Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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In these consolidated appeals from the business court's orders reversing various Boards of Assessment Appeals and rejecting the West Virginia State Tax Department's valuation of Respondents' gas wells for ad valorem tax purposes the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the business court's judgment, holding that the business court erred in two respects. Specifically, the Court held that the business court (1) did not err in concluding that the Tax Department violated the applicable regulations by improperly imposing a cap on Respondents' operating expense deductions; (2) erred in rejecting the Tax Department's interpretation of the applicable regulations concerning the inclusion of post-production expenses in the calculation of the annual industry average operating expenses; and (3) erred in crafting relief permitting an unlimited percentage deduction for operating expenses in lieu of a monetary average. View "Steager v. Consol Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' appeal and petition for writ of mandamus and affirming the order issued by the Martinsburg Police Civil Service Commission, holding that the circuit court did not err in ruling that the Commission's awarding points to a candidate on competitive examination for promotion based on education credentials did not violate the requirements of the Police Civil Service Act (Act), W. Va. Code 8-14-6 to -24. Petitioners, both of the Martinsburg Police Department, sat for competitive examinations for promotions. Without the consideration of points for education, both petitioners would have finished with sufficient scores for promotion. The Commissioner heard Petitioners' arguments on the legality of awarding points for education and found no basis to deviate from its established rule. The circuit court affirmed the final order issued by the Commission. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not commit reversible error in concluding that the Commission's consideration of higher education as a component of "experience" under the Act was consistent with the Act's purpose of ensuring meritorious promotions. View "Burner v. Martinsburg Police Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the determination of the Board of Equalization and Review that Petitioners Murray Energy Corporation and Consolidation Coal Company's coal interests were properly valued and assessed by Defendants, holding that the circuit court properly concluded that the method of valuing coal properties violated neither the statutory requirement of assessment at "true and actual value" nor the constitutional equality requirements of the West Virginia Constitution and the equal protection provisions of the United States and West Virginia Constitutions. Specifically, the Court held (1) the methodology of valuing Petitioners' coal properties for ad valorem tax valuation purposes, as set forth in West Virginia Code of State Rules 110-1I-1 et seq., does not violate the requirement set forth in W. Va. Code 11-6K-1(a) that natural resources property be assessed based upon its "true and actual value"; and (2) the valuation methodology contained in the Code of State Rules does not violate the equality provision of W. Va. Const. art. X, 1 or the equal protection provisions of the United States and West Virginia Constitutions. View "Murray Energy Corp. v. Steager" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed two orders of the Public Service Commission (PSC) interpreting and applying regulations it adopted to give effect to the federal Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), 16 U.S.C. 2601 et seq., holding that there was no error in the PSC's decision. In the orders at issue, the PSC interpreted its PURPA-based regulations as applying to ad agreement between a small power plant and a traditional electric utility and applied the regulations to find that the agreement, with modification, was "just and reasonable" to the electric utility's consumers. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the PSC's decision was not contrary to the evidence, without evidence to support it, or arbitrary and that the PSC's approach was within the bounds of PURPA's requirement. View "Sierra Club v. Public Service Commission of West Virginia" on Justia Law

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In this matter arising from a condemnation proceeding initiated by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, the Supreme Court accepted questions certified by the circuit court and answered, among other things, that when the DOT initiates a condemnation proceeding that involves a partial taking of land in connection with a highway construction project and when, as a result of the project, a residue tract not needed by the State for public road purposes has been rendered landlocked, a court cannot require the Division of Highways to acquire the landlocked residue by condemnation. The federally-funded highway construction project in this case resulted in residue property being rendered landlocked. The Supreme Court answered questions certified to it by the circuit court and answered, under the circumstances of this case, that (1) the question of whether the residue has become an "uneconomic remnant" is not a question of fact to be determined by a jury; (2) the Division of Highways, over the objection of the landowner, may mitigate the damage to the residue by restoring reasonable public road access thereto; and (3) the trial court cannot require the Division to acquire the landlocked residue by condemnation. View "West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways v. Echols" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed a consolidated order of the Circuit Courts of Randolph, Barbour and Upshur Counties pursuant to which the Tax Commissioner’s determination was upheld that Penn Virginia Operating Company’s (Penn) forest properties were not eligible for lower valuation for tax year 2016, holding that Penn was deprived of its right to an administrative appeal of the denial of its application. Penn sought to have its timberland taxed at a lower appraised value subject to a cooperative contract with the State Division of Forestry (Forestry) pursuant to the Division’s Managed Timberland Program. The consolidated order in this case denied relief from the Commissioner’s determination that Penn’s forest properties were not eligible for lower valuation because Penn filed its application with Forestry for certification of its properties as managed timberland sixteen days after the deadline. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case with directions to allow Penn to appeal the denial of its application to Forestry’s Director, holding that Penn received incorrect information from Forestry and could have appealed the denial but was advised otherwise. View "Penn Virginia Operating Co., LLC v. Honorable Phyllis K. Yokum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court reversing the order of the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) affirming the revocation of Respondent’s driver’s license for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), holding that the circuit court erred in reversing the OAH’s revocation order. In reversing the order of the OAH, the circuit court ruled that there was no “lawful evidence” that Respondent was under the influence of alcohol when he was arrested for DUI, and therefore any secondary chemical test was not lawfully administered. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the OAH’s order was supported by substantial evidence demonstrating that Respondent was lawfully arrested for DUI; and (2) the circuit court abused its discretion by substituting its judgment for that of the OAH. View "Reed v. Winesburg" on Justia Law

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In this condemnation proceeding, the Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition sought by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways (DOH), holding that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate authority and committed clear error by hindering the DOH’s exercise of its legislatively-granted discretion with respect to planning and engineering a road expansion project. The DOH filed petitions to condemn private property for use in expansion of a highly-trafficked road and moved for immediate right of entry and transfer of defeasible title. The circuit court held the motion in abeyance in lieu of denial and directed the DOH to return to its engineers for additional consideration of traffic safety issues and alternative plans to minimize the impact on local businesses. The Supreme Court granted the DOH’s petition for a writ of prohibition, holding that because the project was indisputably for a public use, the circuit court exceeded its legitimate authority by effectively denying for failing to rule on the only issue properly before it - that is, whether the project was for a public use. View "State ex rel. W.Va. Department of Transportation, Division of Highways v. Honorable Susan B. Tucker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) finding that it did not have statutory jurisdiction to consider Petitioner’s complaint challenging the Greater Harrison County Public Service District’s (the District) rate increase, holding that the District was not subject to the PSC’s jurisdiction with regard to ratemaking authority. In 2015, the Legislature adopted deregulation measures to limit the PSC’s jurisdiction and to exempt larger public service districts from the requirement that the district obtain approval from he PSC before changing the rates it charged for water or sewer service. After 2015, larger public service districts, statutory defined as having at least 4,500 customers, were only required to obtain approval of a rate change from a local elected body. After the Harrison County Commission approved a rate increase sought by the District, Petitioner, a District customer, brought suit arguing that the PSC had jurisdiction because the District did not have at least 4,500 customers. The PSC found that the District provided service to at least 4,500 customers, and thus, it did not have jurisdiction to examine the District’s rate increase. The Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pool v. Greater Harrison County Public Service District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Board of Review in these consolidated workers’ compensation cases, holding that the four claimants’ applications for occupational pneumoconiosis (OP) benefits were properly rejected pursuant to W. Va. Code 23-4-15(b). Section 23-4-15(b) provides that a claimant may either file an OP claim within three years of the claimant’s date of last exposure to the hazards of OP or within three years of the date a diagnosed impairment due to OP was made known to the claimant by a physician. None of the claimants here filed an application within three years of their date of last exposure. Relying on the second time limitation, however, the claimants asserted that because they were not informed by a physician that they had a diagnosed impairment due to OP, they were not barred from filing new claims with the same date of last exposure as in their prior claims. The Supreme Court ruled that the claims were properly rejected, holding that the claimants’ interpretation of the statute was unconvincing. View "Pennington v. W.Va. Office of Insurance Commissioner" on Justia Law