Gavel Grab

Hugh Caperton Wins New Round in Fight Against Massey

Hugh Caperton (photo), plaintiff in a landmark 2009 Supreme Court decision about runaway judicial election spending and impartial courts, has won a significant round in his long-running legal dispute with the former A.T. Massey Coal Company.

The Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that Caperton and his coal companies can proceed with a 2010 lawsuit against Massey in a Buchanan County, Va. court, according to the West Virginia Gazette. Although a West Virginia jury awarded in 2002 a $50 million verdict in favor of a Caperton company in similar litigation, the West Virginia Supreme Court voted on three different occasions to overturn that verdict. Caperton contends his companies were harmed financially after Massey reduced the quantity of coal that it had agreed to purchase.

In November 2009 the West Virginia court issued its ruling  after Justice Brent Benjamin had recused himself due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. Massey. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that excessive campaign spending in a judicial election could force elected judges to step aside from some cases involving campaign supporters. Then-Massey Chief Executive Officer Don Blankenship had spent $3 million to help Benjamin win election.

On Thursday, the Virginia Supreme Court said Judge Henry A. Vanover of Buchanan County had erred in dismissing Caperton’s 2010 lawsuit against Massey, the Associated Press reported.

In its decision, the Virginia court said, “The [West Virginia] court determined that a forum selection clause in an agreement between the parties required that the suit be brought in Virginia.”

Caperton’s 2010 lawsuit accuses Massey of “attempting to buy justice” in  West Virginia’s highest court (see Gavel Grab). You can read about Caperton’s speech to a Justice at Stake dinner in 2011, discussing how special-interest influence in the courthouse can have a shattering impact on real lives, by clicking here for Gavel Grab. You can learn more about Caperton v. Massey from a JAS resource page about the case.

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