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Gravely v. Mullins

Supreme Court of West Virginia

November 17, 2017

Richard Gravely, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
Sharon L. Mullins, Defendant Below, Respondent

         Kanawha County 16-C-1411


         Petitioner Richard Gravely, pro se, appeals the March 17, 2017, order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County dismissing his civil action without prejudice as a sanction for serious litigation misconduct. Respondent Sharon L. Mullins, by counsel Michael L. Powell and Jill E. Lansden, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order. Petitioner filed a reply.

         The 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.

         On September 14, 2016, the parties were in an accident at an intersection in Charleston, West Virginia, when petitioner was riding a bicycle and respondent was driving a motor vehicle. Officer Bailes of the Charleston Police Department responded to the scene. Officer Bailes found that petitioner was at fault and cited him for going the wrong way on a one-way street.

         The next day, petitioner filed the instant civil action in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County ("circuit court") alleging that respondent was negligent and had injured him in the accident. Petitioner sought reimbursement for his medical expenses and an award of an unspecified sum for physical injuries, pain and suffering, and annoyance and inconvenience.

         Respondent filed an answer on September 30, 2016, and denied hitting petitioner with her vehicle. Respondent's position was that, though petitioner may have fallen, she stopped her vehicle before she hit him. Moreover, respondent's denial was supported by Officer Bailes's testimony at his December 5, 2016, deposition where he confirmed that there was "no evidence, other than [petitioner]'s accusations, that he, in fact, ever even came in contact with [respondent]'s vehicle."

          Officer Bailes testified that petitioner challenged the traffic citation in the Charleston Municipal Court ("municipal court") and was found guilty of a one-way traffic violation in a judgment that he was appealing to the circuit court. Also, Officer Bailes testified that petitioner might have had an ulterior motive for wanting to go to the hospital:

Q. Do you recall, when you were on the scene, [whether petitioner] complained about any injuries?
A. When he was on the ground, he said he was hurt, but it didn't seem like that he was really wanting to go to the hospital until he realized that [respondent] wasn't willing to make any under[-]the[-]table deals.

         Finally, Officer Bailes testified as follows:

Q. Based on your history and experience in law enforcement and your investigation of the scene that day, there's nothing at all that you found that in any way could make [respondent] in any way responsible for this accident.
A. Yes, that's correct. She is 100 percent innocent. . . .

         During discovery, petitioner answered respondent's first set of interrogatories and, in response to one question, stated that, once at the hospital, he "refused" medical treatment. Respondent's attorney requested the phone numbers and addresses of witnesses to the accident that petitioner allegedly found so that the attorney could decide whether to depose them. Petitioner refused to disclose his alleged witnesses' contact information, indicating that he was not authorized to give out their phone numbers and that he did not know where they lived. Petitioner informed respondent's attorney that if he needed to talk to the witnesses before trial, he could do so through petitioner.

         On January 4, 2017, respondent sent petitioner a letter stating that if he did not voluntarily dismiss his frivolous action, she would file a motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. By an email dated January 6, 2017, petitioner refused to voluntarily dismiss his action, stating that he would accept a settlement offer in the amount of $50, 000. Respondent subsequently served petitioner with her Rule 11 motion on January 13, 2017, and filed it with the circuit court on January 17, 2017. Petitioner filed ...

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