The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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November 16, 2013

Lawyer says that plaintiffs in UBB restitution suit plan to appeal

Petition will have to be filed under seal, attorney says

One of the attorneys representing survivors of three of the miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion says his clients will appeal a federal judge’s dismissal of a lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources Inc. and Alpha Appalachia Holdings Inc.

Charleston attorney J. Michael Ranson said he expects the appeal to be filed with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals within the next three or four months.

Brought by Jeffrey C. Skeens, Carolyn D. Davis and Owen T. Davis, the suit sought payment of $1.5 million for each of the miners’ families which had not received voluntary restitution and/or full settlements pursuant to a federal nonprosecution agreement reached with the mining companies. The suit claimed that at least nine and perhaps as many as 11 of the families of the fallen miners had not received the agreed-upon voluntary restitution, which had been publicly announced at the time the nonprosecution pact was finalized.

U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger dismissed this latest suit on Oct. 31, but offered no explanation for the dismissal. Instead, she sealed her memorandum opinion “for reasons appearing to the Court,” according to one of the final documents that is still accessible online.

When contacted by The Register-Herald after the case was dismissed, Ranson said he and his clients are also bound by the seal imposed by the judge.

“My hands are tied,” he said when pressed for information about the reasons for the secrecy surrounding the court’s latest decision. “Believe me, I wish I could say something.”

Ranson said he finds it “disturbing” that the mining companies’ apparent generosity was trumpeted when the restitution agreement was announced, while everything that followed that announcement has been ordered to be sealed.

“We’re obviously going to file an appeal,” Ranson said. “It will have to be filed under seal, too.”

Owned at the time by Massey Energy Co., the Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh and Boone counties was the site of an April 5, 2010, explosion that claimed the lives of 29 coal miners. It was the worst coal mining disaster the country had seen in 40 years.

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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