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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 just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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