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United States v. Brook Contracting Corp.

April 18, 1985


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Aldisert, Chief Judge, Sloviter, Circuit Judge, and Mansmann, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Aldisert


ALDISERT, Chief Judge

In this appeal by two coal producing companies from summary judgment in favor of the government, we must decide what is meant by the expression "coal produced by surface mining" under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA or the Act), 30 U.S.C. §§ 1201-1328. This is not mere semantic exercise, because our decision depends the extent of tonnage upon which a reclamation fee of 35 cents per ton may be levied by the Secretary of the Interior. The government argues, and the district court found, that tonnage of "coal produced" includes the weight of rock, clay, dirt and other debris mined with the "coal" that was delivered by the companies to a coal washing and sizing plant. The companies seem to borrow from Gertrude Stein's "a rose is a rose is a rose" and argue that coal is coal and it means a mineral that is combustible. We conclude that we have jurisdiction to her this appeal, and that the district court erred in determining that all the material mined by appellants was subject to the reclamation fee. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court.


Consolidated actions for collecting reclamation fees were brought by the United States against Brook Contracting Corporation and Tri-County Land and Coal Company in the district court. The complaints alleged that the companies, which have identical corporate offices and are represented by the same counsel, owed $73,930.98 and $24,378.67 respectively in delinquent reclamation fees under the SMCRA. The companies had paid only for the combustible coal that was mined; the government concluded that they owed additional fees for the rock, clay, dirt and other debris that was unearthed in the surface mining process. The district court granted the government's motion for summary judgment and the companies' appeal followed.

The SMCRA states in relevant part:

All operators of coal mining operations subject to the provisions of this chapter shall pay to the Secretary of the Interior, for deposit in the fund, a reclamation fee of 35 cents per ton of coal produced by surface coal mining and 15 cents per ton of coal produced by underground mining or 10 per centum of the value of the coal at the time, as determined by the Secretary, whichever is less, except that the reclamation fee for lignite coal shall be at a rate of 2 per centum of the value of the coal at the mine, or 10 cents per ton, whichever is less.

%30 U.S.C. § 1232(a) (emphasis supplied). The companies contend that the district court accorded an overly expansive meaning to the language "coal produced by surface coal mining," In construing the Act, the district court relied in part on 30 C.F.R. § 837.12 (now codified at 30 C.F.R. § 870.12):

(a) The operator shall pay a reclamation fee on each ton of coal produced for sale, transfer, or use, including the products of in situ mining. (b) The fee shall be determined by the weight and value of the time of initial bona fide sale, transfer of ownership, or use by the operator.

The companies argue that application of this regulation to support imposition of the reclamation fee on the total tonnage of material mined is an improper extension of the scope of 30 U.S.C. § 1232(a).

Because resolution of this case turns on statutory construction invoking the interpretation and application of legal precepts, our standard of review is plenary. Universal Minerals, Inc. v C.A. Hughes & Co., 669 F.2d 98, 102 (3d Cir. 1981).


As a preliminary matter we decide that we have jurisdiction, properly based on the final judgment of 28 U.S.C. § 1291. The government argues that the order appealed from is not final, relying on UGI Corp. v. Clark, 747 F.2d 893 (3d Cir. 1984). In UGI, a mining company sought a declaratory judgment that it did not owe reclamation fees and in a separate action the government sued the company to collect delinquent fees. The actions were consolidated and the district court awarded summary judgment in favor of the government on the declaratory judgment action. We dismissed the mining company's appeal from this order because there was no disposition of the consolidated collection case. The requirements of Rule 54(b), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, were not satisfied and, therefore, there was no final judgment. Id. at 894. The UGI case differs from the case before us in which the only underlying action -- the government's collection case -- has been disposed of in favor of the government.

The government argues, however, that the judgment entered below is not final because the district court did not specify in its order the exact amount of fees owed by appellants. We find this argument unpersuasive. The government alleged in its complaint against Brook Contracting Corporation that "defendant owes the Secretary the total of $73,930.98 in delinquent reclamation fees plus interest at the rate of one percent per month commencing thirty (30) days after the end of the calendar quarter for which reclamation fees are due . . . ." App. at 9a. The government alleged that Tri-County Land and Coal Company "owes the Secretary $24,378.67 in delinquent fees, plus such additional amounts as may be determined upon review of defendant's records," plus interest computed in the manner alleged in the Brook Contracting Corporation complaint. App. at 16a. In its motion for summary judgment the government stated:

requests the Court grant summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendants Tri-County Land and Coal Company and Brook Contracting Corporation in the amounts, plus interest and costs, set forth in the respective complaints filed in ...

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