Coal company says Illinois rival breached deal

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 9, 2014 at 3:53 pm •  Published: July 9, 2014

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A leading U.S. coal company is suing a rival with which it shared confidential business plans during a deal that later fizzled, saying the competitor used the proprietary details to buy up land in southern Illinois to thwart the accuser's expansion plans.

Murray Energy Corp., a privately held Ohio-based company, alleges in a lawsuit Saline County, Illinois, that Williamson Energy LLC breached terms of a confidentiality agreement in 2008 when Murray was trying to sell it operations in the southern Illinois.

Under the agreement, the lawsuit claims, Williamson pledged not to disclose or use any of Murray's confidential information to acquire mineral or property rights related to Murray's operations for eight years.

Murray claims Williamson has done just the opposite since 2009, buying cherry-picked parcels and mineral rights at above-market prices — in some cases, four times the going rate — "directly in the path" of Murray's mining operations. Murray alleges it planned to buy or lease those tracts, that the parcels are too small to offer mining potential to Williamson, and that Williamson bought the land "to hinder MEC's operations to gain an unfair competitive advantage."

Murray said it has been forced to spend millions of dollars to preemptively buy or lease mineral rights, presumably before Williamson also snatches those.

Williamson had the "clear intent to illegally block Murray Energy's operations, to threaten the jobs of thousands of coal miners, and to gain unfair competitive advantage in this very depressed coal marketplace," Murray said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks to prevent Williamson from further breaching the confidentiality deal, force Williamson to offer Murray mineral rights to the questioned properties, and order Williamson to pay Murray "substantial damages."