BECKLEY – District Judge Irene Berger has certified a lawsuit as a class action that alleges miners were unlawfully laid off in 2013.

“The Court has reviewed the Plaintiff’s Motion to Revise Class Definition and to Reconsider Class Certification (Document 36), the Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion to Revise Class Definition and to Reconsider Class Certification (Document 37), and the Defendants’ Response in Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion to Revise Class Definition and to Reconsider Class Certification (Document 39,” the May 3 judge’s opinion states. “For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the Plaintiff’s motion should be granted in part and denied in part.”

As it pertains to timing, the defendant first argued that the plaintiff’s present motion was properly construed as a motion to amend filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), which the court should reject because it will cause undue prejudice.

The defendant argues that permitting the plaintiff to amend his proposed class definition will result in prejudice, however, according to the judge’s opinion, the plaintiff has “merely proffered two class definitions which are simply more narrow versions of the original proposed class definition offered in the Plaintiff’s Motion for Class Certification.”

“Thus, the Court finds no evidence that permitting amendment to the Plaintiff’s proposed class definition would prejudice the Defendant,” the opinion states.

The court previously denied the plaintiff’s motion for class certification as it pertains to single site of employment, finding that the proposed class definition, which included all laid-off miners from three mines located in Wyoming and McDowell Counties, did not satisfy the “single site of employment” requirement of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.

“Specifically, the Court found that the mines were not in the ‘same geographic area’ and while the mines shared the same ‘broad operations purpose,’ the mines did not share the ‘same staff and equipment,” the opinion states. “This, the Court found that the Plaintiff’s motion for class certification failed to satisfy the standing requirements of the WARN Act.”

In the present motion, the plaintiff offered the court two options for defining the class and requested that the court grant class certification for all miners laid off at two “operationally aligned” coal mines in a single county, or, alternatively, the plaintiff requests that the court grant class certification for all miners laid off at a single mine—Double Bonus Mine No. 65.

The court found that the practice of sharing the same “highly specialized employees across different sites” does not allow the Court to find that two mining facilities located in the same county constitute a single site of employment under the WARN Act.

“Thus the Court finds that the Plaintiff’s first proposed modification to his class definition must fail,” the opinion states.

The plaintiff’s alternative proposed amendment to his class definition is limited to one mine and the plaintiff satisfies the WARN Act requirements with that class.

The court ordered that the Plaintiff’s Motion to Revise Class Definition and to Reconsider Class Certification be granted as to the plaintiff’s proposed class of all miners laid off at Double Bonus No. 64 during the relevant time period and denied on all other grounds.

In her first amended scheduling order, which was filed on April 19, Berger scheduled a pretrial conference for July 21, a final settlement conference for July 28 and a jury trial to begin Aug. 8.

Michael Ray filed the suit on Feb. 4, 2015, in Wyoming Circuit Court against Mechel Bluestone Inc. It was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on March 12, 2015.

Ray claims he and the other miners were laid off verbally, without a 60-day notice and their medical and dental coverage was improperly terminated.

The suit states the United Mine Workers also did not receive written notice of the lay off.

Ray claims prior to Dec. 19, 2013, Mechel Bluestone employed more than 100 employees and controlled and operated several mining facilities in and around Wyoming and McDowell Counties

In October 2012, the mine manager, Don McCoy, verbally communicated to the miners at Double Bonus that they were being laid off for an indefinite period of time and on Nov. 15, 2012, approximately 90 full-time employees were laid off.

On Nov. 25, 2013, David Bishop, the mine superintendent, verbally communicated to the miners at Double Bonus that they were being laid off and on Dec. 19, 2013, approximately 50 to 60 full-time employees were laid off.

Medical insurance coverage was terminated 30 days following Dec. 19, 2013, and dental insurance was terminated effective Dec. 31, 2013.

The class is represented by Samuel B. Petsonk and Bren J. Pomponio of Mountain State Justice Inc.

Mechel Bluestone is represented by John F. Hussell IV, Andrew L. Ellis and John D. Wooton Jr. of Wooton, Wooton & Davis PLLC.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 5:15-cv-03014

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