Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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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

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In this dispute between the West Virginia State Lottery, the Lottery Commission, the Lottery Director (collectively, the State Lottery) and certain entities issued permits to operate limited video lottery game terminals (Permit Holders), the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the order of the circuit court denying the State Lottery’s denial of its motion to dismiss on the grounds that it waived its sovereign and qualified immunity defenses. The dispute arose after the State Lottery instructed the Permit Holders that they would be required to use a different software program at their expense. The Permit Holders alleged a taking without just compensation, deprivation of property without due process, and civil conspiracy. The Supreme Court held (1) the State Lottery did not waive its rights to sovereign and qualified immunity; and (2) because the circuit court did not make any findings or inquiries relating to qualified immunity, this case must be remanded for a determination of whether the State Lottery was qualifiedly immune under the circumstances. View "West Virginia Lottery v. A-1 Amusement, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether double jeopardy principles were violated by Petitioners’ respective convictions for three counts of robbery in the first degree. Petitioners, three defendants, were tried together before a jury. Each was convicted on charges of one count of burglary, three counts of robbery in the first degree, three counts of assault during the commission of a felony, and one count of conspiracy. The Supreme Court reversed Petitioners’ respective sentencing orders and remanded the cases to the circuit court for entry of new sentencing orders, holding that, under the facts of this case, Petitioners should have been indicted, tried and convicted on only a single count of robbery in the first degree. View "State v. Henson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioner relief in his petition for a writ of error coram nobis and remanded the case for further proceedings. Petitioner entered a Kennedy plea of guilty to the felony crime of unlawful assault. A few days before Petitioner was set to be released from prison, the Department of Homeland Security notified him that, as a result of his felony conviction, he would be processed for deportation to the place of his birth, Jamaica. During the pendency of the deportation proceedings, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because his trial counsel failed to inform him that his guilty plea to unlawful assault would result in his being deported from the United States. The circuit court ultimately denied relief. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s order and granted Petitioner coram nobis relief, holding that, under the facts of this case, Petitioner satisfied the four-part test for coram nobis relief. The court directed that, upon remand, Petitioner will be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and stand trial for the offenses for which he was indicted. View "State v. Hutton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court upholding the decision of the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) affirming the order of the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) revoking Petitioner’s driver’s license, despite a nearly two-year delay between Petitioner’s arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and the license revocation. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the procedural delays were so unreasonably excessive that they violated his constitutional rights to due process. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the circuit court correctly found that Petitioner demonstrated no prejudice by either the delay of the DMV in issuing the revocation order or the delay in the OAH’s issuing its final order. View "Straub v. Reed" on Justia Law

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Two recently enacted statutes relating to damages - W. Va. Code 55-7-29 and 55-7E-3 - are remedial and apply in a trial conducted after the effective date of the statutes when the underlying facts in the case occurred prior to that effective date. After he was discharged from employment, Plaintiff filed a complaint against his former employer under the West Virginia Human Rights Act claiming that he was unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of race, national origin and/or ancestry. Defendant removed the case to federal district court on the basis of diversity. The district court then certified questions to the Supreme Court regarding the two statutes at issue. The Supreme Court answered the two certified questions in the affirmative and dismissed the matter from the docket of the court. View "Martinez v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co." on Justia Law

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Under W. Va. R. Crim. P. 12(f), if a defendant fails to seek to suppress a confession or other inculpatory statement prior to trial as required under W. Va. R. Crim. P. 12(b)(3), such failure constitutes waiver, absent a showing of good cause. Defendant entered a guilty verdict on a two-count indictment for driving under the influence of alcohol. Defendant appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in admitting his two of his statements to police into evidence at trial. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) under Rule 12(b)(3), Defendant waived his right to a voluntariness hearing regarding the admissibility of his first statement to the police; and (2) the circuit court did not err in admitting the second statement Defendant made to the police because the record revealed nothing to support Defendant’s argument that the circuit court erred in failing to suppress the second statement due to a violation of the prompt presentment rule. View "State v. Simmons" on Justia Law