Murray Energy coal companies accuse The New York Times of defamation

By Chris Dickerson | Jun 9, 2017

WHEELING – A group of Murray Energy coal companies has filed a lawsuit against The New York Times claiming the newspaper published defamatory statements that damaged the businesses’ reputation.

“Without making a single call to anyone in the Murray Energy organization to fact check its false assertions, defendant widely published defamatory statements that injured the reputation and business of Murray Energy, including the five companies within that organization that operates coal mines in this state,” states the first paragraph of the complaint, which was filed last month in Marshall Circuit Court and removed to federal court on June 2.

The Marshall County Coal Company, the Marion County Coal Company, the Monongalia County Coal Company, the Harrison County Coal Company and the Ohio County Coal Company are listed as plaintiffs in addition to Murray Energy Corporation.

According to the original complaint, The New York Times published a story online April 24 and in print April 25 falsely stating that Murray Energy President, CEO and sole Director Robert E. Murray “lied about the cause of a collapse at a mine that tragically killed six people.” It claims the newspaper also falsely implied that Murray’s organization acts outside the norms of industry regulation compliance.

The plaintiffs say the article in question, an editorial headlined “Money talked loudest at Trump inaugural,” falsely states that Murray Energy President, CEO and sole Director Robert E. Murray “falsely insisted that the 2007 collapse of his Crandall Canyon mine, which killed six workers, was due to an earthquake" and called Murray Energy as a "serial violator of federal health and safety rules."

In its June 8 Motion to Dismiss, The New York Times Company says the plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. It also says the plaintiffs did not “adequately plead falsity or actual malice, two essential elements of any plausible defamation claim.”

The New York Times also claims the challenged statements are both true and expressions of opinion and commentary on a significant matter of public concern, thus “not actionable under First Amendment precedent or applicable West Virginia law.”

In the original complaint, Murray Energy says the plaintiff companies can’t know why the defendant published these “false and defamatory statements” or whether The New York Times “has anything to do with the politics at play in the article.”

“It is, however, known that defendant supported Hillary Clinton, who publicly stated her agenda to ‘put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,’” the plaintiffs state, adding that the statements at the heart of the complaint “risk furthering that agenda.”

The plaintiffs seek general, special and punitive damages as well as court costs, attorney fees and other relief "to hold defendant accountable for its defamatory statements."

The plaintiffs are represented by David L.Delk Jr. and Jeffrey A. Grove of Grove, Holmstrand & Delk PLLC in Wheeling. The New York Times is represented by Robert P. Fitzsimmons and Clayton J. Fitzsimmons of Fitzsimmons Law Firm PLLC in Wheeling and Holly S. Planinsic of Herndon, Morton, Herndon & Yaeger of Wheeling.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia case number 5:17-cv-00079

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Organizations in this Story

Fitzsimmons Law Firm, PLLC Grove & Delk, PLLC The New York Times U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia Wheeling Division

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