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Robinson Coal Co. v. Goodall

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

July 29, 2013


Appeal from the Judgment Entered June 14, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County Civil Division at No(s): 2009-3721.




Robinson Coal Co. ("Robinson") appeals from the judgment entered after a nonjury verdict in favor of Appellee Robert B. Goodall ("Goodall"). We affirm.

On May 8, 2009, Robinson filed this civil action against Goodall. It alleged that on December 11, 1999, the parties entered a contract regarding the extraction of coal on property owned by Michaele F. Parees and Robert M. Frame and located in Robinson Township, Washington County (the "Frame Property"). Appellee owned the mineral rights to the Frame Property. The contract provided the following. Robinson acquired the right to mine Goodall's coal underlying the property, and it agreed to diligently extract all minable coal on the Frame Property to exhaustion. Any coal removed from the Frame Property that was not saleable without being washed had to be delivered to Goodall's coal washing plant. In the document, Robinson agreed to pay "a washing fee of $9.00 per ton for all Robinson coal that is washed at Goodall's washing plant[.]" Agreement, 12/11/99, at ¶ 5. Additionally, Robinson had to tender to Goodall a production royalty of $1.50 per ton of coal mined. As security for Robinson's performance of its contractual obligations, it agreed to deposit with Goodall the "sum of 50 cents per ton to be held by Goodall in a segregated, interest bearing account until completion of Robinson's mining operations on the Frame Property." Id. at ¶ 2. The accord made the following provision for distribution of the escrow: "Upon Robinson's completion of its mining operations on the Frame Property and payment of all of its obligations to Goodall hereunder, all funds held in the segregated account shall be divided equally between Goodall and Robinson." Id. at ¶ 2.

Robinson started mining operations in January 2000 and admitted in its complaint herein that it completed those activities in August 2002. During that time, Robinson placed tons of nonsaleable coal at Goodall's washing facility, which Goodall washed. Robinson averred herein that when it ceased mining operations, it left 192, 000 tons of coal at Goodall's washing facility. In the present action, Robinson raised two causes of action. The first was an action in replevin seeking the return of any of its coal remaining on Goodall's land or, to the extent that Goodall had disposed of any of the 192, 000 tons of coal, its fair market value. In the second count, Robinson averred a breach of contract due to Goodall's failure to disseminate one-half of the escrow funds to it in accordance with the terms of the 1999 accord. As damages, it sought one-half of the money in escrow in 2002, plus interest.

In response to the complaint, Goodall raised the defenses of the statute of limitations and res judicata. This latter position was premised upon the fact that Robinson previously engaged in litigation with Goodall regarding its right to one-half of the escrow funds. Specifically, in 2003, Robinson filed a breach of contract and conversion lawsuit against Goodall. At issue in that case was whether Robinson was entitled to one-half of the then existing escrow funds as well as whether Goodall converted some of the stockpiled Robinson coal located on Goodall's property.

Goodall defended the prior action, inter alia, by asserting that Robinson had forfeited its right to the escrowed funds because Robinson did not mine the Frame Property to exhaustion and because it refused to accept the return of the washed coal that was left at Goodall's washing facility. Goodall also filed a counterclaim maintaining that Robinson breached the contract by refusing to accept the stockpiled coal, failing to deposit the sum of fifty cents per ton for all coal mined as security for it performance, and neglecting to mine the coal on the Frame Property to exhaustion.

The previous lawsuit proceeded to a jury. The jury concluded that neither party breached the contract, but it also failed to award damages to either Goodall or Robinson. The trial court in that case concluded that, based upon the finding that Robinson had not breached the contract on Goodall's counterclaim, Robinson was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict as to the escrowed funds. It awarded Robinson one-half of the amount in escrow, $118, 366.98, plus interest. Both parties filed appeals.

In that prior appeal to this Court, Goodall maintained that the trial court erred in entering judgment n.o.v. in favor of Robinson and awarding Robinson one-half of the escrow funds. Robinson Coal Co. v. Goodall, 953 A.2d 849 (Pa.Super. 2008) (unpublished memorandum). We agreed with that assertion and held:

Robinson Coal presented a claim to the jury that Goodall had breached the Agreement by not paying Robinson Coal fifty percent of the escrowed funds. In order to prevail on this claim, Robinson Coal was required to prove that it had paid Goodall for all of its obligations under the Agreement [in addition to mining the coal to completion]. Clearly, the jury considered this issue on Robinson Coal's claim against Goodall and necessarily found that Robinson Coal did not pay Goodall for all of its obligations when it concluded that Goodall did not breach the Agreement by failing to pay Robinson Coal fifty percent of the escrowed funds. Accordingly, the trial court erred when it utilized the jury's verdict in Goodall's counterclaim, which did not include the issue of whether Robinson Coal paid Goodall for its obligations, to overturn the jury's verdict in Robinson Coal's direct claim against Goodall, in which the jury specially considered this issue.

Id. at unpublished memorandum at 30. We therefore reinstated the jury's verdict. Our Supreme Court thereafter denied allowance of appeal, Robinson Coal Co. v. Goodall, 963 A.2d 471 (Pa. 2008), and that litigation was thus concluded.

After this present case was filed, the matter eventually proceeded to a nonjury trial. The trial court thereafter concluded that both causes of action raised herein were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. It additionally determined that the question of whether Robinson was entitled to one-half of the escrow funds under the 1999 contract was res judicata based upon the outcome of Robinson's 2003 litigation against Goodall. The trial court therefore entered a verdict in favor of Goodall.

In this appeal, which followed denial of Robinson's post-trial motion and entry of judgment on the verdict, ...

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