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Mining equipment company, Justice trade lawsuits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Seven coal and fuel companies owned by Jim Justice, the owner of The Greenbrier resort, are being sued for allegedly not paying their bills.

 Beckley-based Phillips Machine Services filed suit on Oct. 8, asking for a total of about $1.1 million from the Justice-owned companies. Phillips Machine Services makes and rebuilds equipment used in coal mines.

Justice filed a counter-suit on Friday, requesting $7.5 million. Raleigh County Circuit Court confirmed that a counter-suit was filed, but could not provide a copy or details of the suit on Friday afternoon.

"It just involves services that we felt they should have done that they didn't do," Justice said on Friday. "This is a dispute with, in all honesty, good friends, because we think a lot of these people."

The original lawsuit is the latest of a string of payment disputes involving Justice.

"Everybody will always get paid," Justice said. "But I'm running 81 companies now and you can't commingle everything that they do. You may have an agriculture company doing really good, but you can't run ag funds over here with XYZ and move XYZ to ABC."

With an estimated worth of $1.6 billion, Justice is often ranked as the richest person in West Virginia. Forbes magazine ranked him as the 342nd richest person in the country, as of September 2013. Justice bought The Greenbrier in 2009, saving it from bankruptcy.

The resort now has about 1,800 employees and an annual PGA tour golf tournament.

But Justice has been accused of not paying his debts several times in the last few years.

"Everyone in the coal business today is hurting," Justice said Friday. "The business is tough and everybody is doing everything they can possibly do to keep people employed and things moving along and get people paid."

In June, the Associated Press reported that at least nine lawsuits had been filed against Justice since the beginning of last year. Five of the suites were filed in Kentucky, two in Tennessee and two in Virginia. At least four of those suits, which sought more than $1 million, have been settled, the AP reported.

On Friday, Justice said that most of those disputes had been settled.

"For the most part we have cleaned up almost 100 percent of that, we're still in this terrible coal business, everybody's just struggling along and doing the best we can," he said.

In December 2011, The Greenbrier was sued by Delta Air Lines. The Greenbrier had guaranteed Delta a minimum amount of revenue in return for providing air service to Greenbrier Valley Airport, north of Lewisburg.

Delta's suit, requesting $4 million, was settled with undisclosed terms.

In 2010, two landscaping companies sued The Greenbrier, alleging that they were not paid for work they did on the Old White golf course, in preparation for The Greenbrier's inaugural PGA tour event.

Aspen Corp., a landscaper, sued The Greenbrier for $1.275 million for work it did on the Old White course.

George Golf Design sued for about $200,000 that they said they were owed for work on the course's 16th hole, among other things.

Both suits were eventually settled, with undisclosed terms.

Phillips, and its Kentucky-based subsidiary The Combs Group, claimed eight debts from the seven Justice-owned businesses. The claims range from about $1,200 they say they're owed by Black River Coal, LLC, up to nearly $350,000 that they're allegedly owed by Sequoia Energy, LLC.

In total, Phillips and The Combs Group are seeking about $1.13 million from Justice's companies.

Among the largest of the bills that Phillips says it is owed is $270,000 for rebuilding two shuttle cars.

Marc Weintraub, a Charleston attorney representing Phillips, said his client had no comment.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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