Chief Justice Margaret Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - Groups of Massey Energy Co. shareholders, in an attempt to stop a reported $8.5 billion merger between the coal company and Alpha Natural Resources, are taking their fight to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

The shareholder groups are seeking to block the buyout to try to hold Massey executives and board members responsible for mismanagement of the company and the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

The mining disaster occurred more than a year ago, on April 5, 2010, at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine near the community of Montcoal in Raleigh County, West Virginia. Twenty-nine miners were killed. It was the worst mining disaster in the U.S. in 40 years.

The shareholder groups argue that Massey executives and board members arranged the sale to avoid personal liablity for the disaster and that the buyout significantly undervalues Massey.

On Wednesday, the plaintiffs -- the California State Teachers' Retirement System; Amalgamated Bank, as trustee for the Longview Collective Investment Funds; and Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust -- filed a motion to seal record with the state Supreme Court.

Specifically, in the motion filed by liaison counsel A. Andrew MacQueen of Charleston, W.Va., the plaintiffs seek to seal the petition for preliminary injunction and all appended documents filed contemporaneously with the petition. They also seek to order that all pleadings and documents that may be filed in the future related to the petition be sealed.

According to the motion, "significant parts" of the petition and related documents contain factual allegations and content that has been disclosed under confidentiality agreements and/or protective orders that have been endorsed by the parties to another contempt proceeding pending in the action.

Also on Wednesday, Kanawha Circuit Judge Charles King called off a hearing on a preliminary injunction requested in the case pending in his court, the Charleston Gazette reported.

That's what prompted the California State Teachers' Retirement System, the lead plaintiff, to take their case to the state's high court.

Jennifer Bundy, a spokeswoman for the Court, said the response to the motion to seal and petition is due by noon Friday. That will be sealed, she said.

Bundy said it is anticipated that the Court will take up the petition for an injunction and the response, and the motion to seal, on Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday.

Justice Brent Benjamin has recused himself from the case.

During Benjamin's 2004 judicial campaign, then-Massey CEO Don Blankenship -- who has since retired -- spent $3 million in a statewide ad campaign to defeat then-Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw, Benjamin's opponent.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in Delaware. In fact, a Delaware judge was scheduled to hear arguments on a separate motion for a preliminary injunction to block the merger on Wednesday.

According to the Charleston Gazette, the two companies have scheduled shareholder meetings for June 1 to seek approval of the buyout.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at

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