Keystone Bituminous Coal Ass'n v. DeBenedictis

480 U.S. 470, 107 S. Ct. 1232 (1987)



Land use regulation can effect a taking if it does not substantially advance legitimate state interests, or denies an owner economically viable use of his land.


Petitioners filed a civil rights action that sought to enjoin officials of the Department of Environmental Resources from enforcing the Bituminous Subsidence and Land Preservation Act (Subsidence Act), Pa. Stat. Ann. tit. 52, § 1406.1 et seq. The Subsidence Act required coal mine operators (1) to leave a certain amount of coal in the ground for support under certain surface structures, and (2) to repair or pay for the repair of subsidence damage to such structures, on pain of losing their mining permits, even if the surface owners or their predecessors had waived any claim to such damages. Petitioners alleged that the Subsidence Act impaired contract rights by not allowing mining operators to enforce damage waivers; and that it constituted taking of private property without compensation. Respondent filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted and the appellate court affirmed.


Is the Subsidence Act is unconstitutional for impairing contract rights and for constituting taking of property without just compensation?




The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine the constitutionality of the Subsidence Act. The Court found that the Subsidence Act survived scrutiny under the Court's standards for evaluating impairments of private contracts. Respondent assessed the necessity of imposing liability on operators who engaged in mining practices that could have severe effects on the surface. The Court concluded that the impairment of petitioners' right to enforce damages waivers was justified by the public purposes served by the Subsidence Act.

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