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Mine Legal Dispute Resolved: Civil Rights Battle Ends in $58.5 Million Payment

A week before a second jury trial, Yetter Coleman clients Joe and Yvette Hardesty settled their claims against Sacramento County for $58.5 million, ending their lawsuit over the county’s violations of their constitutional right to practice their chosen profession of mining.

In 2017, a California jury unanimously found that the county arbitrarily shut down the Hardestys’ gravel mining operation, causing them $75 million in damages. On appeal, the county’s liability to the Hardestys was affirmed, but the damages amount was held to be excessive. This month, a retrial limited just to damages was set to begin when the settlement was reached. The original verdict was a record amount in the county, and the settlement is among the largest ever in a business civil rights case in the United States.

Joe Hardesty began mining at the Schneider Historic Mine east of Sacramento in the 1980s under a handshake deal. The Schneider family owned the ranch for generations and enjoyed income from the mining. Aggregates are types of sand and gravel used in cement, concrete, and other construction applications and among the world’s most-consumed products.

Through resourcefulness and hard work, Hardesty Sand & Gravel became a fast-growing source of high-quality, low-cost aggregates for construction companies, ranchers, and farmers. The business could compete with bigger operations because it operated under a vested right. It was exempt from costly permitting requirements because mining had been done there for decades. Eventually, this drew the ire of competitors, which pressured county authorities to find violations at the mine. The county abruptly shut down the mine in 2010.

Both families brought claims in federal court that the county had violated their constitutional right under the 14th Amendment to practice their chosen profession of gravel mining. After a 5-week trial in 2017, a Sacramento jury found the County liable for destroying the primary livelihood of the two families and awarded $107 million against the County and certain of its officials. The Hardestys were awarded $75 million. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the liability finding against the county, holding that the evidence proved that it arbitrarily violated the rights of both families. The court remanded for a new trial on damages, which it found were excessive. The Schneiders settled their claims for $20 million, and a second trial was set to begin one week before a settlement was reached to pay the Hardestys $58.5 million.

The resolution of this case brings closure to a long legal dispute and compensation to a family that has been waiting justice. As part of the settlement, the county reaffirmed the existence of the vested right at the Schneider mine and validity of the related reclamation plan for the mining.

Counsel for the Hardestys is Paul Yetter, Justin Tschoepe, Jane Ray, and Alex Ades of Yetter Coleman LLP, David Robertson of Robertson, Johnson, Miller & Williamson, and David Diepenbrock of Weintraub Tobin Chediak Coleman Grodin.

Additional Media Coverage:

The Texas Lawbook
Law 360
Courthouse News Service