Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus in which Appellant asserted ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find that Appellant's trial counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree for fatally shooting his wife. Defendant was sentenced to life with mercy. After the circuit court denied Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus Defendant appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying Appellant's petition seeking a writ of habeas corpus. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that there were no grounds upon which to find Petitioner's counsel was ineffective. After a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted of murder in the first degree. Petitioner's habeas petition asserted numerous grounds to support his claims of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel. After an omnibus hearing, the circuit court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed, raising eight separate instances of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner received effective assistance of counsel. View "Coleman v. Binion" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err in finding that Petitioner was not denied due process or effective assistance of trial counsel when he did not receive a sex offender evaluation pursuant to W.Va. Code 62-12-2(e). Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of sexual abuse by a parent. Petitioner later filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging due process violations and ineffective assistance of counsel based on his allegation that neither his attorney nor the circuit court informed him that the State would have provided a sex offender evaluation at no cost to him. The circuit court denied habeas relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief because he failed to prove that he was deprived of due process by his failure to undergo a sex offender evaluation or that the outcome of his sentencing hearing would have been different so as to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "Christopher H. v. Martin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's second amended motion for writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err. Petitioner pled guilty by information to first-degree murder. Petitioner later filed his second amended habeas petition asserting (1) his guilty plea by information was illegal under the West Virginia Constitution and Rule 7 of the West Virginia Rules of Criminal Procedure because he faced a life sentence; (2) his guilty plea was involuntary; and (3) his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) while the guilty plea by information did not comport with Rule 7, Petitioner waived his argument as to that irregularity when he waived his constitutional right to an indictment; (2) Petitioner's guilty plea was voluntary; and (3) Petitioner failed to establish deficient performance by trial counsel. View "Montgomery v. Ballard" on Justia 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 affirmed the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant in this disability discrimination action brought by Plaintiff alleging that Defendant refused to hire him because of his physical disability, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of intentional disability discrimination. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendant’s refusal to hire him constituted disability discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code 5-11-1 to -20. Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that it declined to hire Plaintiff because a pre-employment physical examination revealed that Plaintiff’s disability prevented him from completing essential responsibilities of the job and that Plaintiff did not ask for any reasonable accommodation that would allow him to complete those essential tasks. Rather, Defendant asserted, Plaintiff merely sought the complete rejection of the physician’s physical examination report. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was entitled to rely upon the physician’s report and that Plaintiff failed pos how that any reasonable accommodations were demanded or even existed. View "Woods v. Jefferds Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint claiming wrongful discharge against the Wetzel County Commission and the Wetzel County Assessor on the basis that the Assessor was entitled to qualified immunity and that all of Plaintiff’s claims lacked merit, holding that the circuit court erred in granting the motion to dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims. After Plaintiff was terminated from his employment, Plaintiff sued Defendants claiming wrongful discharge. The circuit court dismissed the case pursuant to W.Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In reversing, the Supreme Court held (1) Plaintiff alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate that the Assessor and the Commission were his joint employers, and Plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to overcome dismissal of the Commission as a party; (2) Plaintiff’s allegations preluded application of qualified immunity in the context of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6); and (3) Plaintiff sufficiently pled several causes of action for purposes of surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge. View "Burke v. Wetzel County Commission" on Justia Law

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The circuit court erred in admitting evidence seized as the result of an unlawful, warrantless search, a search that failed to satisfy any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced for possession of a controlled substance, cocaine, with intent to deliver. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court erred by admitting evidence seized from his person because the evidence was obtained without a search warrant and that none of the exceptions to the warrant requirement were satisfied. The Supreme Court agreed and reversed Petitioner’s conviction, holding that the evidence was seized unlawfully and that the admission of the evidence was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court remanded the case for a new trial. View "State v. Barefield" on Justia Law

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A condition of parole prohibiting Respondent, a registered sex offender, from possessing or having contact with a computer or other device with internet access was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Respondent challenged the West Virginia Parole Board’s decision to revoke his parole. The circuit court vacated the Board’s decision, partly on the ground that Respondent’s special condition of parole prohibiting his possession or contact with a computer with internet access was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Respondent’s condition of parole was broader than the statute struck down in Packingham v. North Carolina, 137 S.Ct. 1730 (2017), which barred registered sex offenders from accessing social media networking websites, it was an overboard restriction of free speech in violation of the First Amendment. View "Mutter v. Ross" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Garland DeCourcy’s petition for writ of prohibition seeking to prohibit the circuit court from proceeding in this action brought by William Williams to recover a computer, telephone system, and keys to a vehicle from DeCourcy. After a bench trial in magistrate court, DeCourcy was ordered to return certain property to Williams. DeCourcy appealed and filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that Williams could not meet his burden of proof because the evidence should be limited to the evidence presented to the magistrate court. The circuit court ruled that a trial de novo authorized it to consider additional evidence, including witness testimony not presented in magistrate court. DeCourcy then filed this petition for writ of prohibition. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding (1) an appeal of a civil action tried before a magistrate without a jury under W. Va. Code 50-5-12(b) shall be a trial de novo, meaning a new trial in which the parties may present new evidence including witness testimony not presented in magistrate court; and (2) the circuit court did not err in its determination that new evidence, including witness testimony, was proper in this appeal from magistrate court. View "State ex rel. DeCourcy v. Honorable Jennifer P. Dent" on Justia Law