Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's conviction of one count of strangulation but reversed in part the circuit court's sentencing order insofar as it imposed a lifetime no-contact protective order, holding that the circuit court lacked the authority to impose the lifetime protective order.Defendant was convicted of strangling his then-wife. The circuit court sentenced Defendant to five years in prison and imposed a lifetime protective order so that Defendant would "never have any contact with the victim." The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to support Defendant's conviction; (2) the circuit court properly admitted evidence of Defendant's prior conduct under W. Va. R Evid. 404(b); and (3) the circuit court committed clear error in imposing a lifetime protective order in the victim's favor. View "State v. Tewalt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this discrimination lawsuit brought under the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA), the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial, holding that the circuit court did not err.The jury found in favor of Defendants on their claims and awarded each of them $475,000. Defendants subsequently filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law, or, alternatively, a new trial. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by denying Defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on the grounds that Plaintiffs failed to present evidence that Defendants violated the WVHRA; (2) the circuit court did not err by allowing Plaintiffs to call a rebuttal witness to testify about comments a plaintiff made; and (3) the circuit court did not err by denying Defendants' motion for a new trial on the basis that the jury verdict was excessive. View "McClure Management, LLC v. Taylor" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Rights
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Grandmother's motion to intervene in the abuse and neglect proceeding regarding her infant grandchild, holding that, under the specific facts of this case, a remand was necessary for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the preference for grandparent placement was in the child's best interest.When the Department of Health and Human Services filed a petition for immediate custody of the child Grandmother requested that she be allowed to intervene in this matter and that the child be placed in her custody. The circuit court denied the motion to intervene and ordered that a foster care placement be maintained regarding placement and custody until further order of the court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case, holding (1) the circuit court did not err by denying Grandmother a meaningful opportunity to be heard under W. Va. Code 49-1-601(h); (2) the grandparent preference statute provides that adoption by a grandparent is presumptively in the child's best interest; and (3) under the facts of this case, a remand was required for the circuit court to hold an evidentiary hearing in which Grandmother is allowed to fully participate and address whether placement with Grandmother was in the child's best interest. View "In re P.F." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court vacated the disposition order of the circuit court that terminated Mother's parental rights to her two children, holding that the circuit court erred by failing to address Mother's alleged status as a "battered parent."The circuit court adjudicated Mother as an abusive and neglectful parent and terminated Mother's parental rights, finding no reasonable likelihood that the conditions of neglect and abuse could be substantially corrected in the near future. On appeal, Mother argued that the circuit court erred by finding that she was abusive and neglectful based upon Father's domestic violence. The Supreme Court vacated the disposition order, holding that, given the circuit court's failure to make findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding Mother's alleged status as a "battered parent," the case must be remanded for a new adjudicatory hearing. View "In re H.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding that, as applied to an unimproved eighty-foot subdivided piece of property owned by the Calvary Baptist Church, the City of Morgantown's enforcement of its R-1 single-family residential zoning classification was unconstitutional, holding that the zoning ordinance, as applied to the particular property of the Church, was arbitrary and unreasonable.Upon finding that the enforcement of the R-1 single-family residential zoning classification was unconstitutional the circuit court ordered the City to cure the unconstitutional zoning classification of the property by amending it to that of a B-2 service business district that permits various commercial uses of the property. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court's order declaring the zoning enforcement action unconstitutional and ordering the City to cure the classification error by amending the classification of the partition was proper. View "City of Morgantown v. Calvary Baptist Church" on Justia Law

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In this abuse and neglect matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Mother's post-termination visitation motion, holding that filing a post-termination visitation motion does not extend the timeframe to appeal a final disposition order and that the circuit court did not err in denying Mother's post-termination visitation motion.The circuit court entered an order terminating Mother's parental rights and prohibited Mother from having further contact with her child. Mother subsequently filed a post-termination motion. The circuit court denied the motion. Mother appealed, alleging that the circuit court erred by terminating her parental rights and by denying her post-termination visitation motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mother's appeal of the final disposition order was untimely, and Mother's filing of the post-termination visitation motion did not extend the timeframe to appeal the underlying final disposition order; and (2) the circuit court did not err by denying Mother's post-termination visitation motion. View "In re S.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order terminating Father's parental rights and remanded the matter for a new dispositional hearing, holding that the circuit court erred in granting multiple extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period, and the court's factual determinations were clearly erroneous and contrary to the record.After his three minor children were removed from his home, Father was granted a pre-adjudicatory improvement period starting on September 14, 2016. Over the next two years, the circuit court granted extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period. Father was not adjudicated until November 23, 2018. On June 3, 2019, the circuit court terminated Father's parental rights. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court erroneously granted several extensions to the pre-adjudicatory improvement period, in violation of time limits set forth by W. Va. Code 49-4-610(1) and 49-4-610(9); and (2) the circuit court's findings relating to the substantive allegations upon which Father's parental rights were terminated were clearly erroneous. View "In re A.T." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming a family court order dismissing a petition seeking genetic testing to establish paternity and allocate custodial responsibility filed by Petitioner, holding that the circuit court erred by affirming the family court's ruling that Petitioner lacked standing to initiate a paternity action.Following a hearing, the family court issued an order directing paternity testing. Prior to genetic testing, Respondents were granted a writ of prohibition prohibiting enforcement of the family court's order, finding that Petitioner lacked standing to initiate the paternity action. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a petition by a putative biological father seeking to establish his paternity over a child who was born while the mother was married to another man satisfies the "special circumstances" exception in State ex rel. Roy Allen S. v. Stone, 474 S.E.2d 554 (W. Va. 1996), if certain conditions are met; and (2) under the narrow and specific facts of this case Petitioner had standing to pursue his paternity action. View "Michael N. v. Brandy M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's requested writ of prohibition prohibiting the circuit court from enforcing a ruling that found an audio/video recording of a voluntary statement made to law enforcement officers by H.D., the defendant in the underlying criminal proceeding, violated H.D.'s privilege against self-incrimination, holding that a defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is not violated by the admission into evidence and/or publication to the jury during a criminal proceeding of an audio/video recording of the defendant's voluntary statement made to law enforcement officers. Because H.D. was in a non-custodial setting when he made his incriminating statement and affirmatively waived his rights, H.D. may not now assert the privilege against self-incrimination in his criminal proceeding to avoid the admission into evidence and/or publication to the jury of that recording. View "State ex rel. Wade v. Honorable David W. Hummel, Jr." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated Petitioner's kidnapping convictions and affirmed his remaining convictions, holding that the indictment omitted an essential element of the crime of kidnapping.A grand jury indicted Petitioner on two counts of kidnapping, three counts of wanton endangerment, and one count of breaking and entering. A jury convicted Petitioner on all counts. Petitioner moved for a new trial, arguing that counts one and two of the indictment omitted the essential element of "transportation" of the crime of kidnapping. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the part of the circuit court's order as to Petitioner's kidnapping convictions and otherwise affirmed, holding that the indictment omitted an essential element of the crime of kidnapping, which rendered the kidnapping counts of the indictment insufficient under W. Va. Const. art. III, 14 and W. Va. R. Crim. P. 7(c)(1). View "State v. Smith" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law