Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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The case involves a dispute between Christopher Sullivan, the respondent, and several police officers and cities, the petitioners. Sullivan filed a complaint against the petitioners following a confrontation with the police officers that led to his arrest on various charges. Sullivan asserted twenty-three state law causes of action against the petitioners. In response, the petitioners filed motions to dismiss Sullivan's complaint, alleging varying theories of immunity. The Circuit Court of Jefferson County partially granted the petitioners' motions to dismiss. The court determined that the police officers were not entitled to "qualified immunity" and that the cities and their respective police departments and police chiefs were entitled to "qualified immunity" from Sullivan's negligence claims. The court also determined that Sullivan was entitled to allege claims of negligence and intentional torts from the same facts.The petitioners appealed the Circuit Court's decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. The Supreme Court found that the Circuit Court erred by basing its immunity decisions on common law qualified immunity principles, which are only applicable to the State, its agencies, officials, and employees, rather than applying the provisions of the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act, which govern immunity for the claims asserted against the petitioners as they are undisputedly political subdivisions and employees of political subdivisions. The Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kent v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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The case involves Tony Paletta, the petitioner, and Nelson Phillips, III, Nathan Phillips, Robert Nelson Phillips, II, and the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, the respondents. The petitioner and the Phillips respondents own adjacent land in Harrison County, West Virginia. A road, Harrison County Route 36/5 (CR 36/5), crosses the Phillips respondents' property and provides access to the petitioner's property. The road was never improved by the West Virginia Division of Highways (WVDOH) but appears on WVDOH maps for Harrison County beginning in 1937. After the Phillips respondents impeded the petitioner's access by way of CR 36/5, the petitioner brought suit in circuit court seeking an order requiring the Phillips respondents to remove the gates/fences and allow him access to his property, using CR 36/5.The Circuit Court of Harrison County granted summary judgment in favor of the Phillips respondents, finding that CR 36/5 was not a public road. The court based its decision on several factors, including the lack of specific description of the road, the WVDOH's admission that the road no longer exists in an identifiable form, and the lack of plans by the WVDOH to make any improvements to CR 36/5.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the lower court's decision, finding that the circuit court erred in concluding that CR 36/5 is not a public road and in granting summary judgment in favor of the Phillips respondents. The court held that the burden of showing that a public road was abandoned falls on the party asserting the abandonment. In this case, the Phillips respondents failed to demonstrate that CR 36/5 was discontinued or abandoned. The court concluded that CR 36/5 was properly made a part of the state road system in 1933 and was never properly abandoned, discontinued, vacated, or closed by the WVDOH in the manner prescribed by West Virginia law. Therefore, the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion. View "Paletta v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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The case involves David Duff II, a Kanawha County Deputy Sheriff, who injured his back while on duty. He applied for workers' compensation benefits and was awarded a 13% Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) award. The award was based on a medical report that found Duff had a 25% whole person impairment, but 12% of this was attributed to a preexisting condition. Duff protested this award to the West Virginia Workers’ Compensation Board of Review (BOR), arguing that no apportionment was indicated. However, the BOR affirmed the 13% PPD award. Duff then appealed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals of West Virginia (ICA), which also affirmed the BOR's decision.The case was then brought before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. The court found that the ICA erred in affirming the BOR's decision. The court held that under West Virginia Code § 23-4-9b (2003), the employer has the burden of proving apportionment is warranted in a workers' compensation case. This requires the employer to prove the claimant "has a definitely ascertainable impairment resulting from" a preexisting condition(s). The court found that the respondent failed to carry its burden of proving the degree of impairment to be attributed to any preexisting condition for purposes of apportionment. The court reversed the ICA's decision and remanded the case to the BOR with directions to grant Duff an additional 12% PPD award for a total PPD award of 25%. View "Duff v. Kanawha County Commission" on Justia Law

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In West Virginia, a woman sued the City of Logan after she tripped over a loop of cable wire on a sidewalk, which she alleged the city negligently maintained. The cable wire and post were owned by the First Baptist Church of Logan, West Virginia, and the wire had been around the pole for at least ten years. The woman had walked the same route on her lunch break daily for over a year prior to the accident. She testified that she had never noticed the wire before the day of her injury.The city, in its defense, pointed out that it did not own the wire, had never received any reports about the wire causing a hazard, and did not have any notice or knowledge that the wire was on the sidewalk before the woman's fall. Street Commissioner for the City of Logan, Kevin Marcum, testified that under city ordinances, property owners are in charge of sidewalks.Following discovery, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the city, finding that the woman failed to support a negligence claim under West Virginia law. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia affirmed this decision, agreeing that the woman failed to establish that the city knew or should have known that the wire was on the sidewalk causing a potential hazard. The court held that foreseeability or reasonable anticipation of the consequences of an act is determinative of a defendant’s negligence. Because there was no evidence demonstrating that the city knew or should have known that the wire was on the sidewalk causing a potential hazard, the court concluded that the city was entitled to summary judgment. View "Orso v. The City of Logan" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the Board of Education of the County of Cabell challenged two state laws that required the Board to include funding for the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District in its excess levy proposals. The Board argued that these laws violated the equal protection guarantees of the West Virginia Constitution because they imposed funding requirements on the Board that were not required of other county boards of education.The court agreed with the Board, finding that the laws did indeed create a discriminatory classification. The court noted that 53 other county boards were free to seek voter approval of excess levy funding without such restrictions. The court could not find a compelling state interest to justify this unequal classification.The court also addressed a second issue related to equalization payments for fiscal years 2024 and 2025. The court concluded that although the Board was required to make annual payments to the Library and the Park District, it was not required to make equalization payments for these fiscal years.The court reversed the lower court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the respondents’ Verified Petition for Writ of Mandamus. View "Board of Education v. Cabell County Public Library" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia recently ruled on a case involving the nonprofit organization Tax Analysts and Matthew Irby, the West Virginia State Tax Commissioner. Tax Analysts requested copies of field audit and audit training manuals from the West Virginia State Tax Department under the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Department denied the request, citing a statutory exemption protecting certain tax-related documents. Tax Analysts then filed a declaratory judgment action seeking to prevent the Department from withholding the requested documents.The Circuit Court of Kanawha County ruled in favor of the Department and dismissed the case, accepting the Department's argument that the documents were statutorily protected by the asserted FOIA disclosure exemption. However, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed this decision, concluding that the circuit court erred by not requiring the Department to present detailed justifications, known as a Vaughn index and an affidavit, as to why each document or part of it was exempt from disclosure under the FOIA.The court remanded the case with instructions for the circuit court to require the Department to file a Vaughn index and an affidavit explaining why disclosure of the documents would be harmful and why they should be exempt. The court concluded that the Department had not met its burden of showing the express applicability of the claimed exemption to the material requested. View "Tax Analysts v. Irby" on Justia Law

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In a suit involving the West Virginia Department of Human Services (the Department), the plaintiff, A.R., alleged that her injuries stemmed from the Department's negligence, specifically its failure to follow proper procedures, policies, and protocols mandated by the Child Welfare Act. The Department moved to dismiss the claims on the basis of qualified immunity, asserting that the claims were based on discretionary, governmental functions and thus it was immune from claims of negligence. However, the Circuit Court of Kanawha County denied the Department’s motion.In its decision, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the lower court's decision in part, ruling that the Department was indeed entitled to qualified immunity from A.R.'s negligence claims. The Court found that the hiring, training, and supervision of employees were discretionary governmental functions, and A.R.'s broad allegations that the Department violated the Child Welfare Act and the Child Protective Services Policy were insufficient to defeat the Department's claim of qualified immunity. The court remanded the case for further proceedings, consistent with its opinion. View "West Virginia Department of Human Resources v. A.R." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the West Virginia Workers' Compensation Board of Review affirming an ALJ's denial of Robert Hood's application for workers' compensation benefits, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion.Hood was making a delivery for his employer when he felt a pain in his right knee. The employer's claim administrator denied Hood's application for workers' compensation benefits after concluding that Hood did not sustain an injury in the course of and scope of his employment. An ALJ affirmed, as did the Board of Review. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that although Hood's injury occurred while he was working, it did not result from his employment. View "Hood v. Lincare Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court affirming the decision of the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board granting the grievance brought by Respondent, a school bus driver, reinstating her to a modified bus run and an extracurricular bus run and awarding her back pay, holding that the circuit court erred in affirming the decision of the grievance board.Respondent, a bus driver hired to transport elementary and high school students on the same bus run at the same time, made a modified regular run and vocational run for thirty years. In 2017, Petitioner, the Board of Education of the County of Wyoming, changed Respondent's employment back to the arrangement originally contracted for. Respondent filed a grievance, which the grievance board granted, finding that Petitioner's action in restoring Respondent's regular bus run to its original parameters was unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the grievance board and circuit court were clearly wrong in their determinations and that the circuit court should have found that Respondent did not meet her burden of proof. View "Bd. of Education of County of Wyoming v. Dawson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the dispositional orders of the circuit court terminating Father's parental rights to his four children, holding that the circuit court erroneously failed to follow the process established by the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings and related statutes.The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) filed a petition alleging abuse and neglect after Petitioner was seen living out of a car with two of his children and their mother. In an amended petition, DHHR added Father's two other children, despite the fact that the children had not seen Father for years and lived with a different mother. The circuit court ultimately terminated Father's parental rights to all four children - two on the basis of abandonment and two because of inadequate housing. The Supreme Court vacated the dispositional orders, holding that remand was required for further proceedings because the circuit court clearly erred by failing to follow the West Virginia Rules of Procedure for Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings and related statutes. View "In re C.L." on Justia Law