Who Has Jurisdiction Over Lawsuits Regarding Mining of Coal Under Lands ?
In Pennsylvania there are three estates in land that can be held separate and distinct from each other:
The surface estate,
The mineral rights estate,
The support estate. Captline v. County of Allegheny, 662 A.2d 691, 692 n.1 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1995).
When the Commonwealth appropriates surface land that is underlaid by mineable coal, the Commonwealth, the county in which the land is located, or the owner of the coal underlying the land may, upon application, convene a Commission to determine "the underlying or adjacent coal, if any, to be left in place for the purpose of furnishing vertical or lateral support to said land . . . and the underlying or adjacent coal, if any, which may be removed." Section 52 of the Act, 52 P.S. 1501.
The Commission has "exclusive jurisdiction of the mining of coal under lands . . . acquired by the Commonwealth and judicial powers to . . . determine and assess damages, if any, for coal required by the said Commission to be left in place and benefits, if any, for improvements or betterments." Id.
Damages sustained by "the owner of the coal or the person entitled to remove the same, as a result of any obligation to furnish vertical and lateral support arising because of the acquisition of such land . . . by the Commonwealth which obligation did not exist prior to the date of such acquisition, shall be determined by the State Mining Commission." 1503.
It is a well established principle that when the Commonwealth appropriates surface rights for a public highway, it also appropriates the subsurface support strata so far as it is necessary to support the surface land. Penn Gas Coal Co. v. Versailles Fuel Gas Co., 131 Pa. 522, 19 A. 933, 25 Week. Notes Cas. 428 (1890); Commonwealth v. Pardee Bros. & Co., 310 Pa. 353, 165 A. 396 (1933); Glen Alden Coal Company's Case, 339 Pa. 149, 14 A.2d 76 (1940); Brownfield v. Commonwealth, Dep't of Transp., 26 Pa. Commw. 308, 364 A.2d 767 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1976).