Murray Energy Companies Sue the New York Times Company for Defamation
May 11, 2017
By: Kevin M. McGuire
On May 3, 2017, Murray Energy Corporation and five of its subsidiaries operating coal mines in West Virginia filed suit in West Virginia state court against The New York Times Company alleging that the Times published false and defamatory statements that injured the reputation and business of the Murray Energy. The subject statements were made in an op-ed article entitled “Money Talked Loudest at Trump’s Inaugural,” which was published by the Times on its web site April 24 and in print April 25, 2017.
The complaint alleges that, without first contacting anyone in the Murray Energy organization, the Times falsely stated that Robert E. Murray, CEO of the Murray Energy companies, lied about the cause of a collapse at a mine that killed six workers. According to the complaint, the Times op-ed article “falsely states that ‘Mr. Murray falsely insisted that the 2007 collapse of his Crandall Canyon Mine, which killed six workers, was due to an earthquake.’” The complaint, and a press release issued contemporaneously by Murray Energy, state that the “triggering event of the collapse was what is commonly understood as an earthquake.” As further noted by the press release, even prosecutors admitted that “they were unable to demonstrate, given the evidence, a direct connection between the violation and the fatal mine collapse.”
The complaint also alleges that the Times article falsely implied that the Murray Energy organization acts outside the norms of industry regulatory compliance. Specifically, the Times article claimed “Murray Energy is a serial violator of federal health and safety rules,” which the complaint alleges “falsely implies that Murray Energy was found guilty of a significant number of violations or repeat violations outside the norms of industry regulatory compliance.” Murray Energy’s press release references the Times’ failure to provide “a full portrayal of Murray Energy’s true safety record” or mention “Murray Energy’s efforts toward ensuring mine safety.”
The complaint raises the question of whether politics played any role in the alleged false and defamatory statements. Highlighting the Times’ support for Hillary Clinton, who “publically stated her agenda to ‘put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,’” the complaint alleges that the subject defamatory statements risk furthering that agenda. Mr. Murray is a Trump supporter and a well-known spearhead of industry opposition to Obama-era climate and environment regulatory efforts.
The complaint further alleges that the defamatory statements will cause damage to the Murray Companies, including making it more difficult and expensive to obtain bonding and capital, loss of business and customers, and damage to reputation.
This article was authored by Kevin M. McGuire, Jackson Kelly, PLLC.