The company's officers and board members negligently failed to recognize that numerous citations at the Upper Big Branch Mine, including a noticeable spike in 2009 and 2010, indicated unsafe conditions at the mine, the lawsuit maintains.
According to the lawsuit, four of the eight citations overlooked by MSHA because of a purported computer glitch involved problems with the mine's ventilation.
The Manville trust filed a similar lawsuit against Massey, Blankenship and other board members in 2007, citing repeated violations of water pollution permit limits, large fines for the deaths of two miners in the Aracoma Mine fire in 2006, and a nearly $2 million verdict against Massey for firing a worker who complained about safety problems.
As part of a settlement in June 2008, the defendants in the earlier lawsuit agreed to pay $2.7 million in fees and expenses to the trust's lawyers. Massey management also agreed to increased oversight of safety and environmental compliance, and a company-wide safety compliance officer.
The settlement also required Massey to produce an annual report to keep shareholders up-to-date on environmental and worker safety compliance.
The new lawsuit alleges that the most recent report contains no information about the company's worker safety compliance. It quotes a brief passage from the 2009 report, which notes that Massey has spent millions of dollars to comply with the new requirements enacted by Congress in 2006.
"In addition, we continue to spend Massey's resources to develop innovative safety technology and programs that exceed regulatory requirements," the report reads.
The board's nine members, particularly seven who also are members of the company's Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee, must have known about the frequency and extent of safety violations at Massey mines, the lawsuit alleges. That committee was supposed to make quarterly reports to the board of directors, according to the lawsuit.
"[The safety violations] were so pervasive that they could not have been the result of an isolated failure of oversight," the lawsuit states. "Indeed, the wrongdoing in question is strongly suggestive of a corporate culture that regularly and consciously ignores sustained and systematic red flags that the company's mining operations are in violation of state and federal mine safety laws and therefore unreasonably unsafe."
Reach Andrew Clevenger at acleven...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.