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West Virginia Department of Transportation v. Veach

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 17, 2017

WEST VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
DOUGLAS R. VEACH, CATHERINE D. VEACH, ARVELLA PIERCY, ARETTA TURNER, ROSELLA A. VEACH, SHEILA KAY VEACH, SHERWOOD S. VEACH, SHARON A. MEHOK, F. CRAIG VEACH, L. COLEMAN VEACH, REGINALD K. VEACH, JEFFREY T. VEACH, ERIC C. VEACH, CHRISTOPHER K. VEACH, ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH AND EPIPHANY OF THE LORD CEMETERY, AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC DIOCESE WHEELING-CHARLESTON, Respondents Below, Respondents

          Submitted: January 17, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Hardy County The Honorable Andrew N. Frye, Jr., Judge Civil Action No. 11-C-36.

          Scott L. Summers, Esq. Summers Law Office, PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for the Petitioner

          J. David Judy, III, Esq. Judy & Judy Moorefield, West Virginia Counsel for the Respondents

          SYLLABUS

         1. "A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo." Syllabus Point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

         2. "A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syllabus Point 3, Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Federal Ins. Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

         3. "Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syllabus Point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995).

         4. "The trial [court] . . . is vested with a wide discretion in determining the amount of . . . court costs and counsel fees; and the trial [court's] . . . determination of such matters will not be disturbed upon appeal to this Court unless it clearly appears that [it] has abused [its] discretion." Syllabus Point 3, in part, Bond v. Bond, 144 W.Va. 478, 109 S.E.2d 16 (1959).

          5. "A stipulation of counsel may be set aside, upon the request of one of the parties, on the ground of improvidence provided both parties can be restored to the same condition as when the agreement was made." Syllabus, Cole v. State Comp. Comm'r, 114 W.Va. 633, 173 S.E.263 (1934).

         6. A circuit court is afforded wide discretion in determining whether or not a party should be relieved of a stipulation, and such decision should not be set aside absent an abuse of discretion.

         7. "Plaintiff was conclusively bound by allegations of fact, material or immaterial, contained in his pleadings." Syllabus, Pettry v. Hedrick, 123 W.Va. 107, 13 S.E.2d 401 (1941).

         8. "Collateral estoppel is designed to foreclose relitigation of issues in a second suit which have actually been litigated in the earlier suit even though there may be a difference in the cause of action between the parties of the first and second suit." Syllabus Point 2, in part, Conley v. Spillers, 171 W.Va. 584, 301 S.E.2d 216 (1983).

         9. "Collateral estoppel will bar a claim if four conditions are met: (1) The issue previously decided is identical to the one presented in the action in question; (2) there is final adjudication on the merits of the prior action; (3) the party against whom the doctrine is invoked was a party or in privity with a party to a prior action; and (4) the party against whom the doctrine is raised had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior action." Syllabus Point 1, State v. Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995).

         10. "Where attorney's fees are sought against a third party, the test of what should be considered a reasonable fee is determined not solely by the fee arrangement between the attorney and his client. The reasonableness of attorney's fees is generally based on broader factors such as: (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the undesirability of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases. Syllabus Point 4, Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Pitrolo¸ 176 W.Va. 190, 343 S.E.2d 156 (1986).

         11. "When a statute is clear and unambiguous and the legislative intent is plain, the statute should not be interpreted by the courts, and in such case it is the duty of the courts not to construe but to apply the statute." Syllabus Point 5, State v. General Daniel Morgan Post No. 548, V.F.W., 144 W.Va. 137, 107 S.E.2d 353 (1959).

          12. "Statutes which relate to the same subject matter should be read and applied together so that the Legislature's intention can be gathered from the whole of the enactments." Syllabus Point 3, Smith v. State Workmen's Compensation Comm'r, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975).

          OPINION

          WALKER, Justice

         Petitioner West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways ("DOH"), appeals the Circuit Court of Hardy County's March 2, 2016 order granting summary judgment against DOH and awarding attorneys' fees and costs to Respondents[1] ("Veach Heirs") in this condemnation action.

         In this appeal, DOH asserts that the circuit court erred by refusing to set aside a stipulation entered into by its prior counsel that conceded ownership of limestone to the Veach Heirs as part of a mineral reservation. The DOH now contends that the Veach Heirs are not entitled to compensation for the limestone because limestone is not subject to a general mineral reservation and, therefore, the Veach Heirs do not own it. DOH further contends the circuit court erred in relying on these stipulations and applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel to grant the Veach Heirs' motion for summary judgment. Finally, DOH argues the circuit court erred in finding that it acted in bad faith and awarding costs and attorneys' fees to the Veach Heirs.

          The Veach Heirs assert two cross-assignments of error. First, they argue that the circuit court erred in refusing to award attorneys' fees based upon their contingency fee contract with their counsel. The Veach Heirs also assert that the circuit court erred by ordering the statutory interest to commence on the date the condemnation proceeding was filed rather than the date the mandamus proceeding was filed.

         Upon consideration of the parties' briefs and arguments, the submitted record and pertinent authorities, we affirm the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to the Veach Heirs and setting the date of commencement of interest from the date of the filing of the condemnation petition. However, we reverse the circuit court's rulings on attorneys' fees and costs and we remand the case with instructions to hold a hearing to provide both parties the opportunity to be heard on the issues of whether the Veach Heirs are entitled to recover attorney's fees and costs and, if so, the reasonableness of the amount to be awarded.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In 1968, Anna M. Veach conveyed to her three sons approximately 405 acres of real estate in Hardy County subject to a mineral reservation. The conveyance reserved to Ms. Veach "all minerals underlying the tracts of real estate." When Ms. Veach died on July 25, 2006, the Veach Heirs inherited her mineral rights.

          In 2005, DOH began construction on a portion of the highway known as Corridor H near the Veach property. In the course of construction, DOH utilized limestone removed from the Veach property and a nearby property belonging to Margaret Z. Newton. In October 2010, the Veach Heirs filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Circuit Court of Hardy County seeking to force DOH to institute a condemnation proceeding for the limestone excavated from their property. Construction on this section of Corridor H was completed and opened to the public on October 27, 2010.

         Following discovery relating to DOH's duty to institute condemnation proceedings, the parties entered into an agreed order in March 2011 providing that DOH would institute a condemnation proceeding against the Veach Heirs' mineral interest, which included the limestone. Consequently, the mandamus proceeding was voluntarily dismissed. A similar agreed order was entered in a separate mandamus proceeding relating to the Newton property.

         The resulting condemnation action relating to the Veach property commenced by petition filed on May 27, 2011, while the condemnation action relating to the Newton property commenced on April 29, 2011. The cases were consolidated for pre-trial hearings because, in the words of counsel for DOH, they dealt with "exactly the same" issues. Several pre-trial rulings were made to clarify the trial issues, including that (1)

          DOH's failure to first contact Veach and Newton before the commencement of construction denied them the opportunity to determine the highest and best use of the limestone and the just compensation they were each entitled to receive; and (2) DOH entered onto Veach and Newton's respective properties and excavated and appropriated limestone without their permission and by so doing, acted in bad faith and in a willful trespass against their interests. The circuit court also adopted identical jury charges, instructions and verdict forms for both cases other than non-substantive differences. Regarding the Veach property specifically, the parties stipulated during a hearing in 2013 as follows:

1. That Anna M. Veach conveyed surface only to three (3) of her sons on August 31, 1968, reserving unto herself fee simple ownership of all minerals underlying the Veach real estate, without limitation or restriction, and which reservation and exception is free of ambiguity and clear in its intent.
2. That the minerals reserved by Anna M. Veach include limestone and gravel as defined by the Court.

         Similarly, prior to trial in the Newton matter, the parties in that case stipulated that "the minerals reserved by Margaret Z. Newton include limestone ...


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