Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

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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
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court that permanently placed a minor child with Foster Parents instead of a grandparent, holding that the circuit court erred by not adhering to the grandparent preference in this case. On appeal, Paternal Grandfather and Maternal Grandmother argued that the circuit court erroneously disregarded the statutory grandparent preference under W. Va. Code 49-4-114(a)(3) by placing the child with the Foster Parents because Parental Grandfather was a fit caretaker, bureaucratic delays caused the child to remain with the Foster Parents for an extended period of time while waiting for Paternal Grandfather's home study to be completed, and placement with Paternal Grandfather was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court's order, holding (1) Paternal Grandfather was fit to care for the child and that placing the child with Paternal Grandfather was in the child's best interest; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in placing the child with the Foster Parents. View "In re J.P." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the circuit court that reversed in part an order declaring the results for a town council election entered by the Harpers Ferry Election Contest Tribunal following an election contest trial, holding that the circuit court properly concluded that four provisional ballots cast in the 2019 Harpers Ferry municipal election should be counted but erred in affirming the Tribunal's decision that Nancy Singleton Case lacked standing to participate in the election contest. The circuit court concluded that the Tribunal erred by concluding that four provision ballots cast during the 2019 municipal election should not be counted. Petitioners appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in substituting its view of the evidence to find that the four provisional ballots should have been counted. Respondents cross-assigned error to the circuit court's decision that the Tribunal did not err in concluding that Case lacked standing to participate in the election contest. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that the circuit court erred by affirming the Tribunal's finding that Case lacked standing to participate in the election contest. View "Johnson v. Case" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court answered four certified questions regarding West Virginia's conspiracy statute contained in the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, W. Va. Code 60A-4-414 and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. Petitioner was indicted for the offense of conspiracy. Only one other con-conspirator was named in the indictments. As to the certified questions, the Supreme Court held (1) an indictment alleging a conspiracy involving a single defendant and only one other co-conspirator is sufficient to put the defendant on notice that he may be held responsible under section 60A-4-414(f) for the quantity of drugs delivered or possessed with intent to deliver solely by the co-conspirator to other persons not named in the indictment; (2) for purposes of a crime under section 60A-4-414(b), section 60A-4-414(f) requires that overt acts have to be in furtherance of the conspiracy before the trier of fact can attribute to the defendant all of the controlled substances possessed with intent to deliver or manufacture by other participants or members of the conspiracy; and (3) the amount of substances attributable to a Defendant under section 60A-4-414(b) is subject to the foreseeability principles of Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946). The final certified question answered a question about conflict of interest. View "State v. Legg" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In this action stemming from the auction of a plot of land, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment to Plaintiff, holding that the circuit court properly construed the law of auctions and contracts. Plaintiff won an auction of certain property with a high bid. Plaintiff subsequently brought suit alleging, among other things, breach of contract because Defendant had permitted an unqualified bidder to bid on the property. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) no genuine issue of material fact existed to be tried regarding the formation of the contract between Plaintiff and Defendant and Defendant's failure to comply with the terms and conditions of that contract; and (2) the circuit court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. View "Alex Lyon & Son v. Leach" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court granting a preliminary injunction, holding that the court did not err when it found Plaintiff had a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its claims and was likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of action by the court. Pachira Energy LLC entered into an agreement with Northeast Natural Energy LLC establishing the Blacksville Area of Mutual Interest (Blacksville AMI) and setting forth guidelines for exploiting oil and gas leases and other mineral interests. Pachira later filed a complaint against Northeast Natural Energy LLC alleging that Northeast was breaching various agreements and was abusing its power to benefit itself, to the detriment of Pachira. Among other requests for relief, Pachira sought a permanent injunction stop Northeast's use of a jointly-owned water system within the Blacksville AMI to support Northeast's drilling operations outside the Blacksville AMI and to sell water to third parties outside the Blacksville AMI. The circuit court granted Pachira's motion for a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that it was fair for the circuit court to preserve the status quo until the parties' resolve the merits of their dispute and that there was no error in the preliminary injunction order. View "Northeast Natural Energy LLC v. Pachira Energy LLC" on Justia Law

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In this abuse and neglect proceeding initiated against Mother for three minor children the Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by the minor children's guardian ad litem (GAL) seeking an order prohibiting the circuit court from granting a post-dispositional improvement period to Mother, holding that the circuit court erred in granting the improvement period in this case. The GAL argued that the improvement period was improperly granted because the children had been in foster care for more than fifteen of the most recent twenty-two months. The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition, holding that the circuit court committed clear error of law in granting an improvement period that exceeded the time limits on foster care imposed by W. Va. Code 49-4-610(9) 49-4-610(9) without sufficient findings that the grant of this improvement period was in the best interest of the children. View "State ex rel. S.W. v. Honorable Wilson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law