Coal companies operated by Gov. Jim Justice’s family have reached an agreement with four retired miners and the United Mine Workers of America to resolve a federal lawsuit filed in August 2019.
The union, the miners and Justice Energy Co. Inc., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal Corporation, Double-Bonus Coal Company and Southern Coal Corporation had been working on outstanding claims since reaching an agreement filed in January 2020 to resolve the preliminary injunction motion in the case.
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 asked the court to stop the Justice companies from terminating employer benefit plans for retired coal miners, their spouses and dependents, saying their refusal to pay for medical and prescription benefits caused them to miss out on critical health treatments. They also asked the court to make the companies reimburse the retirees named in the lawsuit and others who incurred health care expenses they said the company should have paid.
The two sides proposed a consent judgment and permanent injunction against the Justice coal companies last week that would require the companies to provide uninterrupted health care and prescription drug coverage to eligible retirees and their eligible dependents.
According to the lawsuit: In 2018, Graham underwent back surgery for which the companies did not pay. That caused him to delay post-surgery follow-up treatment. Adkins was forced to pay for his and his wife’s medical treatment out of pocket for covered prescription drugs and treatment because his bills had not been paid. Wriston’s wife did not get needed back injections because they had no confidence insurance would cover them. Lack of coverage forced Polk to cancel doctor’s appointments despite an abnormal heartbeat and high cholesterol.
The Justice companies failed to pay undisputed claims for medical services and prescription drug costs in a timely manner after entering into a collective bargaining agreement with the union at the end of 2016. The companies agreed to provide medical and prescription benefits to retirees and their spouses and dependents, according to the lawsuit.
The Justice companies argued the plaintiffs didn’t properly follow claims review processes for their health plans per the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, a law the union and miners alleged the companies violated.
Justice Energy Co. Inc., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal Corporation and Double-Bonus Coal Company canceled retiree health coverage July 1, 2019, and restored partial coverage the next day, according to the lawsuit.
“Defendants’ failure to ensure adequate medical and prescription drug coverage has sown confusion and anxiety among this aged and vulnerable population,” the plaintiffs wrote in their lawsuit.
The Justice coal 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 and 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 Jillean L. Justice as the directors of all four companies in the union and miners’ lawsuit and the former as president of all four.