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Construction group seeks order in Bluestone lawsuit


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Thursday, September 28, 2000
Page: P8A
Byline: Paul J. Nyden

pjnyden@wvgazette.com Lawyers for the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation will ask McDowell County Circuit Judge Booker Stephens today to order the Workers' Compensation Fund to pursue a suit against Bluestone Coal Co for millions in unpaid compensation premiums.

In late 1996, the compensation fund began suing large coal companies whose contractors failed to pay millions in compensation premiums.

Today, these debts total more than $250 million.

Stuart Calwell, a Charleston lawyer who represents ACT, said, "We are just trying to get them to pay the money they owe. We are doing what the Supreme Court suggested we should do. We are pursuing the matter in the circuit courts." In July 1999, the state Su-preme Court turned down an ACT petition to require Employment Programs Commissioner William Vieweg to pursue suits against 19 major coal companies that used contractors. In a 3-2 ruling, the high court declined to order Vieweg to pursue the suits.

Former Justice Margaret Workman, who voted with the majority, urged ACT to pursue the case in circuit courts.

Vieweg and Gov. Cecil Underwood, both former executives of Island Creek Coal Co., hope to drop the lawsuits. They argue that contractors, not larger coal companies, owe the compensation premiums.

Most of those contractors are now bankrupt or they simply disappeared.

The first lawsuit, filed against Bluestone Coal in December 1996, argued Bluestone controlled dozens of its undercapitalized contractors. Bluestone obtained the mining permits and had the right to sell coal that was mined.

In many cases, Bluestone also provided contractors with mining equipment, engineering plans and day-to-day management direction. In one case, the mining contractor was a woman who owned a flower shop.

Calwell said, "Depending on the ruling we get, we will appeal back to the Supreme Court. I am sure the other side might also appeal to the Supreme Court.

"Every small businessman in the state is paying a penalty. We are trying to get the money back so small and local businesses get a break on their compensation premium rates." The ACT Foundation wants formal "intervenor" status so it can register an objection to any voluntary agreement between Vieweg and Bluestone executives to dismiss the lawsuit.

Bluestone Coal executives James C. Justice II and Byrd White III contributed to Underwood's 1996 gubernatorial race.

Vieweg did not return a telephone call on Wednesday. Ancel Ramey from Steptoe & Johnson represents the Bureau of Employment Programs. Ramey has declined to comment publicly about the case.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

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