Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Pyles v. Mason County Fair, Inc.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

November 1, 2017

LARRY D. PYLES, JR. AND PAMELA PYLES, Petitioners
v.
MASON COUNTY FAIR, INC. AND THE COUNTY COMMISSION OF MASON COUNTY, Respondents

          Submitted: September 20, 2017

         Certified Questions from the Circuit Court of Mason County QUESTIONS ANSWERED

          Harvey D. Peyton, Esq. Thomas H. Peyton, Esq. Peyton Law Firm, PLLC Office of Legal Services Nitro, West Virginia Counsel for Petitioners

          Wendy E. Greve, Esq. Drannon L. Adkins, Esq. Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Counsel for Mason County Commission

         SYLLABUS

         1. "The appellate standard of review of questions of law answered and certified by a circuit court is de novo." Syl. Pt. 1, Gallapoo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 197 W.Va. 172, 475 S.E.2d 172 (1996).

         2. "When a certified question is not framed so that this Court is able to fully address the law which is involved in the question, then this Court retains the power to reformulate questions certified to it under both the Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act found in W.Va. Code, 51-1A-1, et seq. and W.Va. Code, 58-5-2 [1967], the statute relating to certified questions from a circuit court of this State to this Court." Syl. Pt. 3, Kincaid v. Mangum. 189 W.Va. 404, 432 S.E.2d 74 (1993).

         3. The agreement of a county commission to permit a private, non-profit entity to hold a county fair on land owned by the county commission which fails to provide for the sharing of both profits and losses and coequal control over the fair operations does not constitute a joint venture.

          OPINION

          LOUGHRY CHIEF JUSTICE

         Through three certified questions, the Circuit Court of Mason County seeks clarification from this Court regarding the applicability of the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act (the "Act")[1] to claims made by an individual injured while attending the Mason County Fair ("fair"). At the center of each of the inquiries propounded by the circuit court is the petitioners' (hereinafter "plaintiffs") attempt to assert vicarious liability against the Mason County Commission ("Commission") based on a purported joint venture between the Commission and the Mason County Fair, Inc. ("Fair Board").[2] After reformulating the questions submitted to us to conform to the facts of this case, we determine that either the immunity provisions of the Act or the public duty doctrine operates to prevent the plaintiffs from seeking liability against the Commission under the facts of this case.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On August 9, 2013, the plaintiffs, Larry D. and Pamela Pyles, were paid admission attendees at the fair. At approximately 9:45 p.m., Mr. Pyles was savagely beaten by three teenagers while standing in the midway area of the fair. As a result of the attack, Mr. Pyles suffered a traumatic brain injury. Lasting effects from that brain injury are alleged to include post-concussion syndrome and other non-specified permanent disabilities.

         On December 5, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Fair Board seeking damages for negligence and loss of consortium. In answering the complaint, the Fair Board filed a third-party complaint against the three individuals who attacked Mr. Pyles[3] seeking contribution and indemnity for any liability assessed against it in connection with Mr. Pyles' injuries. Following initial discovery, the plaintiffs amended their original complaint to add the Commission as a defendant.[4] The plaintiffs averred that the Commission was negligent for its alleged failure to prevent Mr. Pyles from being injured at the fair.

         On January 4, 2017, the plaintiffs sought leave to file a second amended complaint to insert an allegation that the Fair Board and the Commission were engaged in a joint venture with regard to the staging and operation of the annual fair. Based on this alleged joint venture, the plaintiffs asserted that the Commission "owed a duty to the Plaintiffs that exceeded any general duty owed by any law enforcement agency to the public at large." The Commission opposed the plaintiffs' attempt to reamend the complaint, arguing that such amendment would be futile because the additional theory of recovery "does not obviate the public duty doctrine."[5] Given that the plaintiffs second amended complaint lacked any allegations that a special relationship existed between the plaintiffs and the Commission, the Commission reasoned that the amendment was pointless as the plaintiffs' joint venture theory could not defeat the public duty doctrine or abrogate the Act's provisions of immunity.

         The circuit court heard arguments of counsel on the plaintiffs' motion to reamend the complaint on February 22, 2017. Finding it unnecessary to resolve any factual issues regarding the alleged joint venture to decide the motion to amend, the circuit court denied the motion on the grounds that such amendment would be futile.[6] The circuit court reasoned that, even assuming the existence of a joint venture for the purpose of ruling on the motion, the Act affords immunity to the Commission for the injuries sustained by Mr. Pyles while at the fair. In addition, the circuit court ruled that the Commission only owed Mr. Pyles the general duty of care that any political subdivision owes to the public at large.

         As part of its ruling, the circuit court, with the agreement of counsel, certified the following three questions to this Court:

1. If a political subdivision enters into a joint venture with a private entity to conduct an annual county fair on real property owned by the political subdivision, does the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act provide the political subdivision with immunity from vicarious liability for injuries suffered by a non-trespassing entrant on the real property caused by the negligent acts of the private entity?
2. If a political subdivision enters into a joint venture with a private entity to conduct an annual county fair on real property owned by the political subdivision, does the political subdivision assume the same legal duty to non-trespassing entrants on the real property as that of the private entity?
3. Does the existence of a joint venture between a political subdivision and a private entity to conduct an annual county fair on real property owned by the political subdivision, void/abrogate any of the immunities provided by the West Virginia Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act?

         The circuit court answered the first question in the affirmative and the second and third questions in the negative.

         II. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.