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Coal Operators & Assocs. v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20700
Nos. No. 00-6320, 291 F.3d 912/(6th Cir., 06/03/2002)

The court dismisses a coal mining association's claim against the Secretary of the Interior seeking to force the federal government to turn over approximately $1.3 billion allegedly due to the commonwealth of Kentucky under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act's (SMCRA's) abandoned mine reclamation fund. After the association filed suit, the lower court granted the Secretary's motion to dismiss, finding that he had no duty to disburse the funds at issue without a prior congressional appropriation. The court first holds, however, that the lower court need not have reached this substantive question because the association failed to establish that it had standing to sue. Plaintiffs cannot rest their claims on legal duties owed to others in order to assert standing. Here, the association's claimed entitlement to a writ of mandamus is premised on the Secretary's failure to allocate sufficient money from the fund to the commonwealth of Kentucky, not to the association. Similarly, it did not assert its own rights, but those of the commonwealth, and, therefore, failed to establish standing to sue under the general federal jurisdictional statute. The court additionally holds that the association failed to properly rely upon the one statutory provision of SMCRA that might have afforded them a remedy. SMCRA §520 specifically provides a remedy to individuals who seek to enforce compliance with its provisions as long as the prospective plaintiff gives the Secretary 60 days' notice prior to filing suit. Here, the association failed to comply with this notice provision.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (4 pp., ELR Order No. L-526).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
M. Stephen Pitt
Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs
Citizens Plaza
Louisville KY 40202
(502) 589-5235

Counsel for Defendant
David J. Lazerwitz
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000