422 U.S. 1012 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

WATSON v. KENLICK COAL CO., INC. , 422 U.S. 1012 (1975)

422 U.S. 1012

Mitchell WATSON et al.
No. 74-294.

Supreme Court of the United States

June 16, 1975

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, dissenting.

Petitioners are landowners in Magoffin County, Kentucky. Seventy years ago, their predecessors in ownership deeded away all rights to the minerals in and under their land, retaining only the surface rights; respondents are the present holders of the mineral rights, and have strip mined much of the coal which underlies the land. Petitioners brought this action under 42 U.S.C. 1983, seeking injunctive relief. [Footnote 1] and damages for the destruction of the land surface through respondents' strip-

Page 422 U.S. 1012 , 1013

mining operations. The Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the complaint, holding that there was no state action involved and that petitioners had not been deprived of any federal constitutional right. 498 F.2d 1183 (CA6 (1974).

This case is unfortunately no more than a mere footnote in a continuing tragedy of environmental and human despoliation. The rape of Appalachia for its precious coal has been a dark and dismal chapter in our Nation's history, moving one observer to lament:

    'Coal has always cursed the land in which it lies. When men begin to wrest it from the earth it leaves a legacy of four streams, hideous slag heaps and polluted air. It peoples this transformed land with blind and crippled men and with widows and orphans. It is an extractive industry which takes all alway and restores nothing. It mars but never beautifies. It corrupts but never purifies.'2

One of the hardest-hit areas has been the Cumberland Plateau in eastern Kentucky. In the late 19th century, the hill country was swept by a virtual wave of coal buyers seeking to acquire precious mineral rights from the often naive and illiterate mountaineers. The contest was hardly an equal one,3 and most coal buyers [422 U.S. 1012 , 1014]

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