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08/25/94 KNOX COUNTY v. MIDLAND COAL COMPANY

August 25, 1994

KNOX COUNTY, ILLINOIS, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AND UNIT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
MIDLAND COAL COMPANY, DEFENDANT, MID STATE COAL COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT, AND ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF MINES AND MINERALS, DEFENDANT.



Appeal from the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Knox County, Illinois. No. 92 MR 229. Honorable David R. Hultgren Judge, Presiding

Released for Publication September 26, 1994.

Present - Honorable Peg Breslin, Justice, Honorable Tom M. Lytton, Justice, Honorable Michael P. Mccuskey, Justice

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lytton

JUSTICE LYTTON delivered the opinion of the court:

Mid State Coal Company (Mid State) appeals from summary judgment entered in the circuit court of Knox County in favor of the County of Knox (County) on Mid State's claim for damages allegedly resulting from entry of a preliminary injunction which prevented Mid State from commencing strip mine operations pursuant to a permit issued by the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals (Department). Mid State contends that, as a matter of law, Knox County lacked probable cause for seeking the preliminary injunction and, in the alternative, summary judgment should not have been entered before allowing Mid State to obtain discovery. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

In February of 1989 Midland Coal Company (Midland) filed an application with the Department to permit surface mining in rural Knox County by Midland and Mid State. After a public hearing, the Department issued the permit on August 10, 1992, and at that timemade a finding that Midland and Mid State possessed the technological capacity to restore prime farm land to its pre-mining level of productivity. On September 4, 1992, Knox County filed a request for an administrative review hearing with the Department pursuant to section 2.11(c) of the Surface Coal Mining Land Conservation and Reclamation Act (Act). (225 ILCS 720/2.11 (West 1992).) Knox County sought to have all prime agricultural lands deleted from the permit area to prevent permanent diminution of the County's real estate tax base.

The chronology of subsequent events is as follows:

1. September 18 - Knox County filed a petition for preliminary injunction in the circuit court of Knox County and also requested and obtained an ex parte temporary restraining order (TRO) barring Mid State and Midland from conducting surface mining. The Department was granted leave to intervene as a party defendant.

2. September 28 - After a hearing, the court dissolved the TRO on the ground that it lacked jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief because Knox County had not exhausted its administrative remedies by seeking temporary relief from the Department under section 2.11(e) of the Act.

3. September 30 - Knox County filed a petition for temporary relief with the Department, and the hearing was held before a Department hearing officer on October 5 and 8.

4. October 5 - Mid State filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief in the circuit court of Sangamon County seeking a ruling that would allow Mid State to conduct mining operations pending any administrative hearings and appeals unless the Department ruled otherwise.

5. October 6 - Upon a motion to reconsider, the circuit court of Knox County reissued the TRO enjoining Mid State from conducting mining and reclamation activities and further prohibiting Mid State from pursuing declaratory judgment and/or injunctive relief before the circuit court of Sangamon County or any other court. Mid State and Midland filed an interlocutory appeal from the TRO on the same day.

6. October 9 - The Department denied Knox County's request for temporary relief pending an administrative hearing on the issuance of the permit. The administrative order included the hearing officer's finding that the County failed to provide any evidence of Mid State's inability to return the mined land to the original level of productivity within a reasonable time. Accordingly, he ...


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