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Citizens Against Longwall Mining v. Colt LLC

July 13, 2006

CITIZENS AGAINST LONGWALL MINING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COLT LLC AND IEC (MONTGOMERY) LLC, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Defendant IEC (Montgomery) LLC's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) (d/e 26) and Defendant Colt LLC's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (d/e 28). With leave of Court, Plaintiff Citizens Against Longwall Mining (CALM), an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, filed its First Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (d/e 22) (Amended Complaint) in March 2006. The Amended Complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants Colt LLC (Colt) and IEC (Montgomery) LLC (IEC) do not have the right to use the longwall method of mining to extract coal from certain property located within Montgomery County, Illinois, and an injunction prohibiting them from longwall mining that property. Defendants move to dismiss the Amended Complaint for lack of jurisdiction and lack of necessary parties, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) & (7). For the reasons set forth below, the case is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Plaintiff, however, is granted leave to file a second amended complaint.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the allegations of the Amended Complaint. Colt is a West Virginia limited liability company engaged in coal mining activities. Colt's members are domiciled in West Virginia. IEC is an Illinois limited liability company engaged in coal mining activities. Its members are domiciled in Alabama. The Amended Complaint alleges that none of CALM's members are citizens of West Virginia or Alabama.

In December 2003, IEC acquired the coal and appurtenant mining rights to approximately 85,000 acres in Montgomery County. In December 2005, Colt acquired separate coal and appurtenant mining rights to approximately 120,000 acres in Montgomery County at a purchase price of $6.2 million. The Amended Complaint asserts that IEC and Colt are planning to mine their coal in Montgomery County using the longwall method of coal mining. The Amended Complaint explains longwall mining as follows: a method of coal removal in which subsidence of the surface is planned and intentional. Longwall mining is a high extraction method of coal mining in which a high-powered cutting machine shears away all coal between the floor and ceiling, leaving no support pillars. Movable roof supports advance as the bed is cut, allowing the roof to fall as the mining progresses.

Amended Complaint, ¶ 10. The Amended Complaint defines subsidence as "the lowering of strata overlying a coal mine, including the land surface, caused by the extraction of underground coal." Id., ¶ 11. According to the Amended Complaint, the lowering of surface strata can have devastating effects, including damage to the structural integrity of houses and buildings, lowering and cracking of roads, severance of utility lines, severance of oil and gas wells, creation of sinkholes or troughs, and the loss of streams, water impoundments, wells and aquifers.

The Amended Complaint contrasts longwall mining with the "standard method" of mining coal, which it describes as the room-and-pillar method. Id., ¶ 13. According to the Amended Complaint, during room-and-pillar mining, surface support remains in the form of coal pillars. The Amended Complaint asserts that "[u]nlike the standard method of room and pillar mining, the longwall mining method allows intentional subsidence of surface lands without the need to prevent subsidence to the extent feasible, maximize mine stability or maintain the value and reasonably foreseeable uses of surface lands." Id., ¶ 14.

CALM is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. The Amended Complaint alleges that CALM's "members include persons owning real estate in Montgomery County, Illinois," and specifically, that its "members include persons owning surface rights over mineral estates that Defendants have expressed an intent to subside using the longwall method and who would be injured by subsidence damage to their property and to the environment." Amended Complaint, ¶¶ 3, 21. According to the Amended Complaint, between 1907 to 1921, property owners in Montgomery County deeded coal rights to various persons or companies (severance deeds). These deeds severed the ownership of the surface estate from the ownership of the mineral estate. Both interests were transferred separately over time to the respective current owners. According to the Amended Complaint, CALM's members "own property above the subject mineral estates worth in excess of $75,000, including farmland, both residential and commercial structures, wells, ponds, drain tiles and personal property." Id., ¶ 23. The Amended Complaint alleges that Defendants have injured CALM members' property rights by stating a plan to intentionally subside the members' properties. Id., ¶ 22.

Plaintiff argues that the severance deeds do not give the mineral owner the right to engage in longwall mining. The Amended Complaint asserts that, while numerous deeds are involved, Plaintiff has identified at most six language variations in the severance deeds. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment that, under any of the identified variations, the severance deeds do not give the mineral owners the right to longwall mine, as well as a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants from conducting longwall mining pursuant to any deeds adjudicated not to contain the right to do so.

Plaintiff filed its original Complaint (d/e 1) in November 2005. Pursuant to motions to dismiss filed by both Defendants, the Court dismissed the original Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Opinion, March 1, 2006 (d/e 20). The Court granted Plaintiff leave to replead, which it has done. The instant Motions to Dismiss followed.

ANALYSIS

Defendants assert that the Amended Complaint is insufficient to cure the deficiencies noted by the Court in its ruling on the previous motions to dismiss. IEC moves to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), asserting that CALM fails to allege a ripe controversy. IEC also challenges CALM's allegation that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Colt moves to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of ripe controversy and under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(7) for failure to join necessary parties. As set forth below, the Court dismisses the Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

A. Justiciability

The Court reiterates the basic principles of justiciability set forth in its prior opinion. Under Article III of the United States Constitution, a party seeking to invoke federal court jurisdiction must present an actual case or controversy, a requirement that is referred to as the concept of justiciability. See Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95 (1968). The purpose of the requirement is to ensure that a plaintiff has "'a personal stake in the outcome' in order to 'assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues' necessary for the proper resolution of constitutional questions." City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 101 (1983). Under the case or controversy requirement, a plaintiff seeking to invoke the power of the federal court bears the burden of demonstrating: (1) an "injury in fact -- an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical;" (2) a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained; and (3) that a favorable decision likely will redress the injury. ...


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