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Blankenship v. Consolidated Coal Co.

ELR Citation: 47 ELR 20037
Nos. 15-2480 and 15-2482, (4th Cir., 03/09/2017)

The Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that a coal company isn't liable for claims by property owners over water disposed of in a mine beneath their property because Virginia's statute of limitations prohibited the suit. The coal company undertook “dewatering” its active mine and disposing of the water in an exhausted mine that ran under the plaintiffs’ property in March 1994. The operation was publicly posted and there were numerous protests by local citizens over the company’s mining activities in 2005 and 2006. In April 2013, the property owners sued the mining company demanding $500 million in damages. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the mining company because the statute of limitations barred the property owner’s from asserting the claims. On appeal, the property owners asserted that CERCLA’s discovery rule preempts state statutes of limitations and, as a result, the state’s statute of limitations began to run when the plaintiff knew or should have known of their alleged injury. The appellate court agreed with the lower court that the plaintiffs should have known of their injury, citing the public notice given by the mining company and the protests that were covered by local news media. The lower court judgment was affirmed.