Is the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 An Unconstitutional Taking ?
In Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498, 141 L. Ed. 2d 451, 118 S. Ct. 2131 (1998), a plurality of the United States Supreme Court concluded that the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 (Coal Act), 26 U.S.C. 9701-9722, was an unconstitutional taking because it required certain coal mine operators to fund future health benefits of former coal mine employees of defunct coal mining companies even though the paying operators never employed the miners.
A four Justice plurality determined that the Coal Act's retroactive impact was an unconstitutional taking because it placed a "severe, disproportionate and extremely retroactive burden" on existing coal operators. Eastern Enterprises, 524 U.S. at 538.
Justice Kennedy concurred with the result but disagreed with the plurality's conclusion that an obligation to pay money could support a taking.
The four Justices who dissented agreed that the Takings Clause was not implicated because the "'private property' upon which the Takings Clause traditionally has focused is a specific interest in physical or intellectual property. . . . This case involves not an interest in physical or intellectual property, but an ordinary liability to pay money, and not to the Government, but to third parties." Eastern Enterprises, 524 U.S. at 554.
In Eastern Enterprises, five of the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court determined that the government imposed obligation to pay money did not constitute a taking.