Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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Two campus police officers at Shepherd University, Jay Longerbeam and Donald Buracker, were terminated due to alleged "misconduct" and "unprofessionalism" during two incidents in 2018 and 2019. The officers claimed that their termination was a result of age and disability discrimination, retaliation under the West Virginia Human Rights Act (HRA), violation of the West Virginia Whistle-blower Law, and common law wrongful discharge. The Circuit Court of Jefferson County granted summary judgment against both officers on all claims.The officers appealed the decision, arguing that the lower court erred in finding no genuine issues of material fact and in its handling of the burden-shifting paradigm. They contended that their conduct during the incidents was legally proper and that the court failed to consider intervening acts of reprisal which were more temporally proximate to their protected activity than their discharge.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia found that the lower court erred in its handling of the "temporal proximity" issue and the burden-shifting paradigm. The court also found that the officers offered more than sufficient evidence upon which a rational trier of fact could find retaliatory motivation. Therefore, the court reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment as to the officers’ whistle-blower and Harless claims and remanded for further proceedings. However, the court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment as to Buracker’s HRA disability discrimination claim, finding his evidence insufficient to create an inference of disability discrimination. View "Jay Longerbeam v. Shepherd University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia granted a writ of prohibition to defendant Denita D. Berg, preventing the Circuit Court of Grant County from enforcing orders to sell personal property before determining its ownership. The orders were part of a case brought by Denita Berg's stepchildren, who alleged that Berg had not properly inventoried their father's estate after his death and had committed fraud.The Supreme Court's decision was based on the fact that the orders to sell the property were issued despite the existence of genuine issues of material fact about who owned it. The Court explained that the circuit court's order was erroneous as a matter of law because it went beyond the requirements of Rule 56(c) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56(c) states that summary judgment should only be granted when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the party is entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.The Court concluded that the circuit court had exceeded its legitimate powers by ordering the sale of the property when ownership was still in dispute. Therefore, it granted a writ of prohibition, as moulded, to preclude the circuit court from ordering the sale of the disputed property. View "State of West Virginia ex rel. Berg v. Ryan" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the Board of Education of the County of Cabell challenged two state laws that required the Board to include funding for the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District in its excess levy proposals. The Board argued that these laws violated the equal protection guarantees of the West Virginia Constitution because they imposed funding requirements on the Board that were not required of other county boards of education.The court agreed with the Board, finding that the laws did indeed create a discriminatory classification. The court noted that 53 other county boards were free to seek voter approval of excess levy funding without such restrictions. The court could not find a compelling state interest to justify this unequal classification.The court also addressed a second issue related to equalization payments for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. The court concluded that although the Board was required to make annual payments to the Library and the Park District, it was not required to make equalization payments for these fiscal years.The court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the respondents’ Verified Petition for Writ of Mandamus. View "Board of Education v. Cabell County Public Library" on Justia Law

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In West Virginia, a woman sued the City of Logan after she tripped over a loop of cable wire on a sidewalk, which she alleged the city negligently maintained. The cable wire and post were owned by the First Baptist Church of Logan, West Virginia, and the wire had been around the pole for at least ten years. The woman had walked the same route on her lunch break daily for over a year prior to the accident. She testified that she had never noticed the wire before the day of her injury.The city, in its defense, pointed out that it did not own the wire, had never received any reports about the wire causing a hazard, and did not have any notice or knowledge that the wire was on the sidewalk before the woman's fall. Street Commissioner for the City of Logan, Kevin Marcum, testified that under city ordinances, property owners are in charge of sidewalks.Following discovery, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the city, finding that the woman failed to support a negligence claim under West Virginia law. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed this decision, agreeing that the woman failed to establish that the city knew or should have known that the wire was on the sidewalk causing a potential hazard. The court held that foreseeability or reasonable anticipation of the consequences of an act is determinative of a defendant’s negligence. Because there was no evidence demonstrating that the city knew or should have known that the wire was on the sidewalk causing a potential hazard, the court concluded that the city was entitled to summary judgment. View "Orso v. The City of Logan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia recently ruled on a case involving the nonprofit organization Tax Analysts and Matthew Irby, the West Virginia State Tax Commissioner. Tax Analysts requested copies of field audit and audit training manuals from the West Virginia State Tax Department under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Department denied the request, citing a statutory exemption protecting certain tax-related documents. Tax Analysts then filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to prevent the Department from withholding the requested documents.The Circuit Court of Kanawha County ruled in favor of the Department and dismissed the case, accepting the Department's argument that the documents were statutorily protected by the asserted FOIA disclosure exemption. However, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed this decision, concluding that the circuit court erred by not requiring the Department to present detailed justifications, known as a Vaughn index and an affidavit, as to why each document or part of it was exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.The court remanded the case with instructions for the circuit court to require the Department to file a Vaughn index and an affidavit explaining why disclosure of the documents would be harmful and why they should be exempt. The court concluded that the Department had not met its burden of showing the express applicability of the claimed exemption to the material requested. View "Tax Analysts v. Irby" on Justia Law

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In a suit involving the West Virginia Department of Human Services (the Department), the plaintiff, A.R., alleged that her injuries stemmed from the Department's negligence, specifically its failure to follow proper procedures, policies, and protocols mandated by the Child Welfare Act. The Department moved to dismiss the claims on the basis of qualified immunity, asserting that the claims were based on discretionary, governmental functions and thus it was immune from claims of negligence. However, the Circuit Court of Kanawha County denied the Department’s motion.In its decision, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the lower court's decision in part, ruling that the Department was indeed entitled to qualified immunity from A.R.'s negligence claims. The Court found that the hiring, training, and supervision of employees were discretionary governmental functions, and A.R.'s broad allegations that the Department violated the Child Welfare Act and the Child Protective Services Policy were insufficient to defeat the Department's claim of qualified immunity. The court remanded the case for further proceedings, consistent with its opinion. View "West Virginia Department of Human Resources v. A.R." on Justia Law

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In the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the court was asked to decide whether the attempted conveyances of interests in a testamentary trust that included a spendthrift provision were void ab initio (void from the outset) or merely voidable. The trust was established by Irene Nutter Haymond for the benefit of her grandchildren. It was co-managed by her son, Christopher Haymond, who convinced the beneficiaries to transfer their interests in the trust property to him in violation of the spendthrift provision. This provision prevented the beneficiaries from alienating or encumbering their interests in the trust until it terminated. The court held that a trust beneficiary's attempt to transfer his or her interest in violation of a valid spendthrift provision is void ab initio. The court reasoned that a settlor's intent in including a spendthrift provision and placing those restraints on the property must control and be given effect. Therefore, an instrument purporting to convey that interest in violation of a valid spendthrift provision is void from the outset. View "Haymond v. Haymond" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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The case in question arose from a multi-million-dollar loss suffered by Westlake Chemical Corporation and Axiall Corporation (the respondents) at their chlorine manufacturing plant in Natrium, West Virginia. The loss occurred when 90 tons of liquid chlorine leaked from a rupture in a railroad tanker car that had been recently repaired by third-party contractors. The liquid chlorine vaporized into a cloud or plume that caused corrosion damage to the equipment at the plant. The respondents claimed the damage costs from their insurance companies (the petitioners). However, the insurance companies denied coverage based on three exclusions in the insurance policies relating to corrosion, faulty workmanship, and contamination. The case reached the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which was asked to review three orders of the Circuit Court of Marshall County, West Virginia, Business Court Division. The lower court had granted partial summary judgment to the respondents, finding that none of the three exclusions barred the respondents’ coverage claims. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia concluded that the lower court's orders were not final orders subject to appeal at this stage of the proceedings. This was due to unresolved issues of causation and damages, and because the orders did not conclusively determine the disputed controversy, resolve an important issue completely separate from the merits of the action, or were effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal, without prejudice. View "NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA. v. WESTLAKE CHEMICAL CORPORATION" on Justia Law

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Bailey, an RN employed by MMBH, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) psychiatric facility, alleges that he intervened when M.C., a patient with a known history of self-harm, attempted to harm himself. A struggle ensued. M.C. suffered minor injuries. Subsequently, an employee of Legal Aid of West Virginia (LAWV), observed M.C.'s bruising, read the nursing notes, and viewed a security video of the struggle, then filed a referral with Adult Protective Services. MMBH’s Director of Nursing filed a patient grievance form on behalf of M.C. Bailey was suspended. Several witnesses were never interviewed and the report failed to relate M.C.’s history of self-harm. Bailey’s employment was terminated. The Board of Nursing initiated proceedings against his nursing license.The West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board reinstated Bailey. The Board of Nursing dismissed the complaint against his license. During the investigation, MFCU allegedly made Bailey submit to a “custodial interrogation,” conducted by MFCU employees and a West Virginia Attorney General’s Office lawyer. Bailey was not advised of his Miranda rights. Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) investigator Lyle then referred the matter to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which filed criminal charges. MMBH again suspended Bailey. The charges were later dismissed.Bailey sued DHHR, MMBH, MFCU, LAWV, and several individuals under 42 U.S.C. 1983 based on unreasonable and unlawful seizure of the person, malicious prosecution, and violation of the Whistle-Blower Law.The West Virginia Supreme Court issued a writ of prohibition. Bailey cannot maintain section 1983 claims against MFCU and Lyle. Bailey’s whistle-blower claim against Lyle is unsustainable because Lyle had no authority over Bailey’s employment. Bailey’s malicious prosecution claim fails to allege sufficient facts to meet the required heightened pleading standard to overcome MFCU’s and Lyle’s qualified immunity. View "State of West Virginia v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court terminating the parental rights of Father and Mother two their two minor children, holding that numerous procedural errors substantially affected the integrity of the underlying proceedings.On appeal, Mother and Father argued that the circuit court erred by terminating their parental rights in its dispositional order. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the circuit court properly adjudicated the children and the parents in the underlying abuse and neglect proceedings. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's order, holding (1) the circuit court erred in adjudicating Z.S.-1 as a neglected child and Mother and Father as neglectful parents based upon the parents' defective stipulations; and (2) because the circuit court could not locate any definitive adjudication of Z.S.-2 as an abused and/or neglected child or of Mother or Father as abusive and/or neglectful of Z.S.2 the circuit court's dispositional order as to Z.S.-2 must be vacated. View "In re Z.S.-1" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law