Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co, Inc.

556 U.S. 868 (2009)


A jury returned a verdict that found respondents A. T. Massey Coal Co. and its affiliates (D) liable for fraudulent misrepresentation, concealment, and tortious interference with existing contractual relations. The jury awarded petitioners Caperton, Harman Development Corp., Harman Mining Corp., and Sovereign Coal Sales (Ps) the sum of $50 million in compensatory and punitive damages. After the verdict but before the appeal, West Virginia held its 2004 judicial elections. Blankenship, the chairman, and CEO of D decided to support an attorney, Brent Benjamin, who sought to replace Justice McGraw. Justice McGraw was a candidate for reelection to that court. Blankenship donated almost $2.5 million to “And For The Sake Of The Kids,” a political organization formed under 26 U. S. C. §527. The §527 organization opposed McGraw and supported Benjamin. Blankenship spent, in addition, just over $500,000 on independent expenditures-for direct mailings and letters soliciting donations as well as television and newspaper advertisements-“ ‘to support … Brent Benjamin.’ Benjamin won. He received 382,036 votes (53.3%), and McGraw received 334,301 votes (46.7%). Before D filed its petition for appeal in West Virginia’s highest court, P moved to disqualify now-Justice Benjamin under the Due Process Clause and the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct. Justice Benjamin denied the motion in April 2006. That court eventually reversed the $50 million verdict against D. P sought rehearing, and the parties moved for disqualification of three of the five justices who decided the appeal. Photos had surfaced of Justice Maynard vacationing with Blankenship in the French Riviera while the case was pending. Justice Maynard granted P’s recusal motion. On the other side, Justice Starcher granted Massey’s recusal motion, apparently based on his public criticism of Blankenship’s role in the 2004 elections. In his recusal memorandum, Justice Starcher urged Justice Benjamin to recuse himself as well. Justice Benjamin, now in the capacity of acting chief justice, selected Judges Cookman and Fox to replace the recused justices. P moved a third time for disqualification. The court again reversed the jury verdict, and again it was a 3-to-2 decision. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.