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When a child is born alive, the presence of illegal drugs in the child’s system at birth constitutes sufficient evidence that the child is an abused and/or neglected child, as those terms are defined by W. Va. Code 49-1-201, to support the filing of an abuse and neglect petition pursuant to W. Va. Code 49-4-601 The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources filed an abuse and neglect petition against Father alleging that Child was an abused and/or neglected child. The allegations of Father’s misconduct included his failure to protect Child from Mother’s drug use - both prenatal and ongoing after Child’s birth - and his continuing association with Mother. Father filed a motion to dismiss the petition claiming that because an abuse and neglect proceeding could not be brought to protect a child who has not yet been born, a parent could not be charged with injuries in utero. The circuit court agreed to certify a question to the Supreme Court insofar as it was deemed to be determinative of Father’s motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court answered the question as reformulated. View "In re A.L.C.M." on Justia Law

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Petitioner was convicted of first degree felony murder, robbery, and other offenses. Petitioner was sentenced to life with mercy for the murder offense. The Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner’s convictions. Petitioner later filed a pro se habeas petition alleging several grounds for relief. The habeas court granted in part and denied in part Petitioner’s habeas petition, concluding (1) Petitioner failed to prove that he received ineffective assistance or that false evidence had been presented by the State at trial, but (2) Petitioner proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he had been improperly sentenced to an additional forty years on his robbery offense because robbery was a lesser-included offense to the first degree felony murder charge. The habeas court then dismissed the robbery conviction. On appeal, both Petitioner and the State assigned error to the habeas court’s rulings. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to habeas relief, and the habeas court erred in dismissing Petitioner’s robbery conviction. The court remanded the matter with instructions to reinstate Petitioner’s conviction and sentence for robbery on the terms imposed by the trial court. View "Flack v. Ballard" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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In a state court proceeding, federal rules of res judicata or claim preclusion dictate the preclusive effect of a federal court judgment on a federal question, but for a federal court judgment applying state law, that state’s rules of res judicata or claim preclusion dictate the preclusive effect of the judgment. In these consolidated appeals, the Supreme Court examined the res judicata effect of a federal court judgment on a state court third-party complaint. The circuit court dismissed the third-party complaint on res judicata grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the third-party complaint was barred by res judicata because both the federal action and state action relied upon the same facts and were virtually identical in terms of time, space and origin. View "Dan Ryan Builders v. Crystal Ridge Development, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure

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An inmate injured while working at a work release center is not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. William Crawford sought workers’ compensation benefits for a severe injury he sustained during his period of confinement at the Charleston Work Release Center. The claims administrator rejected Crawford’s application for benefits based upon its determination that he did not suffer an injury in the course of and resulting from his employment because Crawford was an inmate and not an employee as defined under W. Va. Code 23-4-1(a). The office of judges and Workers’ Compensation Board of Review affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Board did not err in ruling that Crawford was not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to W. Va. Code 23-4-1e(b); and (2) there was no violation of Crawford’s equal protection rights. View "Crawford v. West Virginia Department of Corrections - Work Release" on Justia Law

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The circuit court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the equities favored disinterment of the remains of Chester Howard West, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient, and granting the petition of Hershel Woodrow Williams. Williams filed a petition seeking authorization to disinter West’s remains and bury him with full military honors at the Gold Star Family Memorial Monument located within the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute, West Virginia. The circuit court granted the petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court had the authority under common law to rule on the question of disinterment of West’s remains, and W. Va. Code 29-1-8a did not preempt the circuit court’s common law jurisdiction; and (2) the equities favored disinterment. View "In re Remains of Chester Howard West" on Justia Law

Posted in: Military Law

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After soil and rock slid down a hill located to the rear of Responents’ property and damaged a building, Respondents submitted a claim for property damage to Erie Insurance Property, their insurance carrier. Erie denied coverage based upon its conclusion that Respondents’ loss was not covered due to the policy’s earth movement exclusion. Respondents sued Erie and Stephen Myers, an adjuster for Erie (collectively, Petitioners), seeking a declaratory judgment as to whether coverage existed. The circuit court granted declaratory judgment in favor of Respondents. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter with instructions to enter declaratory judgment for Petitioners, holding (1) the plain and unambiguous terms of the ensuing loss provision of the policy provided a narrow exception to the earth movement exclusion and permitted coverage for the portion of the loss caused by glass breakage; and (2) the other damage caused by the earth movement was not covered. View "Erie Insurance Property & Casualty Co. v. Chaber" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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In this wrongful death action arising from an automobile accident, Defendants - Robert Jackson and the Joelynn Family Preservation Trust - appealed from an order of the circuit court denying their motion for a new trial following a jury verdict favor of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court’s ruling granting summary judgment to Plaintiff on the issue of Jackson’s liability for causing the automobile accident; (2) reversed the circuit court’s denial of Jackson’s post-trial motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of the Trust’s liability, as Jackson was not “in the course of administering” the Trust when the automobile accident occurred; and (3) affirmed the circuit court’s award of prejudgment interest on Plaintiff’s award for lost wages. View "Jackson v. Brown" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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After a fatal vehicular accident, Christina Varvel asserted a declaratory judgment action against Universal Underwriters Insurance Co. and Zurich American Insurance Co. (collectively, Zurich) to determine the amount of insurance coverage available. Varvel also sued Salvatore Cava, Daniel Cava, and Dan’s Car World, LLC (collectively, the Cava defendants). The Cava defendants filed individual cross-claims against Zurich, their insurer. Zurich filed a motion to dismiss the Cava defendants’ cross-claims under W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The circuit court denied Zurich’s motion to dismiss, determining that the Cava defendants asserted recognized causes of action against Zurich. Zurich sought a writ of prohibition to prevent enforcement of the circuit court’s order. The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition, as moulded, holding that the Cava defendants’ cross-claims against Zurich were not ripe for adjudication. Therefore, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the order denying Zurich’s motion to dismiss the Cava defendants’ cross-claims was void and unenforceable. View "State ex rel. Universal Underwriters Insurance v. Honorable Patrick N. Wilson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed an order of the circuit court that granted summary judgment to Steve Sayre in connection with determining the amount of underinsured motorist insurance (UIM) owed by GEICO to Sayre. Concluding that the GEICO policy language was ambiguous, the trial court ruled that, where there were two underinsured motorists in this case, the UIM coverage was triggered separately by each of those motorists. The court then ordered GEICO to pay an additional $20,000 in UIM coverage. The Supreme Court held that the circuit court erred in applying the policy language to require GEICO to pay double the amount of UIM coverage purchased by Sayre. View "Government Employees Insurance Co. v. Sayre" on Justia Law

Posted in: Insurance Law

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Where a lessee designates tracts of land for pooling regarding horizontal drilling and production of oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation, which includes nonparticipating royalty interests (NPRI), consent or ratification by the holders of the nonparticipating royalty interests is not required where the holders of the NPRIs have conveyed the oil and gas in place and the executive leasing rights thereto to the lessor. At issue was a voluntary pooling and unionization lease provision regarding horizontal drilling and production of oil and gas from the Marcellus Shale Formation. PPG Industries, Inc., the lessor, and Gastar Exploration USA, Inc., the lessee, signed a lease under which 700 acres were designated by Gastar as the Wayne/Lily Unit for purposes of pooling the oil and gas interests held by various individuals and entities. PPG and Gastar challenged the circuit court’s entry of partial summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, who collectively held a nonparticipating royalty interest in the oil and gas underlying a parcel included within the Wayne/Lily Unit. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the validity of the pooling provision in the PPG-Gastar lease and the designated Wayne/Lily Unit were void until such time as pooling was consented to and ratified by Plaintiffs. View "Gastar Exploration Inc. v. Contraguerro" on Justia Law