In re Murray Energy Holdings Co., No. 20-8017 (6th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Coal companies (last signatory operators) must provide health and retiree benefits through individual employer plans (IEPs), 26 U.S.C. 9711(a), (b); the 1992 Plan provides benefits for retirees who do not receive benefits through a company’s IEP, section. Last signatory operators fund and provide security for the 1992 Plan. If the 1992 Plan assumes responsibility for IEP benefits, the Plan may assert that a prior employer must pay the benefits.
A CONSOL entity sold mining operations to Debtors in 2013. Debtors provided healthcare and retiree benefits to about 2,200 Beneficiaries under an IEP. Debtors filed chapter 11 petitions in 2019, having negotiated agreements that compelled Debtors to minimize their liabilities to the Beneficiaries. To address the Coal Act obligations, the Trustee appointed a committee to represent Debtors’ retirees. Debtors and the Retiree Committee ultimately agreed that the parties would cooperate to transition the Beneficiaries from the IEP to the 1992 Plan to assure no coverage gap. The 1992 Plan would receive $12.5 million from the posted security. Debtors would cooperate in the Plan’s efforts to hold CONSOL responsible as the last signatory operator for those Beneficiaries who transferred to Debtors in 2013.
The bankruptcy court approved the Settlement over CONSOL’s objection and confirmed Debtors’ Chapter 11 Plan. The order reserved CONSOL’s right to dispute its potential Coal Act liability for the Benefits, stating that its approval of the Settlement "in no way constitutes a finding that CONSOL is the last signatory operator.”
The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel dismissed an appeal, finding that CONSOL lacks standing. Whether an order directly and adversely affects an appellant’s pecuniary interests is interpreted narrowly; “person aggrieved” standing does not arise from concerns about separate litigation unrelated to an interest protected by the Bankruptcy Code.