CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) – The West Virginia Supreme Court decided Thursday not to rehear the controversial $50 million case that sparked a nationwide debate about judicial recusal standards.
In a 4-1 vote that was delayed by nearly two months, the justices decided to let stand their decision to overturn a Boone County verdict in favor of Harman Mining. The Supreme Court heard the matter three times and ruled for Massey Energy each time.
The case was complicated by the friendship between Massey CEO Don Blankenship and former Justice Spike Maynard and Blankenship’s financial support of Justice Brent Benjamin’s 2004 campaign. Justice Robin Davis authored the majority’s opinion all three times.
The case involved a coal supply agreement.
“I guess Don and Spike and Robin and Brent won,” Harman owner Hugh Caperton said, noting he wasn’t surprised by Thursday’s decision.
“They should be ashamed of their actions.”
A 3-2 decision in 2007 in favor of Massey overturned the verdict before Caperton complained about the relationship between Blankenship and Maynard. The two had been photographed together in Monaco, where they claim they had been vacationing separately at the same time.
In March 2008, the justices (minus Maynard) again voted 3-2 in favor of Massey, and Caperton complained that Benjamin shouldn’t have participated because Blankenship spent millions of dollars supporting his 2004 campaign.
The issue came before the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2009, and it ruled in a 5-4 vote that Benjamin should have recused himself, setting the stage for a third decision.
That decision, like the other two, focused on a forum-selection clause in a coal supply contract between the two parties. It said all disputes arising from the contract must be brought in a county in Virginia.
“The forum-selection clause of the 1997 (coal supply agreement) states in plain language that it applies to ‘(a)ll actions brought in connection with this agreement.’ Due to the inclusion of the phrase ‘all actions,’ we perceive no intent by the parties to this agreement to limit in any way the type of actions to which it applies.
“Thus, for example, it would apply equally to contract claims, tort claims and statutory claims, so long as such claims are ‘brought in connection with’ the 1997 CSA.”
Massey said it is happy to put an end to the matter.
“The Company is pleased with this result and happy to have this matter finalized,” said Shane Harvey, Massey vice president and general counsel.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O’Brien by e-mail at email@example.com.