Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of prohibition sought by the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority (WVRJA) seeking to have the Court prohibit the circuit court from enforcing its order denying the WVRJA's motion to dismiss Bobbi Bryant's complaint against it as time barred, holding that WVRJA failed to demonstrate that the circuit court's order was clearly erroneous. The WVRJA moved to dismiss Bryant's complaint on the sole basis that the claims asserted against it were barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The circuit court found that because the statute of limitations was appropriately tolled as to the co-defendant and because Bryant alleged a civil conspiracy cause of action the statute of limitation as to the co-defendant was imputed to the WVRJA. The WVRJA then filed a petition for writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that the circuit court did not commit clear legal error in denying WVRJA's motion to dismiss the complaint as time barred, based on the applicable statute of limitations, such that a writ of prohibition is warranted. View "State ex rel. Regional Jail Authority v. Honorable Carrie Webster" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative a question certified by the federal district court by concluding that W. Va. Code 61-3-24 does not constitute a substantial public policy of the State of West Virginia that would support a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy pursuant to Harless v. First National Bank, 162 W.Va. 116, and its progeny. Plaintiff filed a whistleblower claim against her employer under the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u-6, but the United States Supreme Court's decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, __ U.S. __ (2018), rendered Plaintiff's claim not viable. Plaintiff then argued that her only recourse was a common law retaliatory discharge claim under Harless, alleging that she was discharged in violation of the substantial public policy set forth in W. Va. Code 61-3-24. The district court found that a certified question was appropriate. The Supreme Court answered that section 61-3-24 does not constitute a substantial public policy under Harless to protect an employee of a non-public employer who claims to have been retaliated against for reporting suspected criminal conduct to the appropriate authority. View "Blanda v. Martin & Seibert, LC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified by the federal district court by concluding that the term "person" as used in the wrongful death statute, W. Va. Code 55-7-5 and 55-7-6, does not include an ectopic embryo or an ectopic fetus. Three years after Defendant performed a bilateral tubal litigation on Plaintiff for permanent sterilization purposes doctors discovered a live ectopic pregnancy located in Plaintiff's left fallopian tube. Because the ectopic pregnancy had no chance of resulting in a live birth and would result in Plaintiff's death if allowed to continue, the ectopic embryo was removed. Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and as the administratrix of the estate of her ectopic embryo, and her husband filed suit against Defendant, asserting wrongful death. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. The federal district court then certified two questions to the Supreme Court for resolution. The Supreme Court answered the second question, rendering the first question moot, holding that the term "person" as used in the wrongful death statute does not include an ectopic embryo or an ectopic fetus. View "Saleh v. Damron" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the family court granting Grandmother permanent guardianship of B.A., holding that the family court lacked jurisdiction to hear this case. Grandmother filed a motion for emergency order of guardianship in the family court noting that Mother was incarcerated and arguing that it was in the best interests of B.A. for her to be appointed guardian. The family court eventually entered a final order appointing Grandmother as B.A.'s guardian. Mother later filed a motion to modify and/or terminate the guardianship order, arguing that she had a material change in circumstances because she had been released from jail. The family court denied the motion. The Supreme Court vacated the family court's order, holding (1) in light of the allegations of neglect made by Grandmother and B.A.'s need for permanency, both Mother's and Father's parental rights needed to be ascertained by the circuit court under the standards set forth in chapter 49 of the West Virginia Code and the clear and convincing evidence standard articulated in West Virginia Rules of Practice and Procedure for Family Court 48a(a); and (2) therefore, the family court was divested of subject matter jurisdiction in this case. View "A.A. v. S.H." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the final order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for expungement of her felony charge, holding that Petitioner was entitled to mandatory expungement of her felony record under W. Va. Code 60A-4-407(b). Petitioner was a first-time offender whose drug-related offense to which she pled guilty involved distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without remuneration. Petitioner served a term of probation and satisfied all requirements of section 60A-4-407(b), and the case against her was dismissed. Petitioner later petitioned for expungement of her felony charge. The circuit court denied the petition on the ground that W. Va. Code 61-11-25 does not allow for the expungement of offenses that are dismissed in exchange for a guilty plea to another offense. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that W. Va. Code 60A-4-402(c) mandates that if a defendant who has been found guilty of a first offense for distributing less than fifteen grams of marijuana without any remuneration and satisfies the conditions of section 60A-4-407 then the defendant is entitled to expungement of any record of her arrest directly connected to the offense. View "State v. A.D." on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's requested writ of certiorari to vacate an opinion issued by the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission, holding that the opinion of the Claims Commission was not reviewable by the Supreme Court on a writ of certiorari at this procedural posture. Following the death of her son, Petitioner submitted a notice of claim with the Claims Commission against the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways. The opinion of the Claims Commission stated that the Commission "[was] of the opinion to deny this claim." Petitioner then brought this action seeking a writ of certiorari from the Claims Commission's opinion. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that that review by writ of certiorari to this Court does not lie as to a non-binding recommendation of the Claims Commission made pursuant to W. Va. Code 14-2-12 that does not involve an existing or special appropriation and as to which the West Virginia Legislature has not taken final action. View "State ex rel. LaDayne v. West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Defendant's recidivist life sentence imposed in connection with Defendant's conviction of second offense failure to register as a sex offender, holding that Defendant's recidivist life conviction, as applied, was unconstitutionally disproportionate. Defendant was sentenced to ten to twenty-five years in prison for his offense. Because of his prior convictions, Defendant received a recidivist life sentence under W. Va. Code 61-11-18(c). Defendant appealed both his conviction and his sentence. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but reversed the sentence, holding (1) the circuit court properly denied Defendant's motions for acquittal based on the sufficiency of the evidence and Defendant's contention that the trial court incorrectly instructed the jury that time was not of the essence of the alleged offense; but (2) the sentence imposed by the trial court for Defendant's offense was unconstitutionally disproportionate under W. Va. Const. art. III, 5 and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. View "State v. Hoyle" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court reversing the decision of the state agency that oversees law-enforcement training refusing a state university's application seeking authorization to establish and operate a new law enforcement training academy for senior university students majoring in criminal justice studies, holding that the circuit court did not err. In denying the university's application to create a new law enforcement training academy the state agency concluded that the university's proposed academy was not necessary. The circuit court reversed the state agency's decision and ordered that the agency approve the university's application, finding that the agency's decision was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the agency's decision to deny the university's application to establish and operate an entry-level law enforcement training academy was arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by any statutory authority. View "Division of Justice & Community Service v. Fairmont State University" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition requested by Petitioners, West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and guardian ad litem of six minor children, seeking to prohibit the circuit court from granting a post-adjudicatory improvement period to Respondents, the children's parents, holding that the circuit court committed a clear legal error. DHHR filed an abuse and neglect petition requesting emergency custody due to the threat of imminent danger to Respondents' five adopted children and one foster child. The circuit court entered an order adjudicating Respondents as abusive. The DHHR subsequently sought termination and the guardian ad litem recommended termination and that post-dispositional improvement periods be denied. The circuit court, however, granted Respondents a six-month post-adjudicatory improvement period. This writ of prohibition followed. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the circuit court misapprehended the evidence, failed to consider probative evidence, and failed to consider the best interests of the children. The Court remanded the case to the circuit court for entry of an order terminating Respondents' custodial and parental rights. View "State ex rel. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Services v. Honorable Lora A. Dyer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court in this case considered two certified questions regarding West Virginia's kidnapping statute, W. Va. Code 61-2-14a. Defendant was indicted for kidnapping. During pretrial proceedings, the parties discussed (1) whether, under Alleyne v. United States, 570 U.S. 99 (2013), the judge or the jury would need to make additional determinations when considering a kidnapping charge and (2) the propriety of special interrogatories to the jury in a kidnapping case. Defendant's trial was continued so that these issues could be brought to the Supreme Court for consideration. The Court answered, for a person convicted of kidnapping, (1) the trial judge, rather than the jury, is vested with the authority under the kidnapping statute to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole; and (2) in the absence of a statutory or constitutional requirement that special interrogatories be submitted to a jury in a kidnapping case, a trial court exceeds its authority and abuses its discretion in submitting special interrogatories to determine those facts that reduce the minimum and maximum penalty of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole. View "State v. Scruggs" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law