Judge Dismisses $6.5 Billion Liability Suit Against Murray Estate

(Herald Dispatch) - A federal judge has ruled against tens of thousands of coal miners and their dependents in a $6.5 billion pension benefits case.

The judge dismissed a lawsuit seeking the multi-billion-dollar sum from the estate of the founder of what was the nation’s largest privately owned coal company filed by pension plan trustees.

The lawsuit filed in 2021 by trustees of the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan and Trust had claimed the estate of Robert Murray was on the hook for withdrawal liability incurred by subsidiaries of Murray Holdings after the company and those subsidiaries filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

Murray — who died in 2020 — was chairman, president and CEO of Murray Holdings before it filed for bankruptcy.

As part of the bankruptcy process, Murray Holdings and its subsidiaries were allowed to withdraw from the pension plan effective September 2020 and stop contributing to it, prompting an obligation to pay withdrawal liability. The withdrawing companies paid a fraction of the liability, with $6.5 billion left outstanding.

But in a ruling filed Saturday, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Timothy Kelly sided with the Murray estate in finding the plaintiffs can’t bring the lawsuit on the plan’s behalf because one of the plaintiffs wasn’t a properly employer-appointed trustee.

Joseph Reschini was appointed by the employers as a trustee to address 1974 plan matters related to the Murray Holdings bankruptcy after two original employer-appointed trustees recused themselves, but Kelly found nothing in the trust agreement provided for trustee recusal.

The plaintiffs said the plan provides pension benefits to more than 70,000 beneficiaries, including retired coal miners and eligible surviving spouses, with an average pension of approximately $600 per month.

Murray Holdings subsidiaries and affiliates that filed for bankruptcy protection in 2019 included:

  • Consolidation Coal Company
  • Harrison County Coal Company
  • Marshall County Coal Company
  • Ohio County Coal Company
  • Monongalia County Coal Company
  • Marion County Coal Company

UMWA Health and Retirement Funds, a group of multi-employer plans that provide health and pension benefits to retired coal miners and their eligible dependents, did not respond to a request for comment. UMWA International spokesperson Erin Bates deferred comment to the Health and Retirement Funds.

By Mike Tony
April 4, 2024


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