Plymouth Coal Company v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Citation34 S.Ct. 359,232 U.S. 531,58 L.Ed. 713
Decision Date24 February 1914
Docket NumberNo. 102,102
PartiesPLYMOUTH COAL COMPANY, Plff. in Err., v. COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, David T. Davis, Inspector of Mines, etc
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

This case involves the constitutionality of a section of the anthracite mine laws of the state of Pennsylvania being § 10 of art. 3 of the act of June 2, 1891 (P. L. p. 176, 183), which reads as follows:

'It shall be obligatory on the owners of adjoining coal properties to leave, or cause to be left, a pillar of coal in each seam or vein of coal worked by them, along the line of adjoining property, of such width that, taken in connection with the pillar to be left by the adjoining property owner, will be a sufficient barrier for the safety of the employees of either mine in case the other should be abandoned and allowed to fill with water; such width of pillar to be determined by the engineers of the adjoining property owners together with the inspector of the district in which the mine is situated, and the surveys of the face of the workings along such pillar shall be made in duplicate and must practically agree. A copy of such duplicate surveys, certified to, must be filed with the owners of the adjoining properties and with the inspector of the district in which the mine or property is situated.'

Art. 18, under the head of 'Definition of Terms,' contains, inter alia, the following:

The term 'owners' and 'operators' means any person or body corporate who is the immediate proprietor or lessee or occupier of any coal mine or colliery or any part thereof. The term 'owner' does not include a person or body corporate who merely receives a royalty, rent, or fine from a coal mine or colliery or part thereof, or is merely the proprietor of the mine, subject to any lease, grant, or license for the working or operating thereof, or is merely the owner of the soil, and not interested in the minerals of the mine or any part thereof. But any 'contractor' for the working of a mine or colliery, or any part or district thereof, shall be subject to this act as an operator or owner, in like manner as if he were the owner.'

The record shows that the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company and the Plymouth Coal Company are respectively the lessees or owners of adjoining coal properties situate at Plymouth, in Luzerne county, Pennsylvania; that on August 31, 1909, Mr. Davis, the inspector of mines of the district in which the properties are located, wrote a letter to the president of the Plymouth Coal Company which reads as follows:

Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Aug. 31, '09. John C. Haddock, Pres. Plymouth Coal Co.

Dear Sir:——

Kindly have your engineer report at my office Thursday morning Sept. 2d at 10 o'clock at which time we can meet the engineer of the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company to decide as to thickness of barrier pillar to be left unmined between the properties of the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company and the Plymouth Coal Company, situated at Plymouth, Luz. Co., Pa., as per article 3, § 10 anthracite mine laws of this commonwealth, which reads as follows [quoting the section verbatim].

[Signed] D. T. Davis,

Inspector of Mines.

To this the following reply was made:

Wilkes-Barre, Pa.,

Sept. 1, 1909.

Mr. D. T. Davis, Inspector, Ninth Anthracite Inspection District,

Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Dear Sir:——

I am in receipt of yours of the 31st ult.

Allow me to say in reply that while it would give us great pleasure to meet you and the representatives of the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company at the suggested conference, to be held to-morrow, we cannot enter such a conference to even consider, much less conclude, an agreement that may affect our rights and our duty to our lessors at the Dodson Colliery.

I assume it is needless to assure you that we stand ready at all times to comply with any reasonable request that may emanate from you or your office, but if I am advised correctly, this request or demand originated with the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company.

This was their right to make as it is ours to decline.

Yours very truly,

[Signed] John C. Haddock,

President The Plymouth Coal Co.

Thereupon, pursuant to article 15 of the above-mentioned statute, the mine inspector, acting in behalf of the commonwealth, filed his bill of complaint against the Plymouth Coal Company in the court of common pleas of Luzerne county, setting forth the above facts and averring that defendant refused to permit its engineer to meet with the mine inspector and the engineer of the adjoining property owner to determine the width of the barrier pillar, or to even consider the matter, and refused to leave or cause to be left a pillar that, taken in connection with the pillar to be left by the adjoining property owner, would be a sufficient barrier for the safety of the employees of either mine in case the other should be abandoned and allowed to fill with water; that defendant employed in its mine at least three hundred persons, and the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company employed in its mine at least seven hundred persons, and the refusal of the defendant endangered the lives and safety of the employees of both mines. There was a prayer for a preliminary and perpetual injunction to restrain defendant from working its mine without leaving a barrier pillar of coal of the thickness or width of at least 30 feet in each seam or vein worked by it along the line of the adjoining property. Defendant answered, admitting the truth of the averments of the bill without qualification, except that it denied that any barrier was necessary for the safety of the employees of either mine in case the other mine should be abandoned. At the same time it averred that the act of June 2, 1891, upon which the bill was based, 'is confiscatory, unconstitutional, and void.' There was a preliminary injunction, restraining defendant from working its mine without leaving a barrier pillar at least 70 feet wide. This was continued until the final hearing, which resulted in a decree continuing the injunction, but without prejudice to defendant's 'to apply to the court for a dissolution or modification thereof, upon showing to the satisfaction of the court that the proper mine inspector and the engineers of the defendant company and the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company have, upon due investigation and consultation, determined that a barrier pillar of less width than that stated in the injunction (that is, less 70 feet on defendant's property) is sufficient for the protection of the men employed in the mines of either company in case the mine of the other should be abandoned and allowed to fill with water, and have made duplicate surveys and filed copies of the same as required by law, or, upon such investigation and consultation shall have decided that no such barrier pillar is necessary to the safety of the employees of either company in the event aforesaid.'

Upon appeal the supreme court of Pennsylvania affirmed the decree (232 Pa. 141, 81 Atl. 148), and the case comes here by virtue of § 237, Judicial Code [36 Stat. at L. 1156, chap. 231, U. S. Comp. Stat. Supp. 1911, p. 227], for adjudication under the 'due process' clause of the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution.

Messrs. William C. Price and John G. Johnson for plaintiff in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 536-539 intentionally omitted] Mr. Join C. Bell, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and Messrs. B. R. Jones, Morris Wolf, and William M. Hargest for defendants in error.

Statement by Mr. Justice Pitney:

Mr. Justice Pitney, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court:

The statute in question is entitled, 'An Act to Provide for the Health and Safety of Persons Employed in and about the Anthracite Coal Mines of Pennsylvania, and for the Protection and Preservation of Property Connected Therewith.' It applies to every anthracite coal mine in the commonwealth employing more than ten persons; divides the anthracite coal region into eight inspection districts, with a mine inspector for each district, who is appointed by the governor of the commonwealth upon the recommendation of a board of examiners composed of three reputable coal miners and two reputable mining engineers, all to be selected by judges of the county courts, and the inspector thus appointed must be a citizen of Pennsylvania, more than thirty years of age, having a knowledge of the different svstems of working coal mines, and at least five years practical experience in anthracite coal mines of Pennsylvania, including experience in mines where noxious and explosive gases are evolved. Each inspector is to reside in the district for which he is appointed, and is to give his whole time and attention to the duties of his office. He is to examine all the collieries in his district as often as may be required, see that every necessary precaution is taken to secure the safety of the workmen, and that the provisions of the act are observed and obeyed, and is to keep the maps and plans of the mines and the records thereof with all the papers relating thereto. The act contains a multitude of provisions looking to the safety of the men employed in and about the mines, and deals apparently with every branch of the work and every source of danger.

That the business of mining coal is attended with dangers that render it the proper subject of regulation by the states in the exercise of the police power is entirely settled. Holden v. Hardy, 169 U. S. 366, 393, 42 L. ed. 780, 791, 18 Sup. Ct. Rep. 383; Consolidated Coal Co. v. Illinois, 185 U. S. 203, 207, 46 L. ed. 872, 875, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 616; Barrett v. Indiana, 229 U. S. 26, 29, 57 L. ed. 1050, 1052, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 694.

Legislation requiring the owners of adjoining coal properties to cause boundary pillars of coal to be left of sufficient width to safeguard the employees of either mine in case the other should be abandoned and allowed to fill with water...

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