Pennsylvania Coal Company v. Mahon

Supreme Court of the United States, 1922.

260 U.S. 393, 43 S.Ct. 158, 67 L.Ed. 322.

Johnson, pp. 820-824


Facts: The Pennsylvania Coal Company was going to mine some coal out from under Mahon’s house, which would cause the house to sink into the ground.  Mahon sought an injunction against the Coal Company to keep them from mining the coal under his house.  Mahon cited a Pennsylvania statute, the Kohler Act, which forbids mining of coal if it would could a house to sink.  The trial court ruled against an injunction, saying that the Act was unconstitutional.  The state supreme court, however, found that the Act was an appropriate use of police power and gave the plaintiffs the injunction they wanted.  The Coal Company appealed to the United States Supreme Court.


Issue: Does the state police power stretch so far as to allow the destruction of “previously existing rights of property and contract”?


Rule: In general, “if regulation goes too far”, it will be considered a taking.


Analysis: Holmes basically argues that taking away the right to mine the coal by statute is more or less like taking away the coal, period.  He argues that if you didn’t want to have your house sink, Mahon either shouldn’t have built his house over a coal mine or should have purchased the land underneath the coal along with the surface land.  Generally, Holmes argues that the public good created by an eminent domain taking must be paid for, and so a regulatory taking must be paid for too.


In his dissent, Brandeis says that any government regulation, no matter how minimal, will deprive a property owner of a right, but that doesn’t mean we’re always going to compensate the owner.  Brandeis says the government has the power to regulate the use of private property in the interest of “public health, safety, or morals” without compensating the owner.


Conclusion: The decree of the state supreme court is reversed.


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