ROANOKE, Va. — Jay Justice and several of the Justice family companies are suing the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) and the United States Department of the Interior for going back on a settlement agreement.
In April, Justice, Tom Lusk and Michael Castle had several meetings to resolve charges OSMRE had assessed over the years and Castle and Justice agreed to pay $250,000 over 12 months time to satisfy the penalty assessments, according to a complaint filed May 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia at Roanoke.
Justice claims when he left the April meetings, he believed an agreement had been reached, however, on May 6, a lawsuit was brought against the plaintiffs by the Mine Health and Safety Administration for violating an agreement.
Justice claims John Austin then contacted the plaintiffs' counsel and relayed his assumption that because of the MSHA filing, the plaintiffs would be unable to fulfill their duties under the settlement agreement with OSMRE.
"When told that his assumption was totally unfounded and that the Justice Mining Entities still intended to abide by the Settlement Agreement, Mr. Austin suddenly renewed his requests for collateral and financial information," the complaint states.
Less than one business day after that request, the plaintiffs agreed to provide the requested information, even though they did not believe it was a prerequisite to OSMRE’s performance under the terms of the settlement agreement, according to the suit.
On May 15, Austin wrote to the plaintiffs' counsel and denied the existence of any agreement to abate or otherwise reduce the fines and assessments, according to the suit.
"Instead, Mr. Austin claimed, for the very first time in the parties’ discussions, that Mr. Castle had never had authority to bind OMSRE to the terms of the Settlement Agreement," the complaint states. "Instead of abiding by the Settlement Agreement, Mr. Austin announced he was proceeding to instruct the Department of Justice to sue to collect the fines and assessments..."
Justice claims OSMRE has "entirely reneged on the Settlement Agreement," despite the fact that OSMRE held out Castle as having apparent and actual authority.
Justice claims the defendants' actions were politically driven.
"The abrupt turnaround by the government in its attitude toward this matter is inexplicable and raises the question whether untoward political or other pressure from sources presently unknown has been brought to bear on OMSRE, perhaps from other federal agencies or political adversaries of the Justice family," the complaint states.
Justice claims the repudiation of the settlement agreement may have resulted from inappropriate interagency influence between MSHA and OSMRE.
Justice is seeking a judgment for declaratory judgment. The plaintiffs are represented by Aaron B. Houchens, Richard A. Getty, C. Thomas Ezzell and Marcel Radomile of The Getty Law Group.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Justice; A&G Coal Corp; Chestnut Land Holdings LLC; Bluestone Coal Corporation; Dynamic Energy Inc.; Frontier Coal Company; Justice Energy Company; Kentucky Fuel Corporation; National Coal LLC; Pay Car Mining Inc.; Premium Coal Company; S&H Mining; and Tams Management Inc.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia at Roanoke Case number: 7:19-cv-00381