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Wiles v. Work4WV-Region 1, Inc.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 14, 2018

Jeffery C. Wiles, William Talbot, and Cowen Auto Parts, Inc., d/b/a WBC Enterprises, Plaintiffs Below, Petitioners
Work4WV-Region 1, Inc., a West Virginia Corporation, Defendant Below, Respondent

          (Webster County 16-C-13)


         Petitioners Jeffery Wiles, William Talbot, and Cowen Auto Parts, Inc., d/b/a WBC Enterprises ("petitioners"), by counsel Howard J. Blyer, appeal the Circuit Court of Webster County's May 23, 2017, order that granted respondent's (Work4WV-Region 1, Inc.) petition for declaratory judgement. Respondent, by counsel Thomas W. White and Haley S. Hillen, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order. On appeal, petitioners argue that the circuit court erred in its finding that respondent properly cancelled a lease between the parties pursuant to its terms.

         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 order of the circuit court is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         The parties entered into a written lease agreement dated May 21, 2013, where petitioners agreed to lease a certain portion of real property to respondent. The lease included twenty provisions. The first of those provisions provides as follows:

         (1) TERM AND NOTICES

The term of this lease, subject to the provisions hereof, shall begin on June 1, 2013; tenant shall occupy the subject space no later than June 1, 2013, provided the landlord has made the necessary accommodations for tenant's use of subject spaces. If the landlord has failed to make the necessary accommodations by June 1, 2013, this lease shall be considered canceled and null. This lease shall be considered renewed for each ensuing fiscal year during the term of the lease unless it is canceled by WORK4WV-REGION 1, INC. 30 days before the end of the fiscal year (June 30). The signing of [the] Lease supersedes and cancels all previous agreements between the parties hereto.
Notices may be given by personal service upon the party(s) entitled to such notice, or by certified mail, duly stamped and directed to the last-known address of the party to be notified, and deposited in the post office. The proper mailing of such notice and not the receipt thereof shall constitute the giving of such notice by either party to the other. Notice shall be directed . . . [ to the parties' address which were provided].
The fourteenth term of the parties' contract provides as follows:
It is further agreed by and between the parties hereto that the WORK4WV-REGION 1, INC. as Lessee, shall have the right to cancel this lease, without further obligation on the part of the Lessee, upon giving thirty (30) days written notice to the Lessor, such notice being given at least thirty (30) days prior to the last day of the succeeding month.

         On April 30, 2014, respondent sent an e-mail to one of petitioners' personal e-mail accounts notifying him that the lease would be cancelled effective June 30, 2014. Petitioners responded on June 11, 2014, and notified respondent that e-mail was not proper service of notice in accordance with the terms of the lease. On June 13, 2014, respondent sent a certified letter canceling the lease if the earlier April of 2014 e-mail did not constitute proper notice. In this letter, respondent asserted that the cancellation of the lease would be effective July 13, 2014, in accordance with provision fourteen of the lease. Petitioners argued that respondent's notice of cancellation was less than thirty days before the end of the 2014 fiscal year and, therefore, provision one renewed the lease agreement for another full year.

         On April 26, 2016, petitioners filed a complaint for declaratory judgment alleging that respondent's initial notice of cancelation by e-mail was improper and the notice given on June 13, 2014, was untimely and, therefore, ineffective in providing notice before the lease renewed for the 2015 fiscal year. Respondent answered that the April 30, 2014, e-mail was proper notice of cancellation or, in the alternative, the June 13, 2014, notice of cancelation was proper notice of cancellation in accordance with provision fourteen. The parties submitted memorandums of law in support of their respective positions.

         Ultimately, the circuit court found that respondent's e-mail was not proper notice, but the certified letter sent on June 13, 2014, provided proper notice of cancellation. Additionally, the circuit court found that provision fourteen provided a "contractual right for the lessee to terminate their leasehold on the premises, at any time, for any reason, and without penalty or further obligation." Therefore, respondent properly terminated the lease effective July 31, 2014, regardless of the renewal for the 2015 fiscal year. Accordingly, "because the lease afforded [respondent] the right to terminate the agreement without imposing further penalty or obligations, that [petitioners] [are] only entitled to rent monies up through the termination date of July 31, 2014." Petitioners now appeal this May 23, 2017, declaratory judgement order.

         We have explained that "[a] circuit court's entry of a declaratory judgment is reviewed de novo." Syl. Pt. 1, Marlin v. Wetzek Cty Bd. of Educ., 212 W.Va. 215, 569 S.E.2d 462 (2002) (quoting Syl. Pt. 3, C ...

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