Read the court filing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Six Massey Energy management personnel -- including the company's corporate safety director -- have filed suit challenging subpoenas that would force them to answer questions about the April 5 explosion that killed 29 workers at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine.
Lawyers for Massey vice president of safety Elizabeth Chamberlin and five other mine managers allege the state Office of Miners Health, Safety and Training is wrongly using its subpoena power to help federal Mine Safety and Health Administration officials force them to appear for interviews with investigators.
"It is apparent that MSHA has inveigled OMHST to serve as MSHA's stalking horse in this matter, a role the state of West Virginia neither has nor could assign to the state agency," the lawyers wrote in papers filed in Raleigh County Circuit Court.
The court filing sets up another legal battle between Massey and government investigators over the ongoing probe of the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years.
"It is unprecedented in the history of mining accidents in this country for a substantial group of mine management to refuse to provide information which will help to prevent this kind of accident from occurring in the future," said longtime mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer, who is conducting an independent probe of the disaster for Gov. Joe Manchin.
In their court filing, the Massey officials object specifically to MSHA investigators taking part in any witness interviews conducted under the authority of state mine safety office subpoenas.
Under state law, West Virginia regulators can compel witnesses to appear for questioning about mining accidents regardless of whether interviews are conducted in public or private. But federal law gives MSHA authority to subpoena witnesses only if the agency investigates through a public hearing, something the Obama administration has refused to do.
MSHA is leading the civil investigation of the explosion, and the disaster is also the subject of a separate federal criminal investigation.
The Massey officials' court filing repeats the company's allegations that MSHA is conducting an unfair and dishonest investigation, rushing to conclusions and attempting to shift blame from any agency role in the disaster.