In (Possible) Final Chapter, WV Supreme Court Rules Again for Massey Coal Co.

Late last week, the West Virginia Supreme Court returned what may be its final decision in Caperton v. Massey Coal Co., a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before returning to state court for rehearing this Fall.

On Thursday, the West Virginia Supreme Court overturned a $50 million jury verdict against Massey Coal Company, awarded when a jury determined that Massey had unlawfully interfered with Caperton’s business operations and committed fraud during a deal to purchase a coal mine.  Massey Coal sought a reversal of the verdict from the West Virginia Supreme Court, and not once, but twice, that court overturned the verdict.  The case was re-heard by the state’s highest court because, after the first decision, photos emerged of one of the court’s Justices vacationing in the Mediterranean with Massey CEO Don Blankenship, leading to the Justice’s recusal and the re-hearing of the case.

However, after the court once again returned a decision in Massey’s favor, Caperton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, this time arguing that another Justice on the panel, Brent Benjamin, had also refused to recuse himself, despite calls for his recusal from colleagues.   It turned out that Blankenship had provided more than 60% of the total campaign expenditures spent in support of Benjamin’s election to the West Virginia Supreme Court.

Caperton asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the West Virginia state court’s decision, alleging that Benjamin’s refusal to recuse himself violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process.   In a 5-4 decision issued this past June, the Supreme Court agreed with Caperton, vacating the West Virginia court’s decision and remanding the case to be heard a third time – this time without Justice Benjamin’s participation.   (Further details about this ruling, including information regarding CAC’s brief supporting Caperton’s Fourteenth Amendment claim, can be found here.)

Having the appeal heard without Justice Benjamin, however, did not change the outcome for Caperton.   In Thursday’s decision, the state Supreme Court again overturned the jury’s verdict, evidently on the ground that West Virginia was the incorrect forum for the suit.   There are signs, however, that the saga may not be over:  In a statement reported by Bloomberg, Caperton’s attorney implied his client may again appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that it raises “a number of serious constitutional concerns.”