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Goodwin v. City of Shepherdstown

Supreme Court of West Virginia

March 14, 2019

JEREMIAH GOODWIN, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
CITY OF SHEPHERDSTOWN / SHEPHERDSTOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT, and SHEPHERD UNIVERSITY, Defendants Below, Respondents

          Submitted: January 30, 2019

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jefferson County The Hon. Christopher C. Wilkes, Judge Civil Action No. CC-19-2017-C-92

          Christian J. Riddell, Esq. Stedman & Riddell, PLLC Martinsburg, West Virginia Counsel for Jeremiah Goodwin

          Charles F. Johns, Esq. Amy M. Smith, Esq. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Bridgeport, West Virginia Counsel for Shepherd University

          Charles F. Printz, Jr., Esq. Christopher Dulany Petersen, Esq. Bowles Rice LLP Martinsburg, West Virginia Counsel for the City of Shepherdstown

          Meredith J. Risati, Esq. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Canonsburg, Pennsylvania Counsel for Shepherd University

          JUSTICE WORKMAN dissents and reserves the right to file a dissenting Opinion.

          OPINION

          ARMSTEAD, JUSTICE

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "In an action for malicious prosecution, plaintiff must show: (1) that the prosecution was set on foot and conducted to its termination, resulting in plaintiff's discharge; (2) that it was caused or procured by defendant; (3) that it was without probable cause; and (4) that it was malicious. If plaintiff fails to prove any of these, he can not recover." Syl. pt. 1, Radochio v. Katzen, 92 W.Va. 340, 114 S.E. 746 (1922).

         2."In order for a plaintiff to prevail on a claim for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, four elements must be established. It must be shown: (1) that the defendant's conduct was atrocious, intolerable, and so extreme and outrageous as to exceed the bounds of decency; (2) that the defendant acted with the intent to inflict emotional distress, or acted recklessly when it was certain or substantially certain emotional distress would result from his conduct; (3) that the actions of the defendant caused the plaintiff to suffer emotional distress; and, (4) that the emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it." Syl. pt. 3, Travis v. Alcon Laboratories, Inc., 202 W.Va. 369');">202 W.Va. 369, 504 S.E.2d 419 (1998).

         This action is before this Court upon consolidated appeals filed by Jeremiah Goodwin ("Goodwin"), the plaintiff below, from two orders entered in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County which dismissed Goodwin's complaint for malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The first order, entered on September 8, 2017, granted the motion to dismiss filed by defendant City of Shepherdstown ("Shepherdstown").[1] The second order, entered on February 28, 2018, granted the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Shepherd University ("University").

         Upon review, this Court finds Goodwin's appeals to be without merit. Therefore, the orders entered by the Circuit Court on September 8, 2017, and February 28, 2018, are affirmed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On April 12, 2017, Goodwin filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County against Shepherdstown and the University. The factual allegations in the complaint included the following:

         C.P., a University student, was sexually assaulted on the campus by an unknown assailant.[2] The assault occurred on February 1, 2015, between 7:40 p.m. and 7:55 p.m. C.P. called 911 and stated that, although she could not see the assailant's face, he was between 5'8" and 5'10," wearing a black beanie and a black winter jacket. The police issued a warning notification for the campus and received two calls in response. The first call came from a female student whom Goodwin had approached that evening asking for a date. The second call concerned a different male individual. According to Goodwin, the police did not follow up on the second call, even though the description of the individual more closely matched the description given by C.P. during her 911 call. Goodwin, 6'3," was wearing a black shirt with a hood, not a winter jacket or a beanie.

         On February 3, 2015, Goodwin was arrested. The arrest was pursuant to an arrest warrant issued upon a finding of probable cause by a Jefferson County magistrate. Goodwin alleged that a report later filed by the University police was falsified to state that C.P. described her assailant as wearing a black shirt with a hood.

         Goodwin further alleged in the complaint that an alibi witness was suppressed. According to Goodwin, Lisa Olney, a restaurant owner, called the Shepherdstown police in response to a newspaper article she read about the assault. Soon after, Ms. Olney was interviewed by Shepherdstown and University police officers. She told the officers that Goodwin was in the restaurant at the time of the assault. Goodwin alleges that the police falsely told Ms. Olney that the time stated in the newspaper was inaccurate. As alleged in the complaint, the officers made no notes of the interview and never disclosed Ms. Olney's evidence to Goodwin. According to Goodwin, it was not until his current counsel was appointed, over a year after the initial arrest, that the defense discovered Ms. Olney's alibi evidence.

         In January 2016, the Jefferson County grand jury returned an indictment charging Goodwin with three felonies committed on February 1, 2015, against C.P.: two counts of first degree sexual abuse and one count of assault during the commission of a felony.[3]However, the Circuit Court entered an order in September 2016 which dismissed all charges against Goodwin "without prejudice."

         As reflected in the order, the dismissal was upon the motion of the State for a dismissal without prejudice "at this time," based upon "anticipated DNA results being unavailable and no current date when, or even if, such results would be available." Moreover, the order indicated that the State's motion was with the agreement of the victim. Goodwin alleges that between his arrest and the dismissal of the charges he was incarcerated for six months, suffered financial hardships, missed employment opportunities, and underwent treatment for psychological issues.

         Goodwin's complaint against Shepherdstown and the University set forth claims for malicious prosecution and the intentional infliction of emotional distress. With regard to malicious prosecution, Goodwin alleged that the Shepherdstown and University police officers committed misconduct by suppressing the alibi evidence of Ms. Olney. Goodwin further alleged that the State, "after being informed of the existence of [Goodwin's] alibi witness, continued to prosecute [Goodwin] without any probable cause to believe he had committed the crime." As to intentional infliction of emotional distress, Goodwin alleged that the Shepherdstown and University police officers engaged in outrageous conduct, i.e., falsely charging him with the assault of C.P. and suppressing the alibi evidence, thereby subjecting him to wrongful imprisonment and the stigma of being branded a sex offender. Goodwin demanded compensatory and punitive damages.[4]

         On June 23, 2017, Shepherdstown filed a motion to dismiss, followed by the University's motion, in September 2017, for judgment on the pleadings. Both motions sought the dismissal of Goodwin's malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. The Circuit Court granted Shepherdstown's motion on September 8, 2017, and the University's motion on February 28, 2018.

         The two dismissal orders are nearly identical. The Circuit Court determined that Goodwin's complaint failed to establish a claim of malicious prosecution because the underlying criminal case (1) had not been "procured" by Shepherdstown or the University, (2) was not without probable cause, nor was it malicious in view of the probable cause findings evidenced by the arrest warrant, Goodwin's preliminary hearing and the indictment, and (3) was dismissed without prejudice on the motion of the prosecutor.

         The Circuit Court also determined that Goodwin's complaint failed to establish a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Circuit Court rejected Goodwin's assertion that his imprisonment was connected to the failure of the police to disclose the alibi evidence. Emphasizing that the duty to disclose the alibi evidence to Goodwin rested with the prosecutor and not the police officers, the Circuit Court concluded that Goodwin's incarceration was predicated on multiple findings of probable cause and, consequently, subject to the discretion of the prosecutor.

         Finally, stating that the officers had acted within their official capacities when they interviewed alibi witness Lisa Olney, the Circuit Court concluded that Goodwin's claims of malicious prosecution and intentional infliction of emotional distress, against Shepherdstown and the University, were precluded by qualified governmental immunity.

         II. Standards of Review

         Goodwin's claims against Shepherdstown were dismissed pursuant to West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In syllabus point 3 of Chapman v. Kane Transfer Company, Inc., 160 W.Va. 530, 236 S.E.2d 207 (1977), this Court observed: "The trial court, in appraising the sufficiency of a complaint on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, should not dismiss the complaint unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)."

         Moreover, although appellate review of an order granting a motion to dismiss is de novo, syl. pt. 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995), the allegations of a complaint dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) must be taken as true. Syl. pt. 1, Wiggins v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 178 W.Va. 63, 357 S.E.2d 745 (1987). Nevertheless, the complaint "must articulate sufficient information to outline the elements of a claim or permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist." See Louis J. Palmer, Jr., and the Hon. Robin Jean Davis, Litigation Handbook on West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, p. 408 (5th ed. 2017).

         Goodwin's claims against the University were dismissed pursuant to the University's motion under Rule 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings. As this Court noted in syllabus point 3 of Copley v. Mingo County Board of Education, 195 W.Va. 480, 466 S.E.2d 139 (1995): "A circuit court, viewing all the facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, may grant a motion for judgment on the pleadings only if it appears beyond doubt that the nonmoving party can prove no set of facts in support of his or her claim or defense."[5]

         III. Discussion

         A.

         Goodwin's assignments of error primarily concern the required elements of a malicious prosecution claim, initially recognized by this Court in Radochio v. Katzen, 92 W.Va. 340, ...


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