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Laurel Sand & Gravel, Inc. v. Wilson

ELR Citation: 38 ELR 20062
Nos. No. 07-1046, (4th Cir., 03/05/2008)

The Fourth Circuit upheld the dismissal of a mining corporation's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Maryland Surface Dewatering Act. The Act imposes remedial measures on a licensed miner if a well within its "zone of influence" fails due to declining ground water or if damage was caused by subsidence. The case arose after the state ordered the corporation either to replace a well that had failed within its zone of influence or to lose its license for noncompliance. Rather than exhausting its remedies in state court, the corporation filed suit in federal court. It argued that because the Act requires it to immediately replace another’s dry well in an established zone of influence without a pre-deprivation hearing, the Act violates its procedural due process rights. But because the corporation raised and adjudicated the same claims in a prior state court proceeding, the doctrine of res judicata precludes it from raising them again here. The corporation also argued that the Act violated the Takings Clause, but the character of the government action here is both legitimate and equitable, and the corporation failed to identify any property taken for public use. Nor did the district court abuse it discretion in abstaining from hearing the corporation's federal claims in deference to the state of Maryland’s vital interest in regulating dewatering. Because it failed to exhaust its administrative remedies in state court, principles of comity demand application of Younger abstention.