United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
THOMAS G. FIGANIAK and VALERIE A. FIGANIAK, as Administrators of the Estate of Kevin Figaniak, Plaintiffs,
CRAIG TYLER PEACOCK, individually, JARRETT CHANDLER, individually, and TYLER JOHNSON, individually, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER CONFIRMING PRONOUNCED
ORDER OF THE COURT GRANTING AS FRAMED PLAINTIFFS' MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND DENYING DEFENDANT JARRETT
CHANDLER'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
27, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a motion under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 50 for judgment as a matter of law as to
their negligence claim against defendant Jarrett Chandler
(“Chandler”). The parties appeared by counsel
before this Court for a conference on July 31, 2017 in which
this Court granted as framed the plaintiffs' motion.
Further, at that conference, Chandler made an oral motion for
judgment as a matter of law regarding the plaintiffs'
claim that Chandler was negligent in contributing to the
instigation of the fight at issue in this civil action. This
Court denied Chandler's motion. This memorandum opinion
and order serves to confirm this Court's pronounced
Rule of Civil Procedure 50 permits a court to enter judgment
as a matter of law where “a party has been fully heard
on an issue during a jury trial.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
50(a)(1). The movant must show (1) that there is no
“legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable
jury to find for [the nonmovant], ” and (2) that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law as to that
issue. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(a)(1).
Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment as a Matter of
close of their case and before the defendants rested, the
plaintiffs filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law as
to Chandler's negligence in contributing to Kevin
Figaniak's death. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that
Chandler is collaterally estopped from denying liability
because he earlier plead guilty to misdemeanor involuntary
manslaughter for Kevin's death.
estoppel, or claim preclusion, “is designed to
foreclose relitigation of issues in a second suit [that] 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.” Conley v.
Spillers, 301 S.E.2d 216, 220 ( W.Va. 1983). In
considering whether a party may assert collateral estoppel,
courts must consider: (1) “[w]hether the issues
presented in the present case are the same as presented in
the earlier case;” (2) “whether the controlling
facts and legal principles have changed substantially since
the earlier case;” and (3) “whether there are
special circumstances that would warrant the conclusion that
enforcement of the judgment would be unfair.”
Id. at 223. The parties agree that the controlling
facts and law have not changed substantially since
Chandler's conviction. However, Chandler argues that the
first and third factors weigh against enforcement of his
prior conviction in this civil action.
involuntary manslaughter is “an unintentional homicide
. . . result[ing] from [one's] unlawful act, or
[one's] lawful act performed in an unlawful
manner.” State v. Craig, 51 S.E.2d 283, 288 (
W.Va. 1948). “[M]ere negligence which causes the
unintentional death of another person does not constitute
that offense.” Id.; see also State v.
Lawson, 36 S.E.2d 26, 31-32 ( W.Va. 1945) (providing
that involuntary manslaughter must involve an act that is
“something more than the simple negligence, so common
in everyday life”). Thus, a conviction for involuntary
manslaughter necessarily includes a finding of more than
counsel for Chandler points out that the West Virginia
Supreme Court of Appeals has not expressly determined that a
conviction for involuntary manslaughter collaterally estops
litigation on civil liability in negligence, the court has
made clear that criminal convictions, including guilty pleas,
may affect collateral estoppel in a subsequent civil action.
State ex rel. Leach v. Schlaegel, 447 S.E.2d 1, 4 (
W.Va. 1994). Accordingly, this Court finds no basis in West
Virginia law for not enforcing a conviction for involuntary
manslaughter in a subsequent civil proceeding. Because
Chandler plead guilty to the involuntary manslaughter of
Kevin Figaniak, he necessarily admitted that he was more than
negligent in causing Kevin Figaniak's death.
Chandler argues that he should be permitted to assert self
defense as a complete defense to liability in this civil
action. However, Chandler's guilty plea is an admission
of all elements of the offense, which necessarily waives all
defenses he may have had to the offense. Further, there is no
indication that Chandler entered into a written plea
agreement that was conditional or otherwise reserved for
subsequent civil litigation the issue of self defense. Thus,
Chandler is barred from asserting self defense in this civil
action as a complete defense to liability. However, Chandler
may assert self defense solely in the context of
apportionment of fault, as it may be considered by the jury,
along with all of the facts and circumstances, in determining
the reasonableness of Chandler's actions in the
circumstances as compared to all other parties.
Chandler argues that the comparative fault issues in this
civil action present a special circumstance that makes
enforcement of the conviction unfair. However, this Court
finds that, because Chandler may assert self defense as a
factual matter in apportioning fault amongst the parties, the
comparative fault issues in this case do not present a
circumstance in which enforcement of the conviction would be
this Court granted the plaintiffs' motion as framed. This
Court instructed the jury to find that Chandler was negligent
and that his negligence was a proximate cause of Kevin
Chandler's Motion for Judgment as ...