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Machipongo Land & Coal Co. v. Commonwealth

Citation: 32 ELR 20706
No. No. J-172-2001, 799 A.2d 751/(Pa., 05/30/2002)

The court reverses a district court decision holding that the designation of the Clearfield County Goss Run Watershed as unsuitable for mining under the Pennsylvania Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act was a taking. Various property owners who had mining interests in the watershed argued that the regulation that designated their land as unsuitable for mining constituted a taking of their property without just compensation. A lower court struck the regulation only with regard to those mining areas that were economically feasible, and both the property owners and the commonwealth appealed. The court first holds that the lower court correctly held that only property with value can be taken, but that its analysis was inadequate. The court failed to identify the appropriate horizontal conceptualization of the property to use in its takings analysis. In addition, the relevant parcel for purposes of determining whether a taking occurred should include both mineral and surface rights, but the lower court considered only the mineral estate. The court must look into whether the property owners also had an interest in the surface estate in order to determine whether a categorical taking occurred under Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 22 ELR 21104 (1992). Moreover, the court never conducted a traditional takings analysis under Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104, 8 ELR 20528 (1978). The court further holds that the court incorrectly held that there was no authority that would permit the commonwealth to prohibit a property owner from mining just because it would destroy the population of trout. To the contrary, if the property owners' proposed use would unreasonably interfere with the publics' right to unpolluted water, the use, as a nuisance, may be prohibited without compensation. On remand, the court must horizontally define the relevant property, must conduct a Lucas and Penn Central analysis of the property, and must determine whether the proposed use would constitute a nuisance. Additionally, one of the owners whose property was transferred from one trust to another had standing.

[Counsel not available at this printing.]