Coal companies controlled by Gov. Jim Justice’s family have failed to comply with a federal court order to resume providing prescription drug coverage to retired miners, retirees of the companies say.
Last week, four Justice companies allowed a lapse in prescription drug coverage for the 10th time in 81/2 months, prolonging a pattern of retirees not being able to fill prescriptions for critical health treatment, retirees and the United Mine Workers union alleged Wednesday in a filing in U.S. District Court.
The filing came less than two weeks after Justice Energy Co. Inc., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal Corp., Double-Bonus Coal Co. and Southern Coal Corp. agreed in a consent order to provide uninterrupted health care and prescription drug coverage to retired miners. Four retirees and the UMW allege that the companies failed to do that.
The retired miners and union said Wednesday that UMW International lawyer Timothy J. Baker has communicated with retirees about the companies’ failure to provide prescription drug coverage and knows of 10 coverage interruptions since the start of October, including four since mid-April.
The union and retired miners said retirees have reported forgoing medication because they could not afford to pay uninsured rates.
The union, retired miners and Justice companies reached an agreement in March to resolve a lawsuit the union and miners filed in 2019 asking the court to stop the Justice companies from terminating employer benefit plans for retired miners, their spouses and dependents. The lawsuit said the companies refused to pay for medical and prescription benefits in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement with the union starting at the end of 2016.
In April, the union and retired miners — James E. Graham II of Monroe County; Dennis Adkins of Jacksonville, North Carolina; Roger Wriston of Fayette County; and David Polk of Wyoming County — said the companies were still failing to provide drug coverage.
According to the lawsuit: In 2018, Graham underwent back surgery for which the companies did not pay. That caused him to delay post-surgery followup treatment. Adkins was forced to pay for his and his wife’s treatments and covered prescription drugs because his bills had not been paid.
Wriston’s wife did not get needed back injections because the couple doubted insurance would cover them. Lack of coverage forced Polk to cancel doctor’s appointments despite an abnormal heartbeat and high cholesterol, the lawsuit says.
The miners and union are seeking to recover unquantified expenses reportedly incurred by the retirees and their eligible dependents and attorneys’ fees because of the companies’ alleged failure to pay.
“The UMWA’s expectation was that whatever issue was causing the periodic lapses would be permanently resolved during the course of this lawsuit,” the union said in Wednesday’s filing. “That expectation has not been met.”
The Justice coal companies’ Roanoke, Virgina-based attorney, Chris Schroeck, did not respond to a request for comment.
Justice companies have faced legal trouble related to the health and safety of their employees before.
Nearly two dozen of the family’s companies agreed to pay roughly $5 million to settle a federal lawsuit claiming they failed to pay mine safety fines.
Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inspectors found 2,297 violations at Justice family-owned mines in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia over a five-year period ending in May 2019, according to the initial complaint in a 2019 lawsuit by the feds seeking $4.7 million.
Justice said he would put his children in charge of his family’s business operations upon becoming governor in 2017. The West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office lists Justice’s son, James C. Justice III, and daughter, Dr. Jillean L. Justice, as the directors of all four companies in the union and miners’ lawsuit and the former as president of all four.
The Justice family’s financial troubles have spilled over into court repeatedly in recent months.
Justice, his wife, Cathy, their son and three family companies sued Greensill Capital Limited in federal court in New York in March, alleging the global lender committed fraud to establish a long-term financing arrangement with them that included Bluestone paying $108 million to Greensill in fees and another $100 million in warrants to purchase stakes in the coal company.
The governor acknowledged earlier this month that he personally guaranteed loans from Greensill that The Wall Street Journal had reported total nearly $700 million.
Justice, his wife and son and 11 family businesses, including The Greenbrier Hotel Corp. and Greenbrier-related sports and recreation entities, also are seeking at least $421 million in damages from Carter Bank & Trust, which they alleged in a federal lawsuit induced them into loan defaults.