CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the bankruptcy reorganization case of Patriot Coal will be moved from Manhattan to St. Louis, saying the transfer will "balance" the interests of the company, lawyers involved and Patriot miners who are closely following the proceedings.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley C. Chapman rejected many of the arguments made by the United Mine Workers union, which wanted the case moved from New York to Charleston.
Patriot is headquartered in St. Louis, as are the two companies from which Patriot was formed, Arch Coal and Peabody Energy. And about 50 percent of Patriot's unionized retirees are located in the Illinois Basin coalfields, the judge noted in a 61-page ruling.
"While St. Louis may not be as convenient as Charleston for some employees and retirees, it is by no means remote from coal country," the judge wrote.
"Indeed, the evidence reflects that more Patriot retirees live in the Illinois Basin than in West Virginia or any other location," the judge wrote. "St. Louis is accessible by car or bus from southern Illinois, southern Indiana and Kentucky. St. Louis is also a convenient and accessible transportation hub for the many parties-in-interest and professionals who will be required to travel to hearings."
Seeking to move the case to Charleston has been part of the UMW's campaign to avoid having Patriot shed liabilities for retiree pensions and health-care benefits -- not to mention its union contract at several large active mines -- as part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Patriot filed the case in July in New York, citing the location there of two subsidiaries that were formed only weeks before the filing.
"Though we would have preferred this case to be moved to Charleston, W.Va., moving it to St. Louis puts it on the front porch of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal," said UMW President Cecil Roberts. "We filed this case so that it would be moved away from a place where no coal has ever been mined to a place where people are familiar with the coal industry."
Michael Freitag, a lawyer for Patriot, said the company "respects the court's decision."