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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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