United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
COAL RIVER MOUNTAIN WATCH, APPALACHIAN VOICES, and SIERRA CLUB, Plaintiffs,
REPUBLIC ENERGY, LLC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BERGER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court has reviewed the Plaintiffs' Complaint for
Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Document 1), the
Defendant Republic Energy LLC's Motion to Dismiss
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1), (6) & (7)
(Document 16), the Defendant's Memorandum in Support
of Republic Energy, LLC's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to
Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(b)(1), (6) & (7) (Document
17), the Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Opposition to
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Document 23), the
Defendant's Reply in Support of Republic Energy,
LLC's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc.
12(b)(1), (6) & (7) (Document 26), as well as all
attached exhibits. For the reasons stated herein, the Court
finds that the Motion to Dismiss should be granted.
enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of
1977, 30 U.S.C. §§ 1201, et seq.,
(“SMCRA”) to establish minimum national standards
for the regulation of surface coal mining. See Bragg v.
West Virginia Coal Ass'n, 248 F.3d 275, 288
(4th Cir. 2001). Under SMCRA, a state may assume
“exclusive” jurisdiction over the regulation of
surface coal mining by enacting its own regulatory program
that incorporates SMCRA's minimum standards, and may
incorporate more stringent, but not inconsistent standards.
Id. If the Secretary of the Interior approved a
state's regulatory program, that state would then enjoy
“exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of surface
coal mining” within its borders. See 30 U.S.C.
§ 1253(a). This exclusive regulatory authority is
referred to as “primacy.” Bragg, 248
F.3d at 288-289. The Secretary of the Interior approved West
Virginia's submission for such a regulatory program in
1981, thus granting West Virginia “primacy”
status, and therefore, the ability to exclusively regulate
coal mining in the State. See30 C.F.R. §
948.10. As part of this program, the West Virginia
legislature enacted a statute entitled the “Surface
Coal Mining and Reclamation Act” (hereinafter
“WVSCMRA”). See W.Va. Code § 22-3-1
et seq. As amended, WVSCMRA vests the Director of
the State Division of Environmental Protection (hereinafter
“WVDEP”) with the authority to administer the Act
and otherwise to provide for the regulation of surface coal
mining within the State. See W.Va. Code §
22-3-4. WVSCMRA sets out minimum performance standards that
mirror those found in SMCRA, and WVDEP exercises its
statutorily granted power to promulgate State regulations
that parallel those issued by the Secretary of the Interior
pursuant to the federal act, including those with regard to
issuing mining permits. See38 W.Va. Code St. R.
§ 2-1 et seq.
Plaintiffs, Coal River Mountain Watch, Appalachian Voices,
and the Sierra Club (hereinafter collectively referred to as
“the Citizen Groups”) are nonprofit
environmentalist corporations that filed their complaint for
declaratory and injunctive relief on November 15, 2018. The
Citizen Groups want to stop Defendant Republic Energy, LLC
(hereinafter “Republic”) from conducting surface
coal mining operations at the Eagle No. 2 Surface Mine
located in Clear Fork and Marsh Fork Districts of Raleigh
County, West Virginia, because Republic has allegedly been
operating on an invalid mining permit in violation of SMCRA
and WVSCMRA. The Citizen Groups assert that Republic's
mining permit terminated pursuant to 30 U.S.C. § 1256(c)
and W.Va. Code § 22-3-8(a)(3) on June 7, 2011, because
no coal mining activities had occurred within three years of
Citizen Groups state that WVDEP initially issued the permit
on June 6, 2008, to Marfork Coal Company
(“Marfork”), Republic's predecessor. Although
the SMCRA and WVSCMRA allow extensions to the three-year
deadline, if timely made, upon a showing of certain
conditions, Marfork did not make a timely request for an
extension or provide any of the enumerated statutory
justifications for an extension. Nevertheless, on February 9,
2012, WVDEP granted Marfork an extension of the period for
commencement of mining operations. In addition to other
irregularities by WVDEP with respect to other extensions,
on May 18, 2015, WVDEP approved Marfork's request to
transfer its permit to Republic. Republic requested and
received another extension alleging that it would otherwise
suffer financial hardship, which is not a recognized
statutory justification for extension. On March 19, 2018,
Republic commenced surface mining operations at the Eagle No.
2 Surface Mine. To the extent it had not previously
terminated, the mining permit expired on June 6,
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) raises the
fundamental question of whether a court is competent to hear
and adjudicate the claims brought before it. “In
contrast to its treatment of disputed issues of fact when
considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court asked to dismiss
for lack of jurisdiction may resolve factual disputes to
determine the proper disposition of the motion.”
Thigpen v. United States, 800 F.2d 393, 396
(4th Cir. 1986) rejected on other grounds,
Sheridan v. United States, 487 U.S. 392 (1988) (but
explaining that a court should accept the allegations in the
complaint as true when presented with a facial attack that
argues insufficiency of the allegations in the complaint).
Reasonable discovery may be necessary to permit the plaintiff
to produce the facts and evidence necessary to support their
jurisdictional allegations. Id. The plaintiff has
the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction
exists. See Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co.
v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir.
1991). Dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is
proper only if there is no dispute regarding the material
jurisdictional facts and the moving party is entitled to
prevail as a matter of law. Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a
Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647
(4th Cir. 1999).
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint or pleading. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 192 (4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v.
Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2). Additionally, allegations “must be simple,
concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1).
“[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not
require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it
demands more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quoting Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007)). In other words, “a complaint must
contain “more than labels and conclusions, and a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Moreover, “a complaint [will not] suffice if it tenders
naked assertions devoid of further factual
enhancements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
Court must “accept as true all of the factual
allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson
v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court must also
“draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences from those
facts in the plaintiff's favor.” Edwards v.
City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).
However, statements of bare legal conclusions “are not
entitled to the assumption of truth” and are
insufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
679. Furthermore, the court need not “accept as true
unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or
arguments.” E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D. Assocs. Ltd.
P'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir. 2000).
“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of
action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice . . . [because courts] ‘are not bound to accept
as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).
survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, ‘to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). In other words, this “plausibility
standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than
‘a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.'” Francis, 588 F.3d at 193
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). A plaintiff
must, using the complaint, “articulate facts, when
accepted as true, that ‘show' that the plaintiff
has stated a claim entitling him to relief.”
Francis, 588 F.3d at 193 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 557). “Determining whether a complaint
states [on its face] a plausible claim for relief [which can
survive a motion to dismiss] will . . . be a context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal,
556 U.S. at 679.
12(b)(7) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a
party to assert a defense by motion for failure to join a
party required under Rule 19. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(7). Rule
19(a)(1)(B) provides that a party is required if: “that
person claims an interest relating to the subject of the
action and is so situated that disposing of the action in the
person's absence may: (i) as a practical matter impair or
impede the person's ability to protect the interests; or
(ii) leave an existing party subject to a substantial risk of
incurring double, multiple, or otherwise inconsistent
obligations because of the interest.” Id.
19(a)(1)(B). If joinder of the required party is feasible,
and the existing parties have failed to join it, the party
may be joined by court order. Id. 19(a)(2).
based on nonjoinder is disfavored. Owens-Illinois, Inc.
v. Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 441 (4th Cir. 1999). Therefore,
courts conduct a two-step inquiry. First, courts consider
whether a party is necessary “because of its
relationship to the matter under consideration.”
Id. at 440. Next, “[i]f a party is necessary,
it will be ordered into the action.” Id. Only
when a party cannot be joined will the court “determine
whether the proceeding can continue in its absence, or
whether it is indispensable pursuant to Rule 19(b) and the
action must be dismissed.” Id. (noting that
joinder is not feasible in a diversity case if the required
party would destroy diversity jurisdiction).
Younger and Burford Abstention Doctrines
the Younger-abstention doctrine, interests of
comity and federalism counsel federal courts to abstain from
jurisdiction whenever federal claims have been or could be
presented in ongoing state judicial proceedings that concern
important state interests.” Hawaii Housing Auth. v.
Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229, 237-38, 104 S.Ct. 2321, 2327, 81
L.Ed.2d 186 (1984). The Fourth Circuit has recognized that
“Younger abstention is appropriate only in
those cases in which (1) there is an ongoing state judicial
proceeding, (2) the proceeding implicates important state
interest, and (3) there is an adequate opportunity to present
the federal claims in the state proceeding.”
Employers Resource Management Co., Inc. v. Shannon,
65 F.3d 1126, 1134 (4th Cir. 1995), cert. denied,
516 U.S. 1094, 1167 S.Ct. 816, 133 L.Ed.2d 761 (1996).
“only exceptional circumstances justify a federal
court's refusal to decide a case in deference to the
States, ” New Orleans Public Service, Inc. v.
Council of City of New Orleans,491 U.S. 350, 368, 109
S.Ct. 2506, 105 L.Ed.2d 298 (NOPSI). NOPSI
identified three such “exceptional
circumstances.” First, Younger precludes
federal intrusion into ongoing state criminal prosecutions.
Id. Second, certain “civil enforcement
proceedings” warrant Younger abstention.
Id.Finally, federal courts should refrain from
interfering with pending ...