Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part three orders issued by two separate judges presiding over two separate but related cases in the circuit court, holding that remand was required.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the circuit court (1) did not err in denying Praetorian Insurance Company's motion to intervene in Plaintiff's wrongful death action against its insured, Air Cargo Carriers, LLC for lack of standing to assert Air Cargo's right to workers' compensation immunity; (2) erred in denying Praetorian's motion for summary judgment as to count one of its declaratory judgment complaint; and (3) correctly dismissed count two of Praetorian's declaratory judgment complaint on the grounds that Praetorian lacked standing. View "Praetorian Insurance Co. v. Chau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying a motion for summary judgment filed by Adam Goodman and Paul Underwood (collectively, Petitioners) in this personal injury case arising from an accident in which Blake Auton was injured, holding that the allegations against Petitioners were those of pure negligence, which were barred by workers' compensation immunity.In its order denying summary judgment, the circuit court concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Goodman was action within the scope of his employment while he was driving a garbage truck that backed over Auton and that additional discovery was required relating to Underwood's actions. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded with direction for the circuit court to grant summary judgment to Petitioners, holding (1) Petitioners were both clearly acting in furtherance of their employer's business when the accident occurred; and (2) therefore, workers' compensation immunity barred the cause of action and entitled Petitioners to summary judgment. View "Goodman v. Auton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decisions of the lower tribunals resolving Claimant's permanent total disability (PTD) claim in his favor after denying his petition to reopen his occupational pneumoconiosis permanent partial disability (OP PPD) claim for further evaluation, holding that the lower tribunals erred in part.At issue in the instant consolidated appeals were Claimant's attempt to reopen his OP PPD claim for further evaluation and his claim for permanent total disability (PTD) due to his various impairments. While Claimant's PTD claim was still being litigated, he unsuccessfully filed two petition to reopen his OP PPD claim. The lower tribunals denied Claimant's reopening petitions but awarded him PTD. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) W. Va. Code 23-4-16(e) does not preclude reopening of a permanent disability claim because another permanent disability claim is pending; and (2) the lower tribunals were not clearly wrong in determining that Claimant was permanently and totally disabled. View "Delbert v. Murray American Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment to Clay County Development Corporation (CCDC) in regard to Petitioners' claims of discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code 5-11-2 and -9, and breach of an implied employment contract, holding that the circuit court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) as used in the Act, ancestry means discrimination based on some characteristic like race, ethnicity, or national origin that is passed down by lineal descendants, and in the context of employment, familial status is not included among the groups entitled to protection under the Act; and (2) the circuit court did not err in its finding that Plaintiffs were at-will employees and as such could be terminated for any non-discriminatory reason. View "Keener v. Clay County Development Corp." on Justia Law

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Following a diagnosis of cancer, Opyoke requested information from his employer, Fairmont Tool, about his right to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For approximately four months, Fairmont failed to advise Opyoke of his FMLA rights, in violation of 29 U.S.C. 2615(a)(1). Opyoke sued, alleging that Fairmont interfered with, restrained, or denied the exercise of or the attempt to exercise, his rights under the FMLA. A jury awarded monetary damages.The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed. Although FMLA interference claims do not require a showing of intent on the part of the employer, proof of an interference violation is not enough to establish injury; an employee must also show that he was prejudiced by the violation. While Opyoke was entitled to FMLA benefits and Fairmont was covered by the FMLA, Opyoke failed to present any evidence that he lost compensation or benefits by reason of Fairmont’s technical violation of the FMLA; he presented no evidence as to how he would have structured his leave had Fairmont advised him of his rights under the FMLA. View "Fairmont Tool, Inc. v. Opyoke" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Board of Review affirming the decision of the Office of Judges denying Appellant's request to add C5-6 spondylosis with C6 radiculopathy as a compensable condition, holding that Appellant was entitled to a permanent partial disability award.Appellant suffered a compensable injury to his shoulder, neck and back while working for Respondent. After the injury, Appellant developed cervical radiculopathy. At issue was whether cervical radiculopathy should be added as a compensable condition of Appellant's claim. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case with directions to add cervical radiculopathy as a compensable condition, holding that Appellant proved a causal connection between his compensable injury and his cervical radiculopathy. View "Moore v. ICG Tygart Valley, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Respondent and dismissing Petitioner's civil action alleging that Respondent violated the terms of the West Virginia Wage Payment and Collection Act, the terms of her employee agreement, and the employee handbook by failing, upon her resignation, to provide her severance pay and compensation for accrued paid time off, holding that the circuit court erred.Following her resignation, Petitioner initiated a lawsuit alleging that Respondent failed timely to pay her wages on several occasions, thereby breaching the employee agreement that triggered Respondent's duty to pay her a severance package. Petitioner additionally asserted that the failure to pay her the severance package constituted violations of the employee handbook and the Act. The circuit court granted judgment in favor of Respondent. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in dismissing Petitioner's claims. View "Miller v. St. Joseph Recovery Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified by the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia seeking to clarify the application of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA) when the plaintiff's employing entity does not meet the WVHRA definition of "employer," as set out in W. Va. Code 5-11-3(d).Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against her former employer alleging violations of the WVHRA and other claims. Defendant removed the case to federal district court and moved for dismissal of the WVHRA claim on the ground that Plaintiff had failed to allege that Defendant satisfied the numerosity portion of the WVHRA definition of "employer." The district court denied the motion. Thereafter, the court ordered that a question of law be certified. The Supreme Court answered that an entity that does not meet the WVHRA's definition of employer may not be potentially liable to its own employee as a "person," as defined in W. Va. Code 5-11-3(a), for an alleged violation of W. Va. Code 5-11-9(7). View "Pajak v. Under Armour, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition sought by Petitioner to prohibit the circuit court from enforcing its order to strike the notice it received pursuant to W. Va. Code 55-7-13d regarding Respondent's belief that some or all of the fault in the matter should be assigned to the Monongalia County Commission, holding that Petitioner was entitled to the writ.Respondent was employed by the County Commission when he was injured his work. After resolving his workers' compensation claim Respondent sued Petitioner for further compensation. Thereafter, Petitioner filed the motion at issue. The circuit court granted Respondent's motion to strike the notice, concluding that fault could not be assigned to the County Commission, and, alternatively, that Petitioner failed to allege deliberate intention on the part of the County Commission. The Supreme Court granted Petitioner's petition for a writ of prohibition, holding (1) the circuit court committed clear error in ruling that the County Commission could not be named as a nonparty defendant under W.Va. Code 55-7-13d; and (2) section 55-7-13d did not require Petitioner to meet the deliberate-intention standard in order for fault to be assigned to the County Commission. View "State ex rel. March-Westin Co. v. Honorable Phillip D. Gaujot" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court preliminarily enjoining the West Virginia Paycheck Protection Act, passed by the Legislature in 2021, from taking effect, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion when it granted Respondents injunctive relief.Respondents - labor unions, employee associations, and individual members of such groups - sought to enjoin the enforcement of the Act, which prohibits state employers from continuing to deduct union dues and employee association membership fees from public employees' wages. The circuit court concluded that the law violated certain of Respondents' constitutional rights and that its enforcement would irreparably harm them. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion when it did not deny injunctive relief to Respondents. View "Justice v. W. Va. AFL-CIO" on Justia Law