Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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September 27, 2013

Davis: Supreme Court ruled wrong in Massey case

CHARLESTON — State Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis criticized her colleagues in a dissenting opinion Friday for refusing to let institutional shareholders revive a lawsuit filed against the former Massey Energy two weeks after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster.

Earlier this month, the justices upheld a 2011 dismissal of the case brought by the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, Amalgamated Bank and Manville Trust. 

The investors argued that Massey had violated a 2008 settlement agreement aimed at making its operations safer. The shareholders had originally sued Virginia-based Massey in 2007, saying it routinely failed to comply with environmental and worker safety laws. 

They argued they were therefore entitled to pursue damages after the blast killed 29 men in April 2010.

Massey’s market value fell by $975 million within two days of the explosion.  

But a circuit judge ruled the settlement agreement was nullified the day Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey in 2011. Alpha is now the sole shareholder in Massey, known as Alpha Appalachia Holdings for legal purposes and incorporated in Delaware.

“This result is not fair, and it is not the right thing to do,” Davis wrote. “Therefore, I respectfully, and vehemently, disagree.”

Davis said Massey’s officers and board of directors “demonstrated nothing but blatant disregard for mine safety standards” and “apathetic indifference” to the settlement aimed at correcting their misconduct.

That “devil-may-care attitude” manifested in the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades, she wrote.

“Countless other West Virginia coal miners undoubtedly also have been injured and endangered by the Massey Board’s failure to do what it said it would do, what it has been told by the circuit court to do, and what it is required to do under mine safety laws, she said.

The investors tried repeatedly to hold Massey accountable.

“Regretfully, however, the majority’s decision in this case not only forgives the Massey Board for its misdeeds,” she wrote, “but also fails to hold accountable those individuals whose callousness cost 29 miners their lives.”

 

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