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Blankenship v. Cavins

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 9, 2017

Ronnie Blankenship, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
Wayne County Magistrate John Cavins, Respondent Below, Respondent

         Wayne County 16-P-010

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Ronnie Blankenship, by counsel Connor D. Robertson, appeals the Circuit Court of Wayne County's April 12, 2016, order denying his petition for writ of prohibition. Respondent, by counsel Zachary Aaron Viglianco, filed a response. On appeal, petitioner alleges that the circuit court erred in denying his petition because the magistrate court lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him for the misdemeanor crime of petit larceny.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In June of 2015, petitioner was charged with petit larceny in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-3-13(b). United States Department of Veteran's Affairs ("VA") police officer Joseph K. Wayman filed a complaint against petitioner that stated that petitioner removed "property of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs."[1] Following the issuance of the complaint, petitioner was arrested, posted bond, and requested a jury trial. After several appearances in the Magistrate Court of Wayne County, petitioner's jury trial was scheduled for March, 25, 2016.

         In March of 2016, petitioner filed a petition for writ of prohibition in the Circuit Court of Wayne County. The petition challenged the magistrate court's and the circuit court's jurisdiction generally and asserted that jurisdiction to prosecute crimes that occurred on the VA's property remained solely with the federal government. Based on the evidence presented, the circuit court denied petitioner's petition for writ of prohibition by order entered on April 12, 2016, and found that nothing prevented the VA officer from filing a criminal complaint in "state, rather than federal court."[2] It is from this order that petitioner appeals.

To begin, we have previously stated that
"[a] writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court. It will only issue where the trial court has no jurisdiction or having such jurisdiction exceeds its legitimate powers. W.Va.Code [§] 53-1-1." Syl. Pt. 2, State ex rel. Peacher v. Sencindiver, 160 W.Va. 314, 233 S.E.2d 425 (1977).

Syl. Pt 1, State ex rel Nelson v Frye, 221 WVa 391, 655 S.E.2d 137 (2007) As to petitioner's sole assignment of error asserting that the circuit court erred in denying his petition for writ of prohibition, we find no error[3] On appeal, petitioner asserts that the magistrate court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a crime that occurred on federally owned property Specifically, petitioner argues that, pursuant to West Virginia Code § 1-1-3, respondent was prohibited from prosecuting him because the federal government acquired title to the VA hospital property in the State of West Virginia Therefore, concur rent jurisdiction to the land "shall be . . . ceded to the United States for all purposes."[4]

         Petitioner contends that the federal government acquires concurrent jurisdiction over property by simply purchasing it and, therefore, the State of West Virginia surrenders its concurrent jurisdiction. Petitioner's argument is directly contradicted by the West Virginia Code § 1-1-4 and precedent from this Court. Specifically, West Virginia Code § 1-1-4 provides that

[t]he state of West Virginia reserves the right to execute process, civil or criminal, within the limits of any lot or parcel of land heretofore or hereafter acquired by the United States as aforesaid, and such other jurisdiction and authority over the same as is not inconsistent with the jurisdiction ceded to the United States by virtue of such acquisition.

         Thus, we have previously held that the State of West Virginia "consenting to the acquisition of territory for certain defined purposes, does not ipso facto vest exclusive jurisdiction in the United States for all purposes, as to territory acquired by the United States pursuant to such consent." Syl. Pt. 3, Adams v. Londeree, 139 W.Va. 748, 83 S.E.2d 127 (1954). Further, we have also held that

it is clear, we think, that the State cannot be denied sovereignty over any part of its territory except by its own consent; that the consent of the State to acquisition by the United States of territory for certain defined purposes does not deny the exercise of sovereignty of the State over the territory as to purposes which can in no manner conflict or interfere with the use of the territory by the United States for the purpose or purposes for which it was acquired; that exclusive jurisdiction over such territory cannot be foisted upon the United States without its acceptance; and that the State and Federal Governments may, and in numerous cases do, exercise concurrent jurisdiction over territory ceded by the respective States to the Federal Government under consent statutes similar to [West Virginia Code §§ 1-1-3 and 1-1-4].

Adams, at 768, 83 S.E.2d at 139. Accordingly, absent an express agreement to the contrary, lands acquired by the federal government in the State of West Virginia are subject to a reserve of concurrent jurisdiction pursuant to West Virginia Code §§ 1-1-3 and 4.

         According to the record below, there was no evidence presented that the acquisition of the VA hospital property included a grant of exclusive jurisdiction to the federal government. Absent a statute or agreement to the contrary, "[t]he state and federal governments may exercise concurrent jurisdiction over territory ceded by state to federal government." Adams, at 768, 83 S.E.2d at 139. The State of West Virginia "reserves the right to execute process, civil or criminal, within the limits of any . . . parcel of land . . . acquired by the United States." W.Va. Code ยง 1-1-3. For these reasons, it is clear that the circuit court did not err in denying petitioner's petition for writ of prohibition ...


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