Belcher v. Big Four Coal & Coke Co – Case Brief Summary (West Virginia)

In Belcher v. Big Four Coal & Coke Co., 68 W. Va. 716, 70 S.E. 712 (1911), the Court was presented with a latent ambiguity in a coal contract.

In Belcher, an issue arose regarding whether the parties to a contract providing for an agreed-upon royalty of "$ 1.50 per 'railroad car, or its equal'" intended that only so much royalty was to be paid per railroad car, regardless of the quantity of coal that might be shipped in a car. Id. at 719, 70 S.E. at 713.

The Court construed the agreement to mean that the parties to it had some definite size or capacity of coal car in mind by referring to a coal car or "its equal."

At the time of the agreement, the parties to the agreement knew the railroad company shipped coal using cars of 30,000, 40,000, 50,000, and 60,000 pounds capacity.

Because of this extrinsic fact, we found that the contract had a latent ambiguity regarding the unit of measurement which the parties intended. Belcher, 68 W. Va. at 719-20, 70 S.E. at 714.