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Clark v. McElroy Coal Co.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Wheeling

September 13, 2017

CHRISTOPHER CLARK and LAURA CLARK, Plaintiffs,
v.
MCELROY COAL COMPANY, THE MARSHALL COUNTY COAL CO., and MURRAY ENERGY CORPORATION, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM ORDER AND OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          JOHN PERESTON BAILEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently pending before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. 25], filed August 7, 2017. Defendants filed a response to the Motion on August 28, 2017 [Doc. 29]. Plaintiffs did not file a reply. Having been fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for decision. For the reasons set forth below, this Court grants Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an action originally filed in the Circuit Court of Marshall County, West Virginia, on July 20, 2016 [Doc. 1-1]. Defendants timely removed the case to this Court under federal diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, on August 22, 2016 [Doc. 1].

         Plaintiffs subsequently filed an Amended Complaint [Doc. 6] on September 6, 2016. In the Amended Complaint, plaintiffs note that they own a home and approximately 65 acres of property situated in the Cameron area of Marshall County, West Virginia, while defendants own and/or lease certain coal interests on the same [Id. at ¶¶ 9-12]. Defendants' mining operations under plaintiffs' property has allegedly caused and are continuing to cause subsidence damage to plaintiffs' real and personal property [Id. at ¶ 14]. Notably, defendants have purportedly utilized the "longwall mining" technique to extract coal from plaintiffs' property [Id. at ¶ 13]. Plaintiffs now seek recourse under four theories of liability: (1) a common law claim for "Support of the Surface Estate"; (2) a statutory action brought pursuant to the West Virginia Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, W.Va. Code §§ 22-3-25(f) and 22-3-25(c), and W.Va. C.S.R. §§ 38-2-16.1.a and 28-2-16.2.c.1-3; (3) an additional statutory action brought pursuant to the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, [1]30 U.S.C. §§ 1270(f), 1270(a), and 1309(a)(1), and provisions of 30 C.F.R. § 817.121 [Id. at ¶¶ 20-60]; and (4) an additional common law claim for "Promissory Estoppel, Agency and Respondent Superior." Plaintiffs claim a number of property-based damages resulting from the subsidence, including damage to the surface, damage to the physical structures located on the property, loss of use, and loss of property value [Id. at ¶¶ 25-28]. Plaintiffs also allege damages related to their private use and enjoyment of the property, including annoyance and inconvenience [Id. at ¶¶ 28-29].

         With regards to Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [Doc. 25], plaintiffs allege that the defendants assert that language in the chain of title to the plaintiffs' property precludes any common law claim of damage. The clause at issue in this case comes from a 1902 deed from Issac Moose to G.L. Hibbs, recorded in Marshall County, which provides:

Together with all the rights and privileges necessary and useful in the mining and removing of the said coal, including the right of mining the same without leaving any support for the overlying stratas and without liability for any injury which may result to the surface from the breaking of said strata...

         [Doc. 26 at 4, 7]. Plaintiffs seek a ruling that this alleged broad form waiver of damages related to subsidence damages is not enforceable.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 provides that summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact." Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991), cert, denied, 502 U.S. 1095 (1992) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).

         However, as the United States Supreme Court noted in Anderson, "Rule 56(e) itself provides that a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 256. "The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial-whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250; see also Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979) (Summary judgment "should be granted only in those cases where it is perfectly clear that no issue of fact is involved and inquiry into the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." (citing Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950))).

         In reviewing the supported underlying facts, all inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Additionally, the party opposing summary judgment must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Id. at 586. That is, once the movant has met its burden to show absence of material fact, the party opposing summary judgment must then come forward with affidavits or other evidence demonstrating there is indeed a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-25; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249 (citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs seek partial summary judgment on the issue of the applicability of an alleged waiver of liability and damages for subsidence related to underground longwall coal mining. Again, the clause at issue comes from a 1902 deed to the plaintiffs' predecessors- ...


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