Supreme Court to hear $50 million Massey appeal
Steve Korris Sep. 28, 2007, 3:30am
CHARLESTON – Five years after Boone County jurors awarded about $50 million on a claim that Massey Coal ruined a man and his business, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will judge the trial.
The Justices will hear arguments Oct. 10 over a verdict that favored Hugh Caperton of Daniels and companies he owned.
Jurors in 2002 believed Caperton's claim that Massey Coal put him out of business in order to control the market for steel mill coal.
Pursuant to the verdict, Circuit Judge Jay Hoke entered judgment awarding $15,325,000 to Caperton and $34,700,000 to his companies.
The judgment included $6,000,000 in punitive damages.
Massey Coal sought relief from the verdict in post trial motions, and in 2005 Hoke denied the motions.
In 2006 Massey Coal petitioned the Supreme Court of Appeals to review the case. This year the Justices granted the petition.
For Massey Coal, Stephen Burchett of Huntington wrote that prior to the trial a Virginia jury awarded Caperton $6,000,000 on the same claim.
Burchett wrote, "The record is replete with evidence that the two actions seek the same recovery and arise from the same facts…"
He wrote that Caperton's attorneys convinced Hoke "to let them double dip damages by dressing up the same claim for damages in different clothing for different courts."
He wrote that at the two trials, "They presented almost identical cases relying on identical evidence."
He called Hoke's trial "a sham trial with an illegitimate verdict."
He wrote that while Caperton might claim damages to his companies he could not claim damages to himself.
He wrote that Caperton's companies would have failed no matter what Massey Coal did.
He wrote that Caperton paid nothing for the stock of the companies.
He wrote, "The evidence of inevitable business failure was overwhelming and longstanding."
He wrote that Hoke improperly questioned Massey Coal's experts.
He wrote, "…a judge cannot by word or action suggest a personal view of the case or the witness as it so plainly did at this trial."
In response for Caperton, Bruce Stanley of Pittsburgh wrote that evidence proved a calculated effort by Massey Coal to control the market by any means including intentional elimination of competitors.
He wrote that Massey Coal bankrupted Caperton and forced him out of the coal business.
He wrote, "…an individual who suffers harm separate and independent from the harm suffered by a corporation may bring his own cause of action even though the harm arises from the same set of facts."
He wrote, "…there is plainly no basis to discard the findings of the jury and trial judge who attentively sat through the seven week trial and decided that the punitive damages awarded were entirely fitting with the facts…"
Robert Berthold Jr. of Charleston filed a separate brief for the "Harman entities," three companies Caperton owned.
Berthold wrote, "…even a business with no fair market value can be harmed, and, in fact, severely harmed."
He wrote, "…the respectful questioning by Judge Hoke of Massey's expert embodied two hypothetical factual scenarios, one reflecting Harman's view of the case and one reflecting Massey's view."
He wrote that Hoke's questions were neither extensive nor disruptive.
He wrote, "Judge Hoke's fair treatment of all parties throughout the case provided further context to his questioning."
In reply for Massey Coal, David Rich of Huntington wrote that the Harman entities lost money at an astounding rate.
He wrote, "By strengthening its position in the marketplace, Massey is not committing some horrible, egregious act as claimed by Caperton; rather, it is doing what the modern market-based American economy requires of it."