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LAUREL PIPE LINE CO. v. BETHLEHEM MINES CORP.

January 8, 1986

LAUREL PIPE LINE COMPANY, a Ohio Corporation, Plaintiff,
v.
BETHLEHEM MINES CORPORATION, a West Virginia Corporation, Defendant


Cohill, C.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL

Plaintiff, an Ohio corporation with its principal place of business in Pennsylvania, owned an easement over certain land subject to Defendant's underground mining operations. Plaintiff alleges, in its complaint, that Defendant is a West Virginia corporation, that Defendant conducted underground mining operations in the vicinity of Plaintiff's easement on October 16, 1982, and that as a result of Defendant's activity, Plaintiff's pipeline ruptured. Count I of the complaint sounds in negligence and Count II in strict liability, both of which are common law tort theories. Neither count mentions any federal or state law specifically. The complaint generally avers that this Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 based on diversity and under 30 U.S.C. § 1270, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 ("SMCRA").

 Subsequent to filing the complaint, Plaintiff has conceded a lack of diversity since it has determined through discovery that the Defendant, although incorporated in West Virginia, has its principal place of business in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff's only remaining basis for federal jurisdiction is under SMCRA.

 Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction, which motion is the subject of this opinion. In its brief, Defendant argues that under SMCRA, Pennsylvania was subject to interim federal regulation from May 8, 1978 until July 31, 1982, the date on which Pennsylvania's state regulations were conditionally approved. Thus, according to the legislative intent of SMCRA, after July 31, 1982, Defendant alleges that it was subject only to Pennsylvania law. Defendant also argues that, even if SMCRA still governed its conduct after conditional approval, the interim regulations did not regulate subsidence or the surface effects thereof. Since we find Defendant's first argument persuasive, we will not address the second argument.

 Section 520 of SMCRA provides a private right of action for citizens to compel compliance with the Act and to collect damages where a violation of the Act has caused him damage.

 
a) Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, any person having an interest which is or may be adversely affected may commence a civil action on his own behalf to compel compliance with this chapter --
 
(1) against the United States or any other governmental instrumentality or agency to the extent permitted by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution which is alleged to be in violation of the provisions of this chapter or of any rule, regulation, order or permit issued pursuant thereto, or against any other person who is alleged to be in violation of any rule, regulation, order or permit issued pursuant to this subchapter; or
 
(2) against the Secretary or the appropriate State regulatory authority to the extent permitted by the eleventh amendment to the Constitution where there is alleged a failure of the Secretary or the appropriate State regulatory authority to perform any act or duty under this chapter which is not discretionary with the Secretary or with the appropriate State regulatory authority.
 
The district courts shall have jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy or the citizenship of the parties.
 
(f) Any person who is injured in his person or property through the violation by any operator of any rule, regulation, order, or permit issued pursuant to this chapter may bring an action for damages (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) only in the judicial district in which the surface coal mining operation complained of is located. Nothing in this subsection shall affect the rights established by or limits imposed under State Workmen's Compensation laws.

 SMCRA was designed to establish a nationwide program for regulation of coal mining operations. However, as clearly indicated by the manner in which the Act was structured, the purpose of the federal regulation was to insure that every state implemented a program of regulation which met the minimum standards Congress deemed necessary to protect society and the environment. In Hodel v. Virginia Surface Mining and Reclamation Association, 452 U.S. 264, 69 L. Ed. 2d 1, 101 S. Ct. 2352 (1981), the Court explains the legislative scheme behind SMCRA.

 452 U.S. at 267.

 Thus, in participating states, enforcement rests with the state and not with the federal government. The state is given primary responsibility for achieving the purposes of SMCRA. In re Permanent Surface Mining Regulation Litigation, 209 U.S. App. D.C. 259, 653 F.2d 514, 519 (D.C. ...


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