On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, C.A. No. 82-2712.
ADAMS, WEIS and WISDOM,*fn* Circuit Judges.
Various owners and operators of bituminous coal mines brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) challenging the constitutionality of state statutes and regulations governing the mining of coal in Pennsylvania. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants, holding that the state program violated neither the takings clause nor the contract clause of the Constitution, and was not an invalid exercise of the power of eminent domain. We agree with the district court, and accordingly affirm.
Plaintiffs*fn1 sought in an action in the district court to have several provisions of the Pennsylvania Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act, 52 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1406.1 (Purdon Supp. 1984-85) (Subsidence Act), and its implementing regulations promulgated by the state Department of Environmental Resources (DER), declared unconstitutional. Named as defendants were those officials of the DER responsible for administering the Act.*fn2
In February 1984, following pretrial proceedings designed to narrow the factual and legal issues, the district court denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, granted the DER partial summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. As a consequence of post-trial motions the matter was reopened and upon joint request of the parties, the district court certified several issues for appeal and stayed further proceedings in the district court.*fn3 We accepted jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (1982).*fn4
Plaintiffs operate full extraction underground bituminous coal mines in Western Pennsylvania, generally employing two different mining methods. The "room and pillar" methods consists of a two-step process. During the first step, as coal is removed from the mine, blocks of coal known as pillars are left in place in a pre-planned pattern to support the strata overlying the coal seam being mined. Second, when the primary mining is substantially completed in a particular area, the coal pillars are systematically removed as the mining operation retreats. Operators seek to remove as many coal pillars as possible, consistent with safety.
The second method, known as the "longwall panel" method, also has two phases. In the first, as mining proceeds coal pillars are left in place on either side of a longwall panel of coal-laden earth. Once a series of large panels has been laid out, a piece of equipment known as a longwall miner is installed. It advances continuously through the panels removing coal.
For purposes of this litigation, the mineralogical fact of most significance is that subsidence -- the lowering of the strata overlying a coal mine because of underground coal extraction -- eventually results from both forms of coal mining. App. at 45. A substantial amount of the coal reserves in the mines operated by plaintiffs lies beneath buildings and other features located on land whose surface is owned by others.*fn5 Predominantly during the period 1890-1920, plaintiffs purchased from land owners the rights to mine and remove this coal. They also regularly secured waivers of the surface owners' rights to collect damages for harm to the surface or surface structures caused by subsidence.
In 1966, Pennsylvania passed the Subsidence Act which, with later amendments and implementing regulations, creates a comprehensive arrangement governing bituminous coal mining in Pennsylvania. The present state program is in part a response to the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1979, 30 U.S.C. §§ 1201 et seq. (1982 and Supp. 1983). The federal act provides that a state may assume primary control over mine reclamation activities within its borders by adopting a regulatory scheme at least as stringent as the minimum guidelines set forth in the federal laws. Pennsylvania's program was eventually approved under this scheme. See 30 C.F.R. §§ 938.1-.20 (1983).
An original purpose of the state law was to preserve land in Pennsylvania, thus promoting the health, safety, and welfare of the people of the Commonwealth. An additional purpose was the preservation of a tax base for certain municipalities in order to enhance the Commonwealth's economic welfare. 52 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1406.3.
Plaintiffs challenge four aspects of the Subsidence Act. Section 4 and various Subsidence Regulations implementing both section 4 and section 5 require coal mine operators to leave a certain amount of coal in the ground for support under specified types of surface structures. These provisions apply notwithstanding an operator's ownership of mineral rights or support rights. It is alleged that these provisions abridge the takings clause of the Constitution, U.S. Const. amend. V ("nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), and specifically the holding of the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393, 67 L. Ed. 322, 43 S. Ct. 158 (1922).
Also challenged by the plaintiffs is the validity of section 6 of the Subsidence Act, which requires mine operators to pay compensation for subsidence damage to various structures, notwithstanding the existence of a damage waiver executed by the surface owner. In this regard, claims are raised under the contract clause, U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1, as well as the takings clause of the Constitution.
Similarly plaintiffs urge that a regulation requiring mine operators to repair any damage to surface land caused by subsidence to the extent technically feasible, 25 Pa. Admin. Code § 89.147(b) (Shepard's 1985), violates the contract clause. Finally, section 15 of the Subsidence Act, which gives surface owners a right to purchase underlying coal for support notwithstanding a waiver of the right to support, is claimed to be an invalid exercise of the power of eminent domain in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court rejected all four of the plaintiffs' asserted grounds for relief. We address each contention in turn.
Section 4 of the Subsidence Act, 52 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1406.4, prohibits mine operators from mining "bituminous coal so as to cause damage as a result of the caving-in, collapse or subsidence of the following surface structures in place on April 27, 1966" in the proximity of a mine:
(1) Any public building or any noncommercial structure customarily used by the public, including but not being limited to churches, schools, hospitals, and municipal ...