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Roxul USA, Inc. v. Board of Education of County of Jefferson

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

May 7, 2019

ROXUL USA, INC., a Delaware corporation, d/b/a, “ROCKWOOL, ” Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE COUNTY OF JEFFERSON, a West Virginia county board of education, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF HEARING DENYING THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS OR ABSTAIN

          GINA M. GROH CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On April 30, 2019, the parties in the above-styled civil action appeared before the Court for a hearing on the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction or Abstain. ECF No. 19. James A. Walls, Joseph V. Schaeffer and James C. Walls, III, appeared on behalf of the Plaintiff, Roxul USA, Inc. (“Rockwool”). Anthony J. Majestro and Courtney B. Harden appeared on behalf of the Defendant, Board of Education of the County of Jefferson (“BOE”). After reviewing the parties' briefs, considering oral argument, and carefully analyzing the controlling law, the Court DENIED the motion to dismiss for the reasons provided herein.

         I. Background

         This civil action arises from the BOE's threatened condemnation of Rockwool's 194-acre real property located in Ranson, West Virginia. The background of that dispute is as follows.

         Rockwool is “the world's leading manufacturer of environmentally-friendly stone wool insulation.” ECF No. 18 at 1. In late 2016, Rockwool began considering fifty sites as locations for its new manufacturing facility in the United States. Id. Rockwool was recruited to Ranson, West Virginia by a “wide array of state and local officials.” Id. In connection with those recruiting efforts, local officials, including the BOE, offered Rockwool tax incentives if it agreed to build its new facility in Ranson, West Virginia. Id. Rockwool accepted that offer, and in October 2017, Rockwool entered into a Payment in Lieu of Taxes Agreement (“PILOT”) with the BOE and others. See ECF No. 18-1.

         In November 2017, Rockwool began site preparation and construction on its new facility. ECF No. 18 at 2. To date, Rockwool has spent more than $49 million on permitting, constructing and extending utilities to its new facility. Id.; see Peter Regenberg Hr'g Test. However, since beginning construction, Rockwool has faced significant public backlash, not present during the negotiation of the PILOT agreement, over health concerns related to the facility's potential emissions. For example, Jefferson County citizens have “implored the [BOE] to either oppose the building of Rockwool or to request additional information so that an informed decision could be made regarding student safety.” ECF No. 34-3 at 4.

         Despite having signed the PILOT agreement, demonstrating support for the Rockwool facility, the BOE now opposes the construction. Specifically, the BOE has publicly withdrawn its support for the Rockwool facility, demanded a “non-negotiable” independent human health risk assessment, requested a moratorium on construction, and threatened to terminate the PILOT. ECF No. 34-3, 34-4. Most recently, on April 9, 2019, the BOE informed Rockwool that it intended to buy or condemn Rockwool's land, identifying the need for a Regional Student Support Center (“Student Support Center”).

         Thereafter, on April 12, 2019, Rockwool filed the complaint in this action seeking to enjoin the BOE from condemning its land. ECF No. 1. Contemporaneously, Rockwool filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction. ECF No. 2. The Court scheduled a hearing on Rockwool's motion for April 30, 2019. ECF No. 5. Prior to that hearing, the BOE filed a motion to dismiss or abstain. ECF No. 19. Therein, the BOE argues that the Court must dismiss Rockwool's claims for lack of jurisdiction, or in the alternative, the Court should abstain from hearing Rockwool's claims.[1]

         Although the BOE did not request a hearing on its motion, in the interest of judicial economy and without any objection, the Court heard the motion to dismiss or abstain on April 30, 2019, prior to the hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons provided herein, the Court denied the motion to dismiss or abstain.

         II. Ripeness

         First, the BOE argued that Rockwool's claims must be dismissed because they are not ripe under Williamson.

         A. Applicable Law

         In Williamson, the Supreme Court announced two requirements before a takings claim is ripe. Williamson Cty. Reg'l Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985). First, the Supreme Court held that a takings claim is not ripe until the government entity responsible for the taking has made a final decision regarding the property at issue. Id. at 186. This requirement is known as the “finality” requirement. Next, the Court held that a takings claim is not ripe if the property owner has not sought “compensation through the procedures the State has provided for doing so.” Id. at 194. This is known as the “exhaustion” requirement. In a subsequent decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged that forcing a property owner to litigate its takings claims in state court “may well deprive plaintiffs of the ‘right' to have their federal claims relitigated in federal court.” San Remo Hotel, L.P. v. City and Cty. of San Francisco, 545 U.S. 323, 342 (2005). Nevertheless, a takings claim that does not meet the ripeness requirements must be dismissed. Id.

         B. Findings of Fact and ...


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