CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A federal judge has decided against sending Don Blankenship’s lawsuit against some of the nation’s biggest media companies to Mingo Circuit Court.
Blankenship, a former coal operator whose unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate is the basis for the suit, originally filed it in Mingo Circuit Court, near where he worked for many years running Massey Energy.
The $12 billion defamation case claims a conspiracy to damage Blankenship’s campaign over the fatal 2010 explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine.
Fox News, one of the defendants, moved to have the case considered in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Senior status Judge John Copenhaver issued a ruling on Wednesday in agreement. Copenhaver’s order says the case should remain in federal court.
A footnote that accompanies the order indicates that Blankenship is not currently a resident of Mingo County or West Virginia.
“Fox News devotes much of its notice of removal and opposition to the motion to remand presenting evidence that Mr. Blankenship is domiciled in Nevada rather than West Virginia; no defendants are domiciled in Nevada,” Copenhaver wrote.
“The plaintiff, however, does not contest Fox News’ representation that he is a Nevada domiciliary, nor that complete diversity exists.”
Much of the opinion dwells on the appropriate circumstances for determining the forum for a lawsuit.
Blankenship had argued that one of the defendants, the 35th PAC, is headquartered in West Virginia, and prompted a smear campaign against his candidacy.
He contends the PAC was formed to support the candidacy of the eventual winner of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey.
A memo stating Blankenship’s claim contends 35th PAC “served as one of the vanguards of this conspiracy, kicking off the whole affair with an April 10, 2018, tweet calling Mr. Blankenship ‘a convicted felon hurting West Virginia families.'”
Blankenship served a year in jail on a misdemeanor conviction of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards, related to the explosion of the Massey-owned Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners.
His lawsuit contends that the felon accusation was intentionally spread, contributing to his loss in the 2018 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
The lawsuit names Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, The Associated Press, Breitbart, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and individual reporters.
It also names the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Fox News led the move to federal court, saying the news company hadn’t yet been served in Mingo Circuit Court.
“Because no defendant (including Fox News) has been served, Fox News’s removal to this court is timely, and no other defendant is required to consent to the removal at this time,” lawyers for Fox News wrote.