Massey given deadline to respond to investor suit

TWO weeks after a federal judge rejected a motion of dismissal regarding a lawsuit filed by its investors, Massey Energy and its attorneys now have about nine weeks – until June 18 – to formally respond in court to the suit and shareholders’ claims of misrepresentation.
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Donna Schmidt

According to the Associated Press, the involved parties agreed to the deal this week in the US District Court in Beckley.

Last month, Judge Irene Berger ruled not to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Massey shareholders who claimed they were misled on many occasions to believe the operator was one of the safest in mining.

The individuals claim they were led to believe safety was a priority by Massey promoting its safety achievements and regularly publicizing it being one of the industry’s safest companies.

Additionally, the investors said, Massey's deception led to falsely inflated stock prices between February 2008 and July 2010.

According to federal records, the now-closed Upper Big Branch mine was shut down by the US Mine Safety and Health Administration 48 times in 2009 alone but abatements of the violations allowed the operation to reopen shortly after.

From the beginning of 2009 until the day of the UBB mine explosion that killed 29 workers on April 5, 2010, MSHA issued 645 violations to Massey with $US1.2 million in penalties but the investors were not aware of them.

In April 2010 – less than a month after the West Virginia blast at the mine – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Pension Reserves Investment Trust filed the suit charging Alpha Appalachia Holdings and Massey officials including former chief executive Don Blankenship with violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

“Safety at Massey's mines was repeatedly sacrificed so that aggressive production goals could be met,” the group allege in the suit documentation.

“Massey had received numerous undisclosed citations arising from serious uncorrected safety and other regulatory violations at surface and underground coal mines it operates in West Virginia and neighboring states.”

Massey and the UBB mine were both taken over last June by Alpha Natural Resources, which announced last week on the eve of the explosion’s two-year anniversary that it would permanently seal the mine.

ANR did not release public comment by press time.

To date, four investigations into the UBB blast have been released, including reports from MSHA, the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training, the United Mine Workers and an independent panel commissioned by former governor Joe Manchin.

All have in some way concurred that Massey was at fault, citing worn and broken equipment created a spark that subsequently ignited accumulated methane gas and high levels of explosive coal dust.

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