Last week, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia rejected appeals in two widely-publicized cases. In Estate of Garrison G. Tawney v. Columbia Natural Resources, LLC, No. 080482, Columbia and NiSource, Inc. appealed the jury’s verdict of $404,335,138, which included punitive damages of $ 270 million. Here is my post about the verdict.
In Tawney, which the Court rejected by a vote of 5-0, Justice Robin Davis recused herself because her husband is counsel for the plaintiffs, and Justice Brent Benjamin recused himself because his former firm represents some of the defendants. Raleigh County Circuit Court Judge H. L. Kirkpatrick and Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Dan O’Hanlon were appointed in their places.
In Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation v. Central West Virginia Energy Company, Nos. 080182 and 080183, Central West Virginia and Massey Energy Company appealed the verdict of $219 million, resulting from the jury’s finding that the defendants breached their contract with Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Company and committed fraud. That verdict included punitive damages of $100 million. Here is my post about that verdict.
In Wheeling-Pittsburgh, which the Court also rejected by a vote of 5-0, Chief Justice Elliott E. “Spike” Maynard recused himself because of his relationship with Massey chairman Don L. Blankenship, and retired Greenbrier County Circuit Court Judge Frank Jolliffe was appointed in his place.
At this point, the remedy for the defendants in both cases is to petition the Supreme Court of the United States for review. According to Veronica Nett, writing in yesterday’s Sunday Gazette-Mail, the defendants in Tawney intend to appeal on the grounds that the punitive damages were excessive. But a two-to-one ("single digit") ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages does not appear to be inherently excessive, according to State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003),
Massey is considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press’ Tim Huber, but has not yet made a decision.