Doochin v. Rackley

Citation610 S.W.2d 715,11 Envtl.L.Rep. 20
Parties11 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,163 Julius DOOCHIN, Alan Doochin, and Ben Doochin, Comprising a Partnership known as Jab Co.; Judo Mining Co., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Donald RACKLEY, V. W. Hamby, Katherine O'Dell, Vivian Thompson, Hiwassee Land Company, Floyd Myers, Honorable Ann R. Tuck, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Conservation, Otis I. Parker, Steven E. Roberts, Dale Studer, Dr. Ralph Ross, Dr. Eugene Fowinkle, Constituting the Board of Reclamation Review of the State of Tennessee; Honorable William M. Leech, Jr., Attorney General of the State of Tennessee, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date12 January 1981
CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee

Valerius Sanford, Joel M. Leeman, Gullett, Sanford & Robinson, Nashville, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Dean Hill Rivkin, Knoxville, for defendants-appellees Rackley, Hamby, O'Dell, Thompson and Myers.

Claudius C. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., Nashville, for defendants-appellees Tuck, Parker, Roberts, Studer, Ross, Fowinkle and Leech.

George M. Derryberry, Miller & Martin, Chattanooga, for defendant-appellee Hiwassee Land Company.


BROCK, Chief Justice.

The facts in this case are not disputed and the sole issue is the constitutionality of Chapter 164 of the Tennessee Public Acts of 1977, codified at T.C.A. §§ 64-511 (Supp.1980) and 58-1544(a)(6)(B) (Supp.1979). The second of these code sections has been repealed by the Tennessee Coal Surface Mining Law of 1980, enacted subsequent to the proceedings below. 1 See Ch. 908, 1980 Tenn.Public Acts, codified at T.C.A. § 59-8-301, et seq. (Supp.1980). Since the comparable provision of the 1980 Act has the same effect, we intend for this decision to encompass it as well. See note 5, infra. For clarity we will discuss the statutes as they were codified at the time of the proceedings below.

The two statutes concern the conflict between landowners and the owners of mineral rights in the same property. They are challenged as impairing contract rights, see U.S.Const. Art. 1, § 10; Tenn.Const. Art. 1, § 20, as violating due process and equal protection, see U.S.Const. Amends. V, XIV; Tenn.Const. Art. 11, § 8, Art. 1, §§ 8, 17, and as encroaching on the functions of the Judiciary, see Tenn.Const. Art. 2, § 2. We hold that the statutes are constitutional.

Defendants Rackley, Hamby, O'Dell, Thompson and Hiwassee Land Company each own land in White County, Tennessee. Defendant Myers lives on part of the land or nearby. The land is used primarily for timber production and is forested in hardwoods and pines. Some is used for farming and as personal residences.

The mineral rights to these tracts are owned by plaintiff JAB Co., a partnership composed of plaintiffs, Julius Doochin and his sons, Alan and Ben Doochin. Plaintiffs' interest in the minerals is traceable back along the chain of title to several deeds executed in the 1920s and early 1930s. At that time the mineral and surface estates were severed by instruments that conveyed the land but reserved the mineral rights. One deed, for example, reserved "all oil, gas, coal and any other minerals or mineral substances on or under the said tract, with full rights to enter thereon, explore for, mine or otherwise procure any such minerals by any proper or necessary means with all necessary rights and ways to remove such products therefrom." Most deeds simply reserved "all oil, gas, saline and mineral substances of any nature whatsoever, with right of ingress and egress into, over, and under the said land for the purpose of exploring for, producing and removing any of such substances." The deeds do not specify the methods of extracting minerals that were contemplated. However, the surface mining method, more commonly known as strip mining, was unknown in White County until the 1940s, according to uncontroverted testimony in the record.

Plaintiff, JUDO Mining Co., sought to strip mine coal from the land pursuant to a lease agreement with JAB. In January, 1979, plaintiffs applied to the Tennessee Department of Conservation for a strip mining permit. They did not submit with their application certain information required by the challenged statutes, discussed more fully below. They asserted that the statutes were unconstitutional and that compliance was not necessary. The permit was denied because of their failure to comply.

The defendant Board of Reclamation Review upheld the denial of the permit, after a hearing. 2 On appeal, the Chancery Court for White County held that the statutes are constitutional. Plaintiffs appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals, and the case was transferred to this Court, since the sole determinative issue is the constitutionality of the statutes. See T.C.A. 16-4-108, formerly § 16-408.

To understand the challenged Act, one must recognize the state's interest in regulating strip mining. Since 1955, all mine operators have been required to obtain a license or permit from the state. See § 3, Ch. 238, 1955 Tenn.Public Acts. More detailed regulation of strip mining has been created by The Tennessee Strip Mining Law of 1967, The Tennessee Surface Mining Law of 1972, the 1977 Act challenged in the instant case, and the Tennessee Coal Surface Mining Law of 1980. See Ch. 43, 1967 Tenn.Public Acts; Ch. 547, 1972 Tenn.Public Acts; Ch. 164, 1977 Tenn.Public Acts; Ch. 908, 1980 Tenn.Public Acts.

Strip mining can be hazardous to the environment, to agriculture, and even to human safety. The legislature has summarized those hazards as follows:

"The general assembly hereby finds and declares that the unregulated exploration for and surface mining of coal can cause soil erosion and landslides; lake, stream, and air pollution; and accumulation and seepage of contaminated water; can contribute to floods; impairs the value of land for forestry, agricultural, or other purposes; adversely affects fish and wildlife and their habitats; counteracts efforts for the conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources; adversely affects cultural resources; impairs neighboring owner's property rights; creates fire hazards; and in general creates conditions inimical to life, property, and the public welfare, so as to require the exercise of the state's police power in the regulation of exploration and surface mining of coal." T.C.A. 59-8-302 (Supp.1980). 3

Strip mining temporarily or permanently destroys the surface of the land, depending on the success of reclamation efforts. Thus, strip mining is incompatible with the surface owner's enjoyment of his estate. See Skivolocki v. East Ohio Gas Co., 38 Ohio St.2d 244, 313 N.E.2d 374 (1974); Stewart v. Chernicky, 439 Pa. 43, 266 A.2d 259 (1970). This incompatibility and the physical and aesthetic effects on the environment distinguish strip mining from traditional deep mining.

Since 1967, applicants for permits to strip mine most minerals have been required to submit "identification of the source of the operator's legal right to enter and mine the minerals on the land affected by the permit." T.C.A. 58-1544(a)(6)(A) (Supp.1979), subsequently § 59-8-205(1)(F)(i) (1980). 4

Concerning that requirement of evidence of the right to strip mine, the legislature enacted the 1977 Act that is challenged in this case. Section 2, codified at T.C.A. 58-1544(a)(6)(B) (Supp.1979), provided in relevant part,

"... If the surface estate has been severed from the mineral estate, such evidence may be provided by either, (a) a deed, lease, or other document which severs the mineral rights and expressly permits the removal of minerals by surface mining or a certified extract of the appropriate provisions of such documents; or (b) a deed, lease, or conveyance which severs the mineral rights without specific provisions for surface mining and an accompanying affidavit by the current surface state owner agreeing to the removal of such minerals by surface mining. ..." 5

Section 3, T.C.A. 64-511 (Supp.1980), provides,

"In any instrument heretofore or hereafter executed purporting to sever the surface and mineral estates which does not describe the manner or method of mineral extraction in express and specific terms, it shall be presumed that the intent of the parties to the instrument was that the minerals be extracted only in the principal manner and method of mineral extraction prevailing in Tennessee at the time the instrument was executed. This section is not intended to exclude evidence that would otherwise be admissible to show the intentions of the parties."

The Act applies only to strip mining of coal.

In their permit application, plaintiffs did not submit the documents expressly allowing strip mining or the affidavits of surface owners' consent. Nor did they attempt to obtain the surface owners' consent. 6 They contend that ownership of the mineral rights entitles them to destroy the surface at least temporarily, despite the fact that other individuals own and enjoy the rights to that surface. We disagree.

In analyzing deeds of conveyance the traditional common law rule, of course, is to ascertain the intent of the contracting parties in light of circumstances existing at the time. Campbell v. Tennessee Coal, Iron, & R. Co., 150 Tenn. 423, 265 S.W. 674 (1924) is instructive. In that case the owner of the mineral rights to certain land sought to quarry limestone. The 1870 deed that severed the mineral and surface estates reserved

"all the mines or minerals contained or imbedded in or on said tract; also the right to enter at any time ... to explore for mines or mineral, with the right to make excavation to erect works or machinery for the purpose of manufacturing such minerals as may be found on or contiguous to said land ... and to do any and everything necessary to be done for the successful mining and manufacturing or exporting any minerals that may be discovered on or in said land, but agreeing to pay said Lyle a reasonable compensation for any actual damage that may be done to the surface of the land." Id. at 425, 265 S.W. at...

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