Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court resentencing Petitioner, for purposes of this appeal, to an aggregate term of incarceration of five to twenty-five years for her convictions for child neglect resulting in death and gross child neglect creating a risk of substantial injury or death, holding that Petitioner was not entitled to relief.On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court violated her right under the Sixth Amendment to conflict-free counsel and that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose certain records. The Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed, holding (1) the trial court did not err in finding that even if counsel's performance was deficient, the deficient performance did not adversely affect the outcome of the trial; and (2) there was no merit in Petitioner's contention that a Brady violation occurred in this case. View "State v. A.B." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence that law enforcement discovered her minor child in Petitioner's home after the child absconded from her grandparents' supervision, holding that there was no error.Petitioner entered a conditional plea to one count of child concealment. At issue on appeal, was the trial court's denial of Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence that her child, who had been adjudicated as a status offender for truancy and placed in a temporary guardianship with her grandparents, was discovered in her home after escaping from her grandparents' supervision five months prior. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the officers had a reasonable belief that the child lived with Petitioner at her apartment and was within the residence at the time they entered; and (2) therefore, there was no error in the circuit court's denial of Petitioner's motion to suppress. View "State v. Pennington" 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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The Supreme Court vacated the adjudicatory and dispositional orders of the circuit court in this termination of parental rights case, holding that the circuit court erred when it terminated Father's parental rights because Father did not receive proper notice of the hearing at which he was purportedly adjudicated.The circuit court terminated Father's parental rights for allegedly abandoning his infant son. Father proposed two assignments of error claiming that he was denied an adjudicatory hearing for a determination whether the child had been abuse and/or neglected as alleged. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's order, holding (1) Father did not receive proper notice that the hearing at issue was an adjudicatory hearing from him, and without such notice, Father was not provided due process; and (2) without first holding an adjudicatory hearing, the circuit court could not lawfully proceed to disposition and termination of Father's parental rights. View "In re A.G." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the sentencing order of the circuit court in this criminal case, holding that Defendant's right to be present at the imposition of his sentence was violated and that this violation was not harmless error.Defendant pled guilty to three counts of failure to register as a sex offender and one count of fleeing from an officer. During the sentencing hearing, Defendant and his counsel participated by video conference. On appeal, Defendant argued that the circuit court impermissibly failed to allow him to be physically present for his sentencing hearing, in violation of W. Va. R. Crim. P. 62-3-2, W. Va. R. Crim. P. 43 and both the West Virginia and United States Constitutions. The Supreme Court vacated the sentencing order, holding (1) Defendant's right to be present at the imposition of his sentence was violated; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the error was not harmless. View "State v. Byers" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court denying Defendant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the circuit court did not err in denying the petition.Defendant was convicted of first-degree robbery, conspiracy, and entry of a dwelling. In his habeas petition, Defendant alleged that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance and that the State violated his constitutional rights by presenting false testimony. The circuit court denied the habeas petition. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant failed to prove ineffective assistance of counsel and that Defendant's second assignment of error lacked merit. View "Goodman v. Searls" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed Petitioner's conviction for first-degree murder and sentence of life imprisonment, holding that the circuit court erred in its determination that evidence regarding Petitioner's conviction for another murder was admissible at his trial pursuant to W. Va. R. Evid. 404(b).On review of Petitioner's convictions, the Supreme Court concluded that an incomplete record did not allow for a determination of whether Petitioner's right to a speedy trial had been violated. On remand, the circuit court ruled that Petitioner's right to a speedy trial was not violated. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for a new trial, holding that the circuit court erred in admitting the 404(b) evidence and that a limiting instruction given to the jury was not effective to preclude prejudice as a result of the error. View "State v. Combs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the affirmative two questions certified by the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, holding that there is no separate cause of action for excessive force by police officers during the course of arrest within the plain language of W. Va. Const. Art. III, 10.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) West Virginia applies to its constitution the rule established in Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989), and United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259 (1997), which requires a constitutional claim that is covered by a specific constitutional provision to be analyzed under the standard specific to that provision and not under substantive due process; and (2) in light of Fields v. Mellinger, 851 S.E.2d 789 (W. Va. 2020), a claim for excessive force by police officers brought under W. Va. Const. art. III, 10 is redundant to a claim brought under Article III, Section 6. View "Stepp v. Cottrell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing this complaint alleging violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act (WVHRA), W. Va. Code 5-11-1 to -20, holding that Respondent was not entitled to qualified immunity under the WVHRA, and Petitioner's complaint sufficiently stated her claims.Petitioner, a former commercial driver's license instructor for Respondent, Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, filed a complaint alleging that Respondent's decision to terminate her employment was predicated upon illegal age and sex discrimination. The circuit court granted Respondent's motion to dismiss, concluding that Respondent was entitled to qualified immunity and that Petitioner had failed to satisfy the heightened pleading standard. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner's complaint pleaded sufficient facts to survive a W. Va. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. View "Judy v. Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College" 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