NEW LEXINGTON — Following a motion to declare bankruptcy by the Buckingham Coal Company, a judge in the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division Court has pressed the company for an update for a case involving damages for workers.

That has led to what appears to be tentative plans for a settlement in a civil case that has been in progress since 2018.

The case began with a federal lawsuit, USA versus the State of Ohio and Buckingham Coal Company.

In 2010, the state issued two coal leases to Buckingham Coal Co., which wanted to mine a corridor to reach coal reserves on the opposite side of Burr Oak State Park. The Corps filed a U.S. District Court lawsuit in 2011 challenging the leases, but was unable to stop the mining while the lawsuit was pending.

The Corps eventually won a favorable ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case back to district court to resolve the question of damages.

As The Messenger previously reported, the parties discussed a three-pronged approach to dealing with the issue of damages, including informal settlement negotiations and sharing of information. If no settlement was reached, there would be a period of expert analysis and discovery, followed by a third phase of additional settlement talks.

That settlement was unable to be reached two years ago, May 2018.

In January 2017, the state explained that the corridor was designed to prevent subsidence by leaving pillars of coal larger than required by law; that there is 57 feet of overburden that includes 20 feet of sandstone; and that flooding of the corridor has added support. However, in May of 2017, the Corps informed the state that without further study the Corps was unable to conclude that the risk of subsidence and possible stream capture was at an acceptable level. The state disagrees that any harm exists.

On May 1, the plaintiffs in the case, who were employees of Buckingham Coal and Westmoreland Resource, are seeking unpaid overtime compensation for damages arising out of wage and hour violations.

The plaintiffs claim that during the three years since the filing of the complaint in 2018, the company had failed to pay employees time spent putting on and off required safety equipment. As such, the employees believe they are entitled to overtime for which they have not been compensated.

Further, the plaintiffs claim the company was editing time entries, violating wage and hour regulations. One plaintiff alleged that he had been fired due to “sabotaging a safety test,” which the individual believes was due to his complaints of not being compensated fairly, due to comments made by foremen.

On May 12, bankruptcy counsel for Buckingham Coal Co. and Westmoreland Resource Partners provided an update on the situation, saying a “settlement offer is forthcoming,” adding that an offer is expected to be made before the end of May 2020.

In February 2019, a bankruptcy court in Texas has approved the pending sale of Buckingham Coal Co.’s mine in Perry County.

The Messenger previously reported that CCU Coal and Construction LLC offered $1.8 million in cash, with an assumption of $800,000 of trade payables, for the mine at an auction last week.

Earlier this year, Buckingham Coal Company sold a plot of land to CCU Coal and Construction for $636,711.

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