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Michael v. Harrison County Coal Co.

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

June 21, 2019

JEFFREY H. MICHAEL, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HARRISON COUNTY COAL COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation, and CONSOLIDATED COAL COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS [ECF NO. 10]

          THOMAS S. KLEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint. That motion is fully briefed and ripe for consideration. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the motion.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The Plaintiff, Jeffrey H. Michael (“Plaintiff”), originally filed this action in the Circuit Court of Marion County, West Virginia, alleging that the Defendants, the Harrison County Coal Company (“HCCC”) and Consolidated Coal Company (“CCC”) (together, “Defendants”), damaged Plaintiff while conducting long-wall mining operations under and adjacent to his property. On June 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. ECF No. 9. Defendants then filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, which is the subject of this Order. ECF No. 10. This case was transferred to United States District Judge Thomas S. Kleeh on December 1, 2018.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         For the purposes of the pending Motion to Dismiss, the facts reiterated here are regarded as true. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). Plaintiff owns an interest in land in Mannington District, Marion County, West Virginia. ECF No. 9 at ¶ 1. Beginning in March 2016, Defendants began conducting long-wall mining operations under and adjacent to Plaintiff's property. Id. ¶ 4. During and after the mining operations, Plaintiff noticed damages to his property, to the structures on the property, and to his natural water supplies. Id.

         Plaintiff alleges that “[a]s a direct and proximate result of the negligent, illegal or improper long-wall mining operations conducted by the Defendants, ” he has suffered and continues to suffer from the following damages: damage to the residence, horse barn, riding arena, barn, and other outbuildings; loss of natural water sources; diminution of the total value of the property; loss of the use of the property and/or structures on it; annoyance and inconvenience; functional impairment of the surface lands; and loss of income. Id. ¶ 5. He alleges that Defendants have failed to correct the damages or adequately compensate him despite being aware of the problems with the land. Id. ¶ 6.

         Based on these allegations, Plaintiff brings three claims: (1) a common law claim for damages, based on negligent or illegal mining operations; (2) a statutory claim under the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act (“SCMRA”); and (3) injunctive relief. The claim for injunctive relief asks the Court to order Defendants to comply with the SCMRA and provide an itemization of the material damages caused by their mining operations. Plaintiff also requests punitive damages, along with compensatory damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, expert fees, attorneys' fees and costs, and such other further relief as the Court deems proper.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to move for dismissal upon the ground that a complaint does not “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(6)(b) tests the “legal sufficiency of a complaint.” Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009). A court should dismiss a complaint if it does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545. The facts must constitute more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Id. at 555. A motion to dismiss “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 942, 952 (4th Cir. 1992).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Defendants moved to dismiss Count One (the common law claim), along with the request for punitive damages and the claim for injunctive relief as it relates to the request for itemization. The Court will examine each in turn.

         A. ...


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