Va. jury awards $5m in coal contract dispute

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RICHMOND, Va. – A Southwest Virginia jury awarded $5 million to a defunct coal company and its owner in their long-running legal battle with Massey Energy over a coal supply contract.


A Buchanan County jury awarded $4 million in damages to Harman Mining and two related companies. The jury also awarded $1 million to the companies’ owner, Hugh Caperton, for personal financial damages, media outlets reported.


The jury issued its verdict Friday afternoon following a five-week trial in Grundy.


Caperton claimed his companies were financially damaged when Massey slashed the amount of coal it agreed to buy from the companies. Harman Mining ceased operations in 1998.


Alpha Natural Resources bought Massey in 2011 and assumed many of Massey’s liabilities, including the Caperton lawsuit.


“We’re not only pleased with the outcome of this case but convinced it reflects the factual evidence presented to the jury,” Alpha spokesman Ted Pile told The Wall Street Journal.


One of Caperton’s lawyer’s, Bruce Stanley, told The Wall Street Journal and the Charleston Gazette he was pleased the jury found Massey liable for putting Harman out of business and for the injuries it caused Caperton. But he indicated they might appeal the jury award’s amount. Caperton had sought $90 million in compensatory damages.


“We are not finished,” he said. “We will take a look at all our available options and do whatever is within our power to hold Massey accountable for the full extent of the injuries they caused.”


The legal battle between Caperton and Massey began in 1998 when Caperton sued the coal company in Boone County, W.Va. A Boone County jury awarded $50 million to Caperton in 2002 but the West Virginia Supreme Court rejected that verdict three times.


One of the West Virginia appeals attracted national attention when it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 2009 that West Virginia Justice Brent Benjamin should have recused himself because then-Massey CEO Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help Benjamin win election to the court.


A subsequent West Virginia Supreme Court ruling suggested the case should have been filed in Buchanan County, site of a related lawsuit that resulted in a $6 million judgment for the plaintiffs. Caperton followed that suggestion with a new filing in November 2010 alleging tortious interference and fraudulent misrepresentation.


Buchanan County Circuit Court Judge Henry A. Vanover tossed that lawsuit, finding that the issues had already been hashed out in previous cases. The Virginia Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the issues in the Virginia filing were different, and sent the case back to Buchanan County for further proceedings.


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