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Thomas v. Honeybrook Mines Inc.

May 28, 1970

EMMETT THOMAS ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
HONEYBROOK MINES, INC., APPELLEE



McLaughlin, Freedman and Gibbons, Circuit Judges. McLaughlin, C. J., dissenting.

Author: Gibbons

GIBBONS, C. J.

The intervenors, members of the Pensioned Anthracite Coal Min.ers Protest Executive Committee (hereinafter the Committee), appeal from the denial of their motion to direct the payment of their counsel fees out of a fund. The fund in question represents recoveries made by the trustees of the Anthracite Health and Welfare Fund of the United Mine Workers of America (hereinafter the Fund), from certain coal operators who were delinquent in royalty payments specified in the industry collective bargaining agreements. The lawsuit against Honeybrook Mines was filed in May of 1964 and the committee's motion to intervene was granted in December of 1965. In addition to the Honeybrook Mines suit, thirty-five other lawsuits against delinquent mine operators were later filed by the Fund trustees. A fee application was made and denied in each case. Timely notices of appeal were filed in each case, but by agreement of counsel only the appeal in the instant case was docketed in this court. In all, judgments in excess of $1,900,000 have been obtained, settlements in excess of $800,000 have been accepted, and agreements have been made with many delinquent coal operators for the payment of approximately $4,280,000. The committee contends that it was largely responsible for the accomplishment of these results, and that its counsel fees should be paid from the resulting fund. The district court did not agree.

The essence of the decision appealed from may be found in this language of the district court:

It may well be that the lawsuits against the delinquent operators would not have been started had not the pensioned miners group brought their actions against the United Mine Workers in the Eastern District and Middle District Federal Courts, but it would be pure guesswork for me to so conclude on the basis of the evidence before me. Even if I were to so conclude, however, this would still fall far short of the findings necessary to support a conclusion that the amounts recovered by the Trustees were created by the efforts of intervenors counsel. Their efforts may have been meaningful and commendable, but they did not rise to the level, in the suits before me, to justify an award of counsel fees to them out of the amounts recovered by the Trustees. (101a-102a)

That court thus made (1) a finding of fact that there was no evidence that the lawsuits against the delinquent mine operators were the result of the litigation and other activities pursued by appellants, and (2) a conclusion of law that even if the lawsuits against the delinquent mine operators would not have resulted but for appellants' activities, the expenses of those activities are not recoverable from the resulting fund. The finding of fact is clearly erroneous, and the conclusion of law is wrong.

The Facts

The Anthracite Health and Welfare Fund came into existence under the terms of the Anthracite Wage Agreement of June 7, 1946. That agreement provided that the Fund would be managed by three trustees, two appointed by the President of the United Mine Workers of America and one appointed by the Anthracite Operators, (21a). The Fund, resulting from royalty payments by coal operators on anthracite production, was intended to provide pensions to retired miners. When, in November, 1961, the pensions, which were originally to be $100 a month, were finally reduced to $30 a month, discontent in the coal regions led to the establishment of the Pensioned Anthracite Coal Miners Protest Executive Committee. Beginning in 1961, members of this committee met with Thomas Kennedy, who was concurrently chairman of the trustees of the Fund and International President of the United Mine Workers of America, and with Mart F. Brennan, who was concurrently a trustee of the Fund and President of District 7, United Mine Workers of America. The committee members were informed that the reductions in pension payments were necessitated by delinquencies in royalty payments.

When, in February, 1962, the committee requested the names of coal companies which were delinquent, the Fund trustees refused to disclose this information, (33a; 86a). When the committee retained counsel and counsel, in September, October and November, 1962 sought the same information, the trustees again refused, (33a; 87a). The efforts to obtain this information continued, by requests to the trustees by interrogatories in various lawsuits, and pursuant to the Welfare and Pension Plan Disclosure Act, 29 U.S.C. ยง 301 et seq. (1964), (34a). A partial disclosure was made on October 11, 1965, (34a).

The refusal of the Fund trustees to disclose to representatives of the cestuis of the trust the names of the delinquent operators is admitted (55a) but explained thus:

To us this explanation has a hollow ring. But taking it at face value, in November, 1962 the committee and counsel were confronted with this situation:

(1) They knew or could learn from public records the production of each company.

(2) They knew, or could learn from public records, therefore, how much in royalties ...


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