Articles Posted in West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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Plaintiff filed a legal malpractice action against two attorneys and a law firm (Respondents) alleging that their negligence resulted in failed collateral in securing a promissory note, particularly a defective deed on certain property. Plaintiff then sued a holding company and two individuals to recover the remaining balance due under the note. In the collection action, the circuit court entered a stipulated settlement that extinguished the parties' obligations under the note. In the malpractice action, the circuit court awarded summary judgment to Respondents, concluding that Plaintiff had failed to prove he sustained damages as a result of Respondents' alleged professional negligence because the stipulated settlement extinguished the defective deed upon which Plaintiff based his claim for damages. After the circuit court entered a subsequent nunc pro tunc order in the collection action omitting the language extinguishing the parties' obligations under the note, Plaintiff sought relief from the summary judgment ruling in the legal malpractice action. The circuit court denied relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff failed to prove Respondents' alleged professional negligence caused him to sustain any purported damages; and (2) based on the law of judicial estoppel, the circuit court correctly ruled that Plaintiff was not entitled to relief from its earlier summary judgment ruling. View "Burnworth v. George" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were owners of the surface of a thirty-acre tract of land. Defendant, an oil and gas corporation, claimed that, in 1949, it leased the rights to the gas under the tract. In 2006, the parties entered into a contract allowing Defendant to build a 200-foot access road. Defendant later constructed a roadway approximately 1300 feet long on Plaintiffs' surface tract, erected an above-ground pipeline across the tract, and drilled a natural gas well. Plaintiffs sued Defendant alleging breach of contract. Defendant asserted it was entitled to summary judgment because of an exculpatory clause within a 1941 deed that severed the surface of the tract of property from the minerals below. Defendant contended that, as a lessee of the oil and gas under the property, it was a beneficiary of the exculpatory clause and entitled to operate on Plaintiffs' tract without liability for any injury to the surface by reason of removing minerals. The circuit court granted Defendant's motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained on whether Defendant breached the contract. View "Thornsbury v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp." on Justia Law

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Lisbeth Cherrington entered into a contract with the Pinnacle Group for the construction of a home. Anthony Mamone worked with Cherrington during the contract and construction process. After the construction was completed, Cherrington filed this action against Pinnacle and Mamone, alleging, inter alia, negligence, misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duty. Pinnacle and Mamone requested Erie Insurance Property and Casualty Company, with whom they had insurance policies, to provide coverage and a defense. Because Erie denied both coverage and a duty to defend, Pinnacle and Mamone filed a third-party complaint against Erie seeking a declaration of the coverage provided by their policies. The circuit court granted Erie's motion for summary judgment, finding that the three policies issued to Pinnacle and Mamone did not provide coverage for the injuries and property damage allegedly sustained by Cherrington. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court's finding that neither Mamone's homeowners policy nor his umbrella policy provided coverage under the facts of this case; but (2) reversed the circuit court's ruling finding no coverage to exist under Pinnacle's commercial general liability policy. Remanded. View "Cherrington v. Erie Ins. Prop. & Cas. Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner here was Gaddy Engineering Company, and Respondents were an individual lawyer, Thomas Lane, and a law firm in which Lane was a partner (Bowles Rice). Petitioner contended that the Lane agreed to pay Petitioner one-third of all sums Bowles Rice received in connection with its legal representation of a group of land companies in a case to be filed against a company for alleged underpayment of gas royalties. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents as to all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding, inter alia, that the trial court (1) correctly applied the doctrine of impracticability as to Petitioner's breach of contract claims; (2) did not err in ruling that no attorney-client relationship existed between Petitioner and Respondents, and thus the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's professional negligence claim; (3) correctly granted summary judgment on Petitioner's claim of fraud; and (4) did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's claim seeking relief in quantum meruit. View "Gaddy Eng'g Co. v. Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, LLP" on Justia Law

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In 1907, Florence conveyed her 1/7 interest in "the surface only" of a 225-acre tract of land to Walter, her brother, who was vested with an undivided 6/7 interest in the tract. The subject tract was subsequently conveyed several times. In 1967, Respondent purchased the interest in the 225-acre tract that was previously owned by Walter. Respondent asserted that he was the sole owner of all oil and gas rights under the tract. Petitioners, successors to Florence, contended that they owned a portion of the 1/7 interest in the oil and gas under the tract. The circuit court ruled in favor of Respondent after declaring that the term "surface only" was ambiguous and relying on contemporary testimony to interpret the deed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the term "surface," when used as a term of conveyance, is not presumptively ambiguous and does have a definite and certain meaning; (2) the deed clearly conveyed from Florence to Walter her share of "the surface only" to the tract and reserved to Florence the remainder of the tract, including the oil and gas underlying the tract; and (3) accordingly, Petitioners were owners of a portion of Florence's 1/7 interest in the minerals underlying the tract. View "Faith United Methodist Church & Cemetery of Terra Alta v. Morgan " on Justia Law

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In 2008, Donte Newsome, a university student, was the innocent victim of murder. In 2009, Newsome's mother, Angela Smith, submitted an application to the court of claims seeking reimbursement from the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Fund for medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, and student loans owed by Newsome at the time of his death. Smith was granted an award for medical expenses and funeral and burial costs but was denied compensation for the student loans. After a hearing, the court of claims denied Smith's request for reimbursement of her son's unpaid student loans pursuant to the West Virginia Crime Victims Compensation Act, concluding that student loans are contractual obligations that cannot be reimbursed under the Act. The Supreme Court denied Smith's petition for writ of certiorari, holding that Newsome's student loans were not subject to reimbursement under the Act because they were not loans that Newsome was unable to receive or use, in whole or in part, prior to his death. View "State ex rel. Smith v. W. Va. Crime Victims Comp. Fund" on Justia Law

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Petitioner homeowners filed suit against Respondent, an entity that had been hired to perform emergency services for damages to Petitioners' home as the result of a sewage backup, asserting claims for personal injury and property damage arising from Respondent's alleged negligence in failing to detect and/or remediate mold in their home following the sewer backup that flooded the home with water and waste. The circuit court held that the contract between the parties, which included a mold/mildew/bacteria waiver, was a complete bar to Petitioners' claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the contract was not substantively unconscionable; and (2) allowing Respondent to disclaim liability for mold damage did not violate public policy. View "Pingley v. Perfection Plus Turbo-Dry, LLC" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a verbal agreement entered into by Contractor and Landowner to construct a subdivision on a parcel of land. Disagreements arose between the parties, and the subdivision was never completed. Landowner filed this action against Contractor asserting Contractor had failed to make payments on an endloader that had been purchased for the project. Contractor counterclaimed for unjust enrichment based on excavation services he performed on the property. The jury found in favor of Landowner with regard to the endloader and in favor of Contractor with regard to his counterclaim. The trial court found Contractor was entitled to a prejudgment interest on his award of damages on his unjust enrichment claim. Contractor filed a motion to amend the judgment order, contending that the court erred in determining the date on which prejudgment interest began to accrue and had utilized an incorrect prejudgment interest date. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed the denial of Contractor's motion to amend the judgment order, holding that the trial court erred by awarding Contractor prejudgment interest instead of allowing the jury to determine whether an award of prejudgment interest was warranted. Remanded. View "Ringer v. John" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff (HOA) was a condominium owners' association that brought suit on its own behalf and on behalf of its members against various individuals and corporations seeking damages arising from the alleged defective development, negligent construction, and misleading marketing of a condominium complex. The complex consisted of dozens of units owned by members of the HOA. The circuit court granted Respondents' motion to join all unit owners, denied the HOA's motion for a protective order, and certified six questions to the Supreme Court. The Court answered only one of the questions, finding it unnecessary to address the remaining questions, holding (1) a unit owners' association is an adequate representative when a lawsuit is instituted by a unit owners' association on behalf of two or more unit owners pursuant to the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act and the damages sought include unit specific damages affecting only individual units; and (2) this case should proceed in accordance with W. Va. Trial Court R. 26. View "Univ. Commons Riverside Home Owners Ass'n v. Univ. Commons Morgantown, LLC" on Justia Law

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Respondents graduated from College's legal assisting program with associate degrees. Respondents filed a complaint against College, alleging that College induced Respondents to enroll in College's legal assisting program by verbally guaranteeing legal assistant jobs to Respondents after graduation. The jury found College engaged in both unconscionable and fraudulent inducement. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in granting relief to Respondents and denying College's motion for judgment as a matter of law, where (1) the circuit court erred in finding College violated the state Consumer Credit and Protection Act, and accordingly, Respondents did not have cognizable causes of action for unconscionability and inducement by unconscionable conduct pursuant to W. Va. Code 46A-2-121; (2) the circuit court erred in ruling that the agreement between the parties was unconscionable under the common law of contracts based on a lack of consideration; and (3) because the circuit court granted judgment as a matter of law on Respondents' fraudulent inducement claim on the basis that it was time-barred, Respondents did not have an equitable claim for fraudulent inducement, and therefore, the circuit court erred to the extent that it granted equitable relief to Respondents on the basis of fraudulent inducement. View "Mountain State Coll. v. Holsinger" on Justia Law