Doochin v. Rackley

CourtSupreme Court of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtBROCK
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

Page 715

610 S.W.2d 715
11 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.
Supreme Court of Tennessee.
Jan. 12, 1981.

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.

OPINION

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 The second of these code sections has been repealed by the Tennessee Coal Surface Mining Law of 1980, enacted subsequent to the proceedings below. 1 See Ch. 908, 1980 Tenn.Public Acts, codified at T.C.A. §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

Page 717

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...

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