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UMWA applauds change of venue in ruling in Patriot Coal bankruptcy case

November 27, 2012
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[TRIANGLE, VA] United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts issued the following statement today:

"The U.S. Bankruptcy Court made the right call today when it moved the Patriot Coal case from New York to St. Louis. Nobody has ever mined one ounce of coal in Manhattan. Patriot Coal executives set up two dummy corporations in New York because they wanted their case heard in a forum far from the coal fields.

"U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Shelley Chapman agreed with our argument about that, saying in her opinion that, 'this Court cannot allow the Debtor's venue choice to stand, as to do so would elevate form over substance in a way that would be an affront to the purpose of the bankruptcy venue statute and the integrity of the bankruptcy system.'

"St. Louis is where Patriot Coal is headquartered. More important, it's the headquarters for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal.  These two companies spun off their operations to Patriot in an attempt to run away from pension and health care obligations to thousands of miners and their survivors.

"Referencing the actual voices of those whose health care is at risk in this case, Judge Chapman wrote in her conclusion, '... hundreds of hand-written letters have been received by the Court from the people whose hands mine the Debtors' coal and their widows and children. Many of them enclosed family pictures, or lists of ailments and medications. Some of them asked for a personal response. All of them were respectful, and compelling. This decision reflects the Court's attempt to craft a just and balanced solution to the question of which bankruptcy court will become the next custodian not only of these cases but also of these letters.'

"Making reference to the UMWA's suit against Peabody and Arch to require them to live up to their promises of health care to retirees and widows, Judge Chapman also noted that Peabody is headquartered in St. Louis, which she called, "significant in light of the issues that have been raised by the UMWA with respect to its spin-off of Patriot and its responsibility to provide promised cradle-to-grave health care benefits to Patriot employees and retirees who worked for Peabody prior to the spin-off.'

"Though we would have preferred this case to be moved to Charleston, W. Va., moving it to St. Louis puts it on the front porch of Peabody Energy and Arch Coal. We filed this case so that it would be moved away from a place where no coal has ever been mined to a place where people are familiar with the coal industry.  The decision brings the case to the heart of the Illinois coal basin, home to many of our active and retired members and their families.

"This is a victory for the UMWA in what promises to be a long battle for the workers, retirees, their dependents and widows at Patriot who seek only fairness. Company executives who try to evade their obligations through a slick transfer of corporate assets need to know that the UMWA will fight in every way possible to make sure a promise made is a promise kept."

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