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The principles that a court must apply in properly exercising its discretion to grant or deny a permanent injunction have been identified in prior decisions of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Under traditional equitable principles, a chancellor may enjoin a continuing trespass. However, even in a case involving a continuing trespass the guiding principle which remains constant is that the granting of an injunction is an extraordinary remedy and rests on the sound judicial discretion to be exercised upon consideration of the nature and circumstances of a particular case. Thus, in a case of a continuing trespass, if the loss entailed upon the trespasser would be excessively out of proportion to the injury suffered by the owner, or a serious detriment to the public, a court of equity might very properly deny the injunction and leave the parties to settle their differences in a court of law. The Court has also observed that unless a party is entitled to an injunction pursuant to a statute, a party must establish the traditional prerequisites, i.e., irreparable harm and lack of an adequate remedy at law before a request for injunctive relief will be sustained. Clearly, if the plaintiff has no adequate remedy at law, equity will not countenance a continuing trespass merely because the trespasser, or even the public at large, will be benefited by allowing the trespass to continue.
In 1937, Levisa Coal Corporation, the predecessor in interest to Levisa Coal Company, the plaintiff-appellant herein, acquired by severance deed the solid mineral estate and timber rights on various parcels of land in Buchanan County ("the Buchanan County parcels"). In 1956 appellant entered into a lease with a company later acquired by appellee, allowing the lessee to mine coal. Appellee acquired the lessee in 1993, and later began discharging water into appellant's idled mine. In 1956, Levisa Coal entered into a lease with Island Creek Coal Company (Island Creek Coal). The 1956 lease further provided Island Creek Coal with the right "generally, to make any use of the leased premises which [Island Creek Coal] may deem needful or convenient in carrying on its mining or other operations." Among the specific uses permitted was the right to "dump water or refuse on said premises." These rights, however, were "limited to such rights as [Levisa Coal] owns and has the right to lease," and the lease did not expressly purport to convey any right to use the leasehold for the support of mining operations on other lands. In 1993, CONSOL, Inc. (CONSOL), a subsidiary of CONSOL Energy, Inc., acquired Island Creek Coal and all of its assets, including the rights and obligations of the 1956 lease. At some point after the acquisition of Island Creek Coal by CONSOL, it became necessary for Consolidation Coal to devise an alternate drainage system for the removal of excess water naturally flowing into its Buchanan Mine and the additional water released in to that mine as a result of its continuing mining operations there. In general terms, the drainage system devised by Consolidation Coal involved pumping the excess water from the Buchanan Mine into a series of nearby idled mines once operated by Island Creek Coal which functioned as storage pits for the water until the water could be pumped into the Levisa River. In general terms, the drainage system devised by Consolidation Coal involved pumping the excess water from the Buchanan Mine into a series of nearby idled mines once operated by Island Creek Coal which functioned as storage pits for the water until the water could be pumped into the Levisa River. Ultimately, this drainage system was designed to include the idled VP3 Mine. Levisa Coal filed a complaint for injunctive relief and declaratory judgment against Consolidation Coal in the Circuit Court of Buchanan County seeking to prohibit Consolidation Coal from continuing to divert wastewater from the Buchanan Mine to the VP3 Mine. The circuit court denied the request for injunctive relief and found that Consolidation Coal had the right to place any kind of storage water in Consolidation Coal’s mine.
Did the circuit court err in adjudicating that Consolidation Coal "has a right to store excess water" from its mine in the mine in question and in denying the requested injunctive relief?
The supreme court found that since the 1937 deed conveyed no right to use any portion of the mineral estate to support mining operations on other lands, the 1956 lease could not have granted such right to the lessee. In addition, nothing in the deed conveyed any right to use the voids, tunnels, and shafts created below the surface for any purpose other than to support the mining operations on those parcels. Accordingly, the lessee simply lacked the authority to permit Consolidation Coal to store wastewater from other mining operations in the subject mine. The lessee did not stipulate for such a use of the leasehold in the 1956 lease, nor could appellant have granted such rights even if they had been sought. Thus, the circuit court erred in ruling that Consolidation Coal had a right to store wastewater in the mine.