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Matheny v. Scolapio

Supreme Court of West Virginia

November 9, 2017

ROBERT MATHENY, SHERIFF OF HARRISON COUNTY, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
LIEUTENANT GREGORY SCOLAPIO, Defendant Below, Respondent

          Submitted: September 20, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Harrison County Honorable Robert B. Stone, Judge Civil Action No. 15-C-205-2

          Andrea L. Roberts Harrison County Prosecutor's Office Clarksburg, West Virginia Attorney for the Petitioner

          Sam H. Harrold, III McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, L.C. Clarksburg, West Virginia Attorney for the Respondent

          John R. Teare, Jr. Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Attorney for Amicus Curiae, West Virginia Sheriffs Association

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "The standard of appellate review of a circuit court's order granting relief through the extraordinary writ of mandamus is de novo." Syllabus point 1, Staten v. Dean, 195 W.Va. 57, 464 S.E.2d 576 (1995).

         2. "West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 24 . . . allows intervention of right in an action if an applicant meets four conditions: (1) the application must be timely; (2) the applicant must claim an interest relating to the property or transaction which is the subject of the action; (3) disposition of the action may, as a practical matter, impair or impede the applicant's ability to protect that interest; and (4) the applicant must show that the interest will not be adequately represented by existing parties." Syllabus point 2, in part, State ex rel. Ball v. Cummings, 208 W.Va. 393, 540 S.E.2d 917 920 (1999).

         3. "A statutory provision which is clear and unambiguous and plainly expresses the legislative intent will not be interpreted by the courts but will be given full force and effect." Syllabus point 2, State v. Epperly, 135 W.Va. 877, 65 S.E.2d 488 (1951).

         4. "It is well established that the word 'shall, ' in the absence of language in the statute showing a contrary intent on the part of the Legislature, should be afforded a mandatory connotation." Syllabus point 1, Nelson v. West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Board, 171 W.Va. 445, 300 S.E.2d 86 (1982).

         5. " W.Va. Code § 7-14C-3 (1995) (Repl. Vol. 2006) contemplates two distinct types of hearings. The first type of hearing, which is governed by W.Va. Code §§ 7-14C-3(a&b), is a predisciplinary hearing, which is conducted before disciplinary action has been taken and is held before a hearing board. Alternatively, the second type of hearing, which is governed by W.Va. Code § 7-14C-3(b), is conducted after disciplinary action in the form of 'discharge, suspension or reduction in rank or pay' has been taken and is held in accordance with the provisions of W.Va. Code § 7-14-17 (1996) (Repl. Vol. 2006)." Syllabus point 6, Burgess v. Moore, 224 W.Va. 291, 685 S.E.2d 685 (2009).

         6. "A statute should be so read and applied as to make it accord with the spirit, purposes and objects of the general system of law of which it is intended to form a part; it being presumed that the legislators who drafted and passed it were familiar with all existing law, applicable to the subject matter, whether constitutional, statutory or common, and intended the statute to harmonize completely with the same and aid in the effectuation of the general purpose and design thereof, if it terms are consistent therewith." Syllabus point 5, State v. Snyder, 64 W.Va. 659, 63 S.E. 385 (1908).

          Davis, Justice.

         The petitioner herein and plaintiff below, Robert Matheny, [1] Sheriff of Harrison County ("Sheriff Matheny" or "the Sheriff"), appeals from an order entered August 9, 2016, by the Circuit Court of Harrison County. By that order, the circuit court granted mandamus relief to the respondent herein and defendant below, Lieutenant Gregory Scolapio ("Lieutenant Scolapio"), finding that he was entitled to receive a hearing before the Harrison County Civil Service Commission for Deputy Sheriffs ("Commission") regarding the Sheriff's decision to terminate his employment. On appeal to this Court, Sheriff Matheny assigns error to the circuit court's ruling, arguing that Lieutenant Scolapio was not entitled to receive a civil service hearing. Lieutenant Scolapio, through a cross-assignment of error, challenges the circuit court's decision to permit the Sheriff to intervene in the subject proceedings. Upon a review of the parties' arguments, the record designated for appellate consideration, and the pertinent authorities, we conclude that the circuit court correctly determined that Lieutenant Scolapio was entitled to receive both a pre-disciplinary hearing board hearing and a hearing before the Commission. We further find that it was proper to permit Sheriff Matheny to intervene in these proceedings. Accordingly, the August 9, 2016, order of the Circuit Court of Harrison County is affirmed.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Lieutenant Scolapio was the supervisor in charge of the bailiff division and assisted with courthouse security for the Harrison County Family Court. On January 12, 2015, a circuit court juror brought a cooler containing his lunch into the courthouse and passed through courthouse security; thereafter, the cooler was left unattended in a hallway in the courthouse. Lieutenant Scolapio allegedly was requested to assist with determining whether the unattended cooler was a "suspicious package" and allegedly failed to respond to such request for assistance. Thereafter, the Sheriff initiated an internal investigation and issued a letter of suspension to Lieutenant Scolapio on January 20, 2015, which immediately suspended him with pay. The letter further proposed that Lieutenant Scolapio be terminated and provided notice of his right to a hearing before a hearing board in accordance with W.Va. Code § 7-14C-3 (1995) (Repl. Vol. 2015).[2]

         Lieutenant Scolapio, bycounsel, invoked his right to a pre-disciplinary hearing board hearing by letter dated January 21, 2015. The hearing was held on February 18, 2015. By decision dated February 26, 2015, the hearing board found "reasonable grounds" to terminate Lieutenant Scolapio's employment with the Harrison CountySheriff's Department. On February 26, 2015, Lieutenant Scolapio's status was changed from "suspended with pay" to "terminated."

         On March 12, 2015, Lieutenant Scolapio filed a notice of appeal to the Commission, requesting a full, de novo, evidentiary hearing. By decision dated April 23, 2015, the Commission denied Lieutenant Scolapio's request for a hearing and stated that it would decide the matter based upon the record from the hearing board proceedings.

         Lieutenant Scolapio then filed a petition for writ of mandamus in the Circuit Court of Harrison County on May 14, 2015, seeking to compel the Commission to provide him a de novo evidentiary hearing. By order entered August 9, 2016, the circuit court concluded that Lieutenant Scolapio was entitled to both a pre-disciplinaryevidentiaryhearing before the hearing board and a de novo evidentiary hearing before the Commission. Sheriff Matheny now appeals from the circuit court's decision[3] to this Court.[4]

         II.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The case sub judice is before this Court on appeal from the circuit court's order granting mandamus relief to Lieutenant Scolapio. We previously have held that "[t]he standard of appellate review of a circuit court's order granting relief through the extraordinary writ of mandamus is de novo." Syl. pt. 1, Staten v. Dean, 195 W.Va. 57, 464 S.E.2d 576 (1995). Accord Syl. pt. 1, Harrison Cty. Comm'n v. Harrison Cty. Assessor, 222 W.Va. 25, 658 S.E.2d 555 (2008) ("A de novo standard of review applies to a circuit court's decision to grant or deny a writ of mandamus.").

         Given that the circuit court awarded relief in mandamus, below, we also must consider whether the elements for granting a writ of mandamus have been satisfied. In this regard, we have held that

"[a] writ of mandamus will not issue unless three elements coexist-(1) a clear legal right in the petitioner to the relief sought; (2) a legal duty on the part of respondent to do the thing which the petitioner seeks to compel; and (3) the absence of another adequate remedy." Syllabus Point 1, State ex rel. Billy Ray C. v. Skaff, 190 W.Va. 504, 438 S.E.2d 847 (1993); Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Kucera v. City of Wheeling, 153 W.Va. 538, 170 S.E.2d 367 (1969).

Syl. pt. 2, Staten v. Dean, 195 W.Va. 57, 464 S.E.2d 576. Accord Syl. pt. 2, Myers v. Barte, 167 W.Va. 194, 279 S.E.2d 406 (1981) ("To invoke mandamus the relator must show (1) a clear right to the relief sought; (2) a legal duty on the part of the respondent to do the thing relator seeks; and (3) the absence of another adequate remedy.").

         Finally, insofar as the assignments of error at issue herein are resolved by the governing statutory law, we must determine whether the circuit court properly applied and interpreted the same. In this respect, we have held that "[i]nterpreting a statute or an administrative rule or regulation presents a purely legal question subject to de novo review." Syl. pt. 1, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't of West Virginia, 195 W.Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d 424 (1995). Accord Syl. pt. 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995) ("Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving the interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review."). Mindful of these standards, we proceed to consider the parties' arguments.

         III.

...


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