Coal companies owned and operated by Gov. Jim Justice’s family have agreed to provide uninterrupted health care and prescription drug coverage to retired miners after retirees and the United Mine Workers of America alleged they failed to do so.
The companies agreed, per a consent order filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia last week, not to terminate retiree health care and prescription drug coverage.
The union, four retired miners and Justice Energy Co. Inc., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal Corporation, Double-Bonus Coal Company and Southern Coal Corporation had 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 coal miners, their spouses and dependents. The lawsuit said the companies refused to pay for medical and prescription benefits, and caused retired miners and their dependents to miss out on critical health treatment.
But 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 prescription drug coverage.
The retired miners and the union said in a court filing in April that a representative of UMWA District 17, which includes Southern West Virginia, began receiving telephone calls from retirees about their inability to fill prescriptions because of lapses in coverage the coal companies were required to provide per past agreements.
The union and retired miners alleged the coal companies repeatedly failed to inform them when prescription coverage was interrupted and restored, reporting seven lapses of coverage since October that resulted in some retirees who could not afford to pay out-of-pocket prescription costs not filling their prescriptions.
In their filing, the plaintiffs said there are retirees who have medical conditions, such as leukemia and diabetes, that require higher-cost, nongeneric drugs.
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 medical treatment out of pocket and 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 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 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.
Justice, his wife Cathy and son James, and three family companies sued the global lender Greensill Capital Limited in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in March, alleging it 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 admitted earlier this month that he personally guaranteed loans from Greensill that the Wall Street Journal had reported total nearly $700 million.
Justice, his wife, son and 11 family businesses, including The Greenbrier Hotel Corp. and Greenbrier-related sports and recreation entities, are seeking at least $421 million in damages from Carter Bank & Trust, which they alleged in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia induced them into loan defaults.
The Justices said in their lawsuit that they have $368 million of outstanding loans with Carter Bank and have paid down $407 million of debt and $238.5 million in interest and fees since 2001.