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Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon


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260 U.S. 393 (1922), argued 14 Nov. 1922, decided 11 Dec. 1922 by vote of 8 to 1; Holmes for the Court, Brandeis in dissent. This decision is the origin of the doctrine that a regulation on the use of land may cause a taking of property. The coal company owned underground strata of coal but no surface rights. A Pennsylvania statute, designed to prevent subsidence, had the effect of prohibiting mining the coal strata. The Supreme Court invalidated the statute, because it constituted a taking of property without compensation, as required by the Fifth Amendment. The Court said that a land-use regulation became a taking if it went “too far” in restricting use of land and diminishing its value (p. 415). It remains unclear when a regulation constitutes a taking of property for which compensation is required.

The concept of a regulatory taking is binding upon both the federal government and states. It is the subject of a number of Supreme Court decisions. In Keystone Bituminous Coal Association v. DeBenedictis (1987) the Court upheld a Pennsylvania statute that bore some similarity to the statute that Mahon struck down, and appeared to limit the taking doctrine to regulations that almost totally prevent use of the regulated land. With the increasing number of land-use and environmental regulations, the taking issue has become the most celebrated question concerning such controls.

William B. Stoebuck

Subjects: Law.


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