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Molinary v. Powell Mountain Coal Company

125 F.3d 231 (1997)

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Molinary v. Powell Mountain Coal Company

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

125 F.3d 231 (1997)

Facts

A class of persons known as the Pruitt heirs (plaintiffs) owned more than a 99 percent undivided interest in the surface estate of a 50-acre tract of land in Lee County, Virginia (the Pruitt tract). Prior to the enactment of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), three acres of the Pruitt tract (the three-acre tract) were strip-mined for coal. In 1990, the Powell Mountain Coal Company (Powell Mountain) (defendant) applied to the Division of Mined Land Reclamation for the Commonwealth of Virginia (DMLR) for a permit to auger mine the three-acre tract. In its application, Powell Mountain listed itself and the Pruitt heirs as co-surface owners but failed to list each heir by name. DMLR issued the permit, and Powell Mountain proceeded to mine coal from the three-acre tract. The DMLR determined that Powell Mountain’s permit application did not comply with certain state permitting regulations and revoked Powell Mountain’s permit. The Pruitt heirs filed a class action in district court under the citizen-suit provision, § 520(f), of SMCRA. Section 520(f) provided that any person who is injured or whose property is injured by any operator of any permit issued pursuant to SMCRA may bring an action for damages only in the judicial district in which the subject surface-coal-mining operation was located. Powell Mountain argued that federal courts lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over citizen suits in a state whose regulatory and enforcement programs have been approved by the secretary of the Interior (the secretary) pursuant to § 503 of SMCRA. Powell Mountain argued that the Virginia regulations it was alleged to have violated were not issued pursuant to SMCRA, and thus the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction. The district court rejected Powell Mountain’s argument and denied its motion. Powell Mountain appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Hamilton, J.)

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