Monday, May 20, 2013

Caperton v. Massey . . . Still Going

Last week, I mentioned that I was reading The Price of Justice - the true story of Caperton v. Massey. I finished it this weekend, and was shocked by the ending.

The setup is that Hugh Caperton and his smaller coal company sued coal giant Don Blankenship and Massey Energy for allegedly driving the former out of business (by tortiously interfering with contracts and committing misrepresentation). Caperton won a $50 million jury verdict, but the West Virginia Supreme court threw it out.

However, Blankenship spent millions of dollars on campaign ads, while the case was pending before the WV Supreme Court, to get a Massey-friendly judge elected. From the later U.S. Supreme Court opinion:
Blankenship’s $3 million in contributions were more than the total amount spent by all other Benjamin supporters and three times the amount spent by Benjamin’s own committee. Caperton contends that Blankenship spent $1 million more than the total amount spent by the campaign committees of both candidates combined.
Amazingly, the judge (Benjamin) refused to recuse himself and was the deciding vote in the case. So, Caperton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that his due process rights had been violated.

The Supreme Court held that due process required recusal. Happy ending for Caperton, right? Actually, the case went back to the West Virginia Supreme Court, which once again threw Caperton's case out (holding that the action had to be filed in Virginia, effectively killing it forever in West Virginia). So, Caperton filed suit in Virginia.

Now, for the truly shocking part. Caperton got his jury verdict in 2002. The Virginia Supreme Court held that Caperton could proceed with his lawsuit in Virginia . . . last month! I couldn't believe it when I reached the end of the book and the case still hadn't been resolved!

Sidenote: The book covers several other lawsuits vs. Massey, from contaminating drinking water to questionable safety practices killing miners.

Image: Book cover used in commentary on book.