Largely overlooked in the discussion about the recusal, actual or possible, of various members of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia in Caperton v. A. T. Massey Coal Company, Inc. is the lawsuit filed by Massey Energy Company and its subsidiary, Marfork Coal Company, against the Supreme Court of Appeals in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in August 2006, which was assigned to Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr. Massey Energy Company v. Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, 2:06-CV-00614.
Here is how the plaintiffs described their action in their complaint:
This is a civil action to challenge the constitutionality of a West Virginia rule of appellate procedure. Plaintiff Massey Energy and its subsidiary, Plaintiff Marfork Coal, seek declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 on the grounds that Rule 29 of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure (“Rule 29”) violates Plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment due process right to a fair hearing before an impartial tribunal and to the appearance of justice insofar as the rule, as promulgated and applied, permits a single justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals [sic] (“West Virginia Supreme Court”) who is the subject of a disqualification motion exclusively to determine the merits of that motion and does not provide for review or determination of such motion by an impartial judicial officer.
Although the complaint purports to challenge the recusal procedure applicable to all members of the Supreme Court, specific allegations that refer to Justice Larry Starcher, who has criticized Massey and its chairman, Don Blankenship, suggest that he is its focus.
The emphasis on Justice Starcher’s participation in cases involving Massey is reinforced by the fact that this case was filed while the Caperton appeal was before the Supreme Court. As it turns out, Justice Starcher recused himself from the case, as did Chief Justice Elliott "Spike" Maynard. Only Justice Brent Benjamin, whose recusal was sought by the plaintiffs in Caperton, did not recuse himself.
The Supreme Court moved to dismiss the complaint, which the district court denied. Thereafter, the Supreme Court moved to strike certain paragraphs of the complaint that deal with Justice Starcher, and also moved to appeal the district court’s denial of its motion to dismiss. Here are the memorandum in support of the motion to strike and the motion for certification.
The district court denied the motions to strike and for certification in this order. The Supreme Court filed an interlocutory appeal of the order denying its motion to dismiss and also prosecuted a petition for a writ of mandamus that would require the district court to dismiss the complaint.
Last month, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Supreme Court’s petition for a writ of mandamus. Then, two weeks ago, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal of the denial of the motion to dismiss.
The (Charleston) Daily Mail wrote about the Fourth Circuit’s rulings, and also reported that the court’s legal fees have already reached nearly $250,000. The district court had stayed discovery in the case pending the outcome of the appeal, but the plaintiffs asked the court to lift the stay shortly after the Fourth Circuit issued its decision.
In a scheduling order entered last November, the district court had allotted about four months for discovery, if deemed necessary by the parties, followed by briefing of the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The delay created by the appeal to the Fourth Circuit has caused several of those dates to pass, however, which will require the issuance of a new order.