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MATHIES COAL COMPANY APPEAL (06/27/69)

decided: June 27, 1969.

MATHIES COAL COMPANY APPEAL


Appeal from order of Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, July T., 1967, Nos. 331 to 349, inclusive, in re appeals of Mathies Coal Company and Consolidation Coal Company from decision of Board for the Assessment and Revision of Taxes.

COUNSEL

Harold R. Schmidt, with him Thomas E. Boettger, Ralph W. Peacock, and Rose, Schmidt & Dixon, and Peacock, Keller & Yohe, for appellants.

Thomas J. Terputac and George B. Stegenga, with them William C. Porter, Assistant County Solicitor, for appellees.

Bell, C. J., Jones, Cohen, Eagen, Roberts and Pomeroy, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Eagen. Mr. Justice O'Brien took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Justice Cohen.

Author: Eagen

[ 435 Pa. Page 131]

In controversy in these appeals are 19 real property tax assessments involving coal owned by appellants, Consolidation Coal Company and Mathies Coal Company. The issues raised in the 19 original appeals to the court below from the decision of the Board for Assessment and Revision of Taxes were common as to law and fact and were, accordingly, consolidated for hearing.

"The Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act of 1966", Act of April 27, 1966, P. L. 1, 52 P.S. ยง 1406.1 et seq., provides in Section 1406.4 that in order to guard the health, safety and general welfare of the public, no owner, operator, lessor, lessee or general manager, superintendent or other person shall mine 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 the effective date of the Act: public buildings, dwellings and cemeteries.

Prior to the effective date of this Act, coal owners had the right to mine, if they so chose, all coal without legal liability for damage caused to any surface structures. While the Act merely prohibits mining in any manner which will cause subsidence, appellants claim that as a practical matter the Act requires that the coal be left in place.

Following the passage of the above Act, the appellants requested the Washington County Assessor to reduce the assessed value of their minable coal by the amount of the value of the coal required for support under the Act. Upon refusal of the request, timely

[ 435 Pa. Page 132]

    appeals were taken to the Board for the Assessment and Revision of Taxes which, after hearing, denied the appeals. From the order of the Board denying the appeals, appeals were taken to the Court of Common Pleas.

At the hearing, the Board offered in evidence the records of the 19 tax assessments and rested. The coal companies offered in evidence, inter alia, the following: (1) Testimony of their chief engineer that there is no feasible way to support a surface structure other than to leave in place 40% to 45% of the coal within a specified area of the coal beneath each structure; (2) A calculation of the number of acres of support coal necessary to be left to support structures which on April 27, 1966, existed on the surface above the coal companies' coal which was allocable to each municipality in Washington County; and (3) Testimony of a mining engineer that coal left for support of surface structures has no actual or market value, either directly or indirectly, to either of the appellant coal companies. Significantly, no evidence of value whatsoever was offered by appellants to controvert the complete, total assessment valuations as fixed by the Board in each of the 19 assessments.

The hearing judge in an opinion dismissing the appeals ruled that the effect of the testimony that the support coal had no actual or market value at all was tantamount to seeking its complete removal from assessment which in turn would result in an exemption from taxation which neither the Constitution nor any statute permits or authorizes. ...


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