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Report: Judge tosses shareholder suit against Duke Energy directors

Duke Energy Corp. shareholders lost their claims against board members and company executives for allegedly ignoring warning signs that led to the February 2014 massive coal ash spill in North Carolina.

A Delaware judge in a Dec. 8 bench ruling tossed the lawsuit filed by the shareholders against the directors, Law360 reported Dec. 12.

The shareholders — Edward Tansey and the Police Retirement System of St. Louis — claimed the "breaches of fiduciary duties and violations of law" related to the spill and overall coal ash management exposed the company to billions of dollars in potential liability. The complaint specifically named Duke Energy Chairman, President and CEO Lynn Good; board member and former Chairman of the Board Ann Gray; and former Chairman and CEO James Rogers.

The lawsuit, filed May 21, 2014, in Delaware Chancery Court in Wilmington, Del., also claimed Good and others "knowingly, recklessly, or with gross negligence" for years allowed the company to operate coal ash ponds without required permits. In addition, the suit alleged that the group of defendants had "years of warnings" that the company was polluting soil and groundwater but failed to take any preventative actions. (Case No. 9682)

Duke Energy maintained that the issues raised by the lawsuit were being litigated in other courts, which led a Delaware vice chancellor to stay the case in September 2015.

A break in a 48-inch stormwater pipe at Duke Energy's retired Dan River power plant's ash pond Feb. 2, 2014, dumped an estimated 30,000 to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the nearby river. A federal judge in North Carolina approved a plea agreement in May 2015 between three Duke Energy subsidiaries and the U.S. government that settled a probe into illegal coal ash discharges at the company's power plants, including the Dan River facility. Duke Energy was assessed fines and other charges of approximately $100 million and received five years of probation for nine misdemeanor counts related to unauthorized discharges and failure to maintain equipment at the coal plants.

Duke Energy is removing ash from the basins at Dan River and several other sites to comply with court orders and state laws enacted after the spill.