Owner of defunct coal companies seeks new trial on damages in Va. lawsuit against Massey


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CHARLESTON, West Virginia — The owner of three defunct coal companies is seeking a new trial in his long-running legal battle with Massey Energy over a coal supply contract.

A jury in Buchanan County, Virginia, awarded $1 million to Hugh Caperton for personal financial damages in May. The jury also awarded $4 million in damages to Caperton's companies, Harman Mining, Harman Development and Sovereign Coal Sales. Caperton had sought $90 million in compensatory damage.

The verdict came in a lawsuit that alleged Caperton's companies were financially damaged when Massey slashed the amount of coal it had agreed to buy from them.

Caperton and Harman Mining filed motions on Friday in Buchanan County Circuit Court requesting a new trial on the damages. Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey in 2011, filed a post-trial motion Friday asking the court to set aside the $5 million verdict.

Harman's motion argued that the jury's "small award of damages does not begin to compensate Harman for the injury sustained by it at the hands of Massey."

The motion also said Judge Henry A. Vanover had blocked the plaintiffs' lawyers from introducing documents and calling witnesses during the trial that could have "showed evidence of Harman's debt and evidence showing that monies recovered here would go into bankruptcy court for distribution to the Harman Companies' creditors."

The legal battle between Caperton and Massey began in 1998 when Caperton sued the coal company in Boone County, West Virginia. A Boone County jury awarded $50 million to Caperton in 2002 but the West Virginia Supreme Court rejected that verdict three times.

A subsequent West Virginia Supreme Court ruling suggested the case should have been filed in Buchanan County, site of a related lawsuit that resulted in a $6 million judgment for the plaintiffs. Caperton followed that suggestion with a new filing in November 2010 alleging tortious interference and fraudulent misrepresentation.

Buchanan County Circuit Court Judge Henry A. Vanover tossed that lawsuit, finding that the issues had already been hashed out in previous cases. The Virginia Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the issues in the Virginia filing were different, and sent the case back to Buchanan County for further proceedings.

Alpha's motion said the latest verdict should be set aside because the court and both parties had agreed that "any verdict for Harman would be offset by the $6 million judgment paid to Harman in the prior Virginia contract action."

Alpha's motion also said Harman cannot recover damages based on a hypothetical enterprise's business plan, rather than the actual operations of Caperton's mines.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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