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Supreme Court won't reopen investors' suit against Massey

By Staff reports

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The state Supreme Court declined this week to reopen a lawsuit that institutional shareholders filed against Massey Energy officials after the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Lawyers for the California State Teachers' Retirement System, Amalgamated Bank and Manville Trust had asked the justices to overturn a 2011 dismissal order and send their case back to Kanawha Circuit Court.

The suit alleged Massey leaders violated a 2008 legal settlement aimed at making the coal giant's operations safer and improving environmental performance. Shareholders went back to court after 29 miners died in the April 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch, alleging corporate leaders failed to make promised improvements.

But in a ruling issued Thursday, the Supreme Court voted 4-1 to uphold a decision by Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky, who threw out the case.

Stucky ruled that the Massey shareholders no longer had legal standing to bring the case, citing the purchase of Massey in June 2011 by Alpha Natural Resources. The Supreme Court agreed.

The Massey shareholders brought their case on behalf of the corporation against corporate leaders in what's known as a derivative action. Stucky and the Supreme Court ruled that the Alpha-Massey buyout generally ended the rights of the now-former Massey shareholders to bring such a case on the company's behalf.

The Supreme Court's 24-page opinion was written by Justice Menis Ketchum. Chief Justice Brent Benjamin recused himself, as he does all Massey cases. Former Massey CEO Don Blankenship ran an independent campaign that helped Benjamin win election in 2004.

Former Justice Tom McHugh took Benjamin's place. Justice Robin Davis dissented.


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