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Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon

Citation. 260 U.S. 393, 43 S. Ct. 158, 67 L. Ed. 322 (1922)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Pennsylvania Coal (Petitioner), wants to mine under the Respondent, Mahon’s (Respondent), home for coal. But Respondent claims that Petitioner lost this right when the state passed legislation that forbids mining when it might cause the land to collapse.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A taking can result from regulation of property that seriously interferes with the use or enjoyment of the property by the owner.


Respondent bought the rights to the surface of the land in question from Petitioner and subsequently built his home on it. Petitioner reserved the rights to remove any and all coal located beneath Respondent’s home. But, the state passed a legislative act in 1921 that prohibited the mining of land that might result in the sinking of the land where a person’s home was located.


Does this act result in a taking of the coal company’s property rights?


Yes. Whether a regulation goes too far and becomes a taking is a question of degree. Here, it would be improper to provide a person who assumed the risk of acquiring only surface rights with greater rights than they bought.


The legislation is not a taking as it is designed to protect the public from harm. Also, the government is not confiscating or making use of the land, so it is not a taking.


The regulation is narrowly constructed to protect only those that acquired surface rights. But, this is an interference with the bargain of the sales contract. The Respondent took the chance there would be coal under his home and agreed to let the Petitioner mine for it.

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