Appeal from the Judgment entered April 7, 1988 in the Court of Common Pleas of Clearfield County, Civil Division, at No. 80-1224-CD.
William C. Kriner, Clearfield, for appellants.
Henry R. Pope, III, Clarion, for appellees.
Olszewski, Del Sole and Kelly, JJ.
[ 381 Pa. Super. Page 260]
This is an appeal by David and Gloria Shaffer, of a decree entered on a petition by Clearfield Bank and Trust Company [Clearfield], and G.R.C. Coal Company [G.R.C.] praying for a declaratory judgment. The petition sought an interpretation of a deed between Clearfield and the Shaffers, and a determination whether or not G.R.C. should be allowed to strip mine the surface of the land described in the deed without the consent of the Shaffers.
The deed in question conveyed all the surface rights in 441.5 acres situated in Clearfield County from Clearfield to the Shaffers, and, most crucially, excepted and reserved all the mineral rights and the rights to mine those minerals, by "opening the surface and the removing the same by drilling, pumping, deep mining, strip mining, auger mining or other generally used commercial methods without liability for
[ 381 Pa. Super. Page 261]
damages to the surface and improvements thereon or the water, thereon, therein or thereunder." (emphasis added) Clearfield entered into a coal lease with G.R.C. to strip mine and remove the coal on the land described in the deed.
By memorandum and decree the trial court stated, "it is hereby decreed that under this Court's interpretation of the deed in question the Respondents have no right to interfere with the rights of Petitioners to extract the coal from the subject property by the strip mining method."
On appeal, the Shaffers first claim that the trial court erred in exercising jurisdiction over this declaratory judgment proceeding. Appellants cite the Declaratory Judgment Act [Act] 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 7541(c)(2), which states, "relief shall not be available under this subchapter with respect to any proceeding within the exclusive jurisdiction of a tribunal other than a court." Appellants claim that the Department of Environmental Protection [DER] has exclusive jurisdiction over this matter, and that the trial court's jurisdiction is precluded by the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act, [SMCRA], which states in part, "Except as otherwise provided hereunder, . . . all surface mining operations coming within the provisions of this act shall be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the department . . ." 52 Pa.S.A. § 1396.4b. Appellants state that the administrative process of licensing and overseeing strip mining is undercut when the issue of consent of the surface owner to the strip-mining operation is committed to the courts, rather than the agency, for resolution.
However, in construing the deed between the Shaffers and Clearfield, the court only declared the rights of the owners of the surface rights and the owners of the mineral rights under that deed, and did not undercut the process of licensing and overseeing the operation of strip mining. The trial court did not decide, nor prejudice, the DER's future decision whether to license GRC's mining operation, nor did it ...