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7th Circuit affirms judgment in mining case

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In a case involving a “richly ambiguous” 1903 deed and a mining company’s claims to “all the coals,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a District Court’s judgment for defendant landowners.

At issue in American Land Holdings of Indiana, LLC, et al. v. Stanley Jobe, et al., and William Boyd Alexander, Nos. 09-3151 and 09-3265, was whether the affiliates of Peabody Energy Corp. could strip mine 62 acres of farmland in Sullivan County on which there are farmhouses and other buildings. Peabody already was strip mining all of the land around these 62 acres. According to a 1903 deed, Peabody could mine “all the coals” on those acres and could damage 5 acres of that land without having to pay for the damage. The deed said no coal could be removed from under any dwelling on the land. The deed also said it could acquire the portions of the surface for $30 an acre, but removal of the surface for purposes unrelated to underground mining isn’t authorized, unless it is under “all the coals.”

Peabody wants the land because it believes there is $50 million worth of coal under the 62 acres. It claims if it can’t strip mine the land, then it will lose out on a lot of coal.

The District Court deemed the 1903 deed ambiguous when referring to “all the coals” and strip mining the land, and it used extrinsic evidence to rule in favor of the defendants. In 1903, there was no strip mining in Sullivan County and the method hadn’t even started until 1904 with the construction of the Panama Canal. Strip mining didn’t come to Sullivan County until around the 1920s. That’s why the judge ruled that “all the coals” only refers to underground mining, a common practice in effect at the time the deed was executed.

The 7th Circuit agreed the deed was ambiguous and that it didn’t include strip mining. The Circuit Court also disagreed with Peabody’s argument that the deed gave it the option to buy the land for $30 an acre.

“The deed we have said permits the purchase of the surface only as may be necessary for mining operations underground. The grant of that option is the grant of an appurtenant right that Peabody can exercise at any time,” wrote Judge Richard Posner. “If the right were not appurtenant to Peabody’s (limited) mining right – if it were a right to build a ferris wheel on the defendants’ land – then it would be subject to the rule against perpetuities. But it is not a right to strip the surface.”

Peabody wants to get the land for the original $30 an acre, but with $50 million worth of coal under the land, it will have to pay the defendants a good deal more, the Circuit Court concluded.

“Because strip mining is a more valuable use of the defendants’ land than farming and home occupying, our decision will not prevent the land from being put to its most valuable use, which is indeed for strip mining,” wrote Judge Richard Posner. “It will simply affect the terms on which Peabody acquires the right to strip mine the land.”

The judges also denied William Boyd Alexander’s cross appeal because he is seeking to defend the judgment on alternative grounds to the District judge’s decision.
 

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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