN" are more general and probably would protect Red Jacket against the possible liability which is specifically provided for in Section "FIVE (B)". Even so, the specific provisions of Section "FIVE (B)" are not rendered ambiguous by the general provisions of Section "ELEVEN".
A contract made for the benefit of a third party must have the assent of both parties to the contract. It would not be enough to surmise or speculate from the language used in the contract between Red Jacket and defendant that the former desired to protect its employees and former employees to whom it had conveyed tracts
For the reasons heretofore stated, the action of the Circuit Court of Mingo County in overruling the defendant's demurrer to the replication of the plaintiffs is reversed.