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In this matter arising from a condemnation proceeding initiated by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, the Supreme Court accepted questions certified by the circuit court and answered, among other things, that when the DOT initiates a condemnation proceeding that involves a partial taking of land in connection with a highway construction project and when, as a result of the project, a residue tract not needed by the State for public road purposes has been rendered landlocked, a court cannot require the Division of Highways to acquire the landlocked residue by condemnation. The federally-funded highway construction project in this case resulted in residue property being rendered landlocked. The Supreme Court answered questions certified to it by the circuit court and answered, under the circumstances of this case, that (1) the question of whether the residue has become an "uneconomic remnant" is not a question of fact to be determined by a jury; (2) the Division of Highways, over the objection of the landowner, may mitigate the damage to the residue by restoring reasonable public road access thereto; and (3) the trial court cannot require the Division to acquire the landlocked residue by condemnation. View "West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways v. Echols" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court that affirmed an order of the Randolph County Commission affirming the findings of its special fiduciary commissioner as to Joann Fussell's claims against the Estate of Roger G. Fussell and her objections to the estate appraisement, holding that the circuit court did not err. Specifically, the Court held that the circuit court correctly found (1) two bank notes obtained by Joann were just debts of the Estate; (2) Joann was not a creditor beneficiary of a life insurance policy on the life of Roger; and (3) Joann's fair market value written appraisals in West Virginia and Georgia were properly considered by the special fiduciary commissioner to establish fair market value. View "Estate of Fussell v. Fussell" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court determining disposition of Petitioner's child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing, which resulted in the child being placed in the legal and physical custody of guardians, holding that Petitioner must be afforded a full and complete opportunity to present witnesses and to testify on his own behalf. Petitioner was the father of one child and the stepfather of the other child. The dispositional order at issue on appeal granted Petitioner a disposition in which parental rights were not terminated but the children were placed in the care, custody, and control of the guardians. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred when it divested him of his rights to parent his child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded the case for the limited purpose of affording Petitioner an opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing, which the circuit court had previously denied Petitioner, holding that the circuit court erred when it determined disposition regarding his child without first allowing him a meaningful opportunity to be heard at the dispositional hearing. View "In re T.S." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's conviction for attempted first-degree murder under a felony-murder theory ("attempted felony-murder"), holding that there is no cognizable crime of attempted felony-murder in West Virginia. Petitioner was indicted on eight counts, including attempting first-degree murder. The day before the trial, the State indicated that it would pursue the theory of attempted felony-murder against Petitioner. The circuit court allowed the State to proceed with attempted first-degree-felony-murder. After hearing all of the evidence presented at trial, the jury convicted Petitioner on the charge of attempted felony-murder. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the crime of attempted felony-murder does not exist in the state. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Petitioner's conviction, holding that attempted felony-murder is not a cognizable crime under West Virginia law because the crime of attempt requires as one of its elements the specific intent to commit the underlying substantive crime and the only way that the transferred intent of felony-murder is achieved is if an actual homicide occurs. View "State v. Sanders" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the "order of permanent placement" entered by the circuit court awarding custody of two children to Uncle and Aunt, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that, as a matter of law, there exists, in the abuse and neglect context, a relative preference other than the preference afforded to grandparents and siblings. In selecting Children's Uncle and Aunt to be the children's permanent custodians, the circuit court determined that a "blood relative" preference exists in addition to the statutory preferences afforded to siblings and grandparents in abuse and neglect proceedings. Foster Parents appealed, arguing that there does not exist a preference for relatives in addition to the grandparent and sibling preferences established by the legislature. The Supreme Court agreed and remanded this case for entry of an order permanently placing the children with Foster Parents, holding (1) the circuit court erred by finding there exists a blood relative preference and relying on that preference as a basis for placing the children with Aunt and Uncle; and (2) the best interests of the children would best be promoted by allowing them to remain in Foster Parents' home. View "In re K.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's felony conviction for two counts of delivery of a controlled substance but reversed the circuit court's order sentencing him to life in prison with mercy in accordance with the recidivist statute, W. Va. Code 61-11-18, holding that the sentence violated the proportionality clause of the state Constitution. The circuit court imposed a recidivist life sentence based upon Petitioner's conviction for delivery of a controlled substance and two prior felony convictions for unlawful wounding and conspiracy to commit the felony of transferring stolen property. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence and remanded the case for resentencing, holding (1) there was sufficient evidence to convict Petitioner of two counts of delivery of a controlled substance; but (2) the imposition of a life sentence with mercy was unwarranted and an abuse of discretion. View "State v. Lane" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's motion to set aside a default judgment entered against him, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner's motion to set aside the default judgment. Respondent filed a breach of contract claim against Petitioner for allegedly failing to pay insurance premiums. Petitioner did not respond to Respondent's properly served complaint, and Respondent obtained a default judgment against him. Nearly sixteen months later, Petitioner filed a motion to set aside the default judgment on the grounds that he was not a proper party to the action. The circuit court denied the motion as untimely because the grounds on which Petitioner sought to have the judgment set aside were subject to a one-year limitation period under W. Va. Rule 60(b). The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's grounds to set aside the judgment were untimely under Rule 60(b); and (2) while void judgments are not subject to the strict time frame set forth in Rule 60(b), the circuit court did not lack personal jurisdiction over Petitioner so as to render the judgment void. View "Amoruso v. Commerce & Industry Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting relief to the State in a writ of prohibition proceeding, holding that the circuit court applied the correct statute in order to grant relief to the State. The order of the circuit court at issue prohibited enforcement of a magistrate's order that granted deferred adjudication to Petitioner in a criminal prosecution for driving under the influence (DUI), second offense. The State filed a petition for a writ of prohibition asking the circuit court to prohibit enforcement of the magistrate's order. The circuit court found that the State was entitled to the writ because W. Va. Code 17C-5-2(r) and 17C-5-2b do not permit suspension of a sentence for a DUI offense or participation in the deferral program by defendants charged with second offense DUI. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that a person charged with DUI under W. Va. Code 17C, 5 may only seek deferred adjudication as permitted by section 17C-5-2b and that the deferred adjudication allowed under W. Va. Code 61-11-22a is not available to a person charged with a DUI offense. View "State v. Honorable Debra Ditto" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In this excessive force action brought under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying summary judgment in favor of Petitioners, correctional officers and the warden at Mount Olive Correction Center (MOCC), on grounds of qualified immunity, holding that genuine issues of material fact precluded summary judgment in this matter. Respondent, an inmate at MOCC, brought this action asserting violations of his federal constitutional rights. The circuit court concluded that Petitioners were not entitled to summary judgment because genuine issues of material fact existed concerning the excessive force, deliberate indifference, and supervisory liability claims brought against them. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) given the genuine issues of material fact in this matter, Petitioners were not entitled to summary judgment based on qualified immunity; and (2) the circuit court's order sufficiently addressed the parties' disparate factual allegations and the legal standards upon which the court's decision was based. View "McCourt v. Delgado" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order that affirmed a family court order denying the petition for modification filed by Mother seeking to relocate with her children to Kentucky, holding that the lower courts did not properly apply the provisions of W. Va. Code 48-9-403 when denying Mother’s petition to relocate with her children. The family court denied Mother’s request for relocation, and the circuit court upheld the denial. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for entry of an order granting Mother’s petition for modification and establishing a new parenting plan, holding (1) the lower courts committed reversible error when they failed to consider evidence of caretaking functions when calculating custodial responsibility; and (2) because the unrebutted evidence showed that Mother’s relocation was legitimate and in good faith, the lower courts clearly erred in denying Mother’s request. View "Nicole L. v. Steven W." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law