CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Justice Margaret Workman believes her state Supreme Court colleagues turned West Virginia jurisprudence "on its ear" when it recently overturned a $50 million judgment against Massey Energy Co. in a coal contract dispute.
Workman says in a dissent filed Monday that while "Massey engaged in a web of deceit replete with fraudulent acts," the 4-1 ruling "unjustly strips Massey's victims of their rightful verdict by creating extensive new law and manipulating the existing law to achieve the end result."
Harman Mining Corp. and its president, Hugh Caperton, alleged that Massey bankrupted them both by disrupting a supply contact as part of a scheme to obtain their coal reserves.
The Nov. 12 decision concluded that Harman and Caperton should have pursued their claims against the Richmond, Va.-based producer in that state, under a clause in the contract.
The ruling marked the third time the state's high court had reached that finding. It revisited the case twice because of separate appearance-of-bias allegations that both involved Massey Chief Executive Don Blankenship.
The U.S. Supreme Court forced the latest review, in a 5-4 ruling that faulted Chief Justice Brent Benjamin for hearing the case after Blankenship spent $3 million to help get him elected in 2004.
When it first overturned the verdict in 2007, the state Supreme Court called Massey's conduct "egregious" but concluded that the forum-selection clause held sway. Among other acts, the Boone County jury had found that Massey feigned interest in acquiring Harman, then exploited confidential information revealed during sales talks to buy a narrow band of coal surrounding its reserves.
"Unfortunately, (Workman's) powerful words cannot undo the very real harm inflicted by Massey and sanctioned by the majority," Bruce Stanley, a lawyer for Caperton, said Tuesday.