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.

Brumfield v. Workman

Supreme Court of West Virginia

March 26, 2019

Terry R. Brumfield, Jr., Defendant Below, Petitioner
v.
Jennings Mark Workman, Jr., Plaintiff Below, Respondent

          Logan County 13-C-168P

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         In 2013, Respondent Jennings Mark Workman, Jr. brought this civil rights action, under 42 United States Code § 1983, against Petitioner Terry R. Brumfield, Jr., Deputy Sheriff of Logan County, West Virginia, and others. Mr. Workman alleged his rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution were violated when he was wrongfully removed from his residence and forced to leave under the threat of arrest. The jury found in favor of Mr. Workman, awarded $4, 862 for lost personal property and $5, 000 for annoyance and inconvenience, and assessed all damages against Deputy Brumfield.

         Deputy Brumfield appeals the orders of the Circuit Court of Logan County that denied his post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. W.Va. R. Civ. Pro 50(b) & 59. He contends the circuit court should have dismissed the claims against him on the basis of qualified immunity. Deputy Brumfield also appeals the order awarding $201, 913 in attorney's fees to Mr. Workman's trial counsel. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988. He contends the circuit court erred by not affording him an on-the-record examination of the fee petition. Mr. Workman raises several cross-assignments of error including his argument that the circuit court erred by not instructing the jury on punitive damages and denying his Rule 59 motion for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs, their oral arguments, and the record on appeal.[1] Upon review, the Court discerns no substantial question of law. Consequently, a memorandum decision is the appropriate disposition pursuant to Rule 21 of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure. As explained below, we affirm the orders of the circuit court denying the parties' post-trial motions, vacate the order awarding attorney's fees, and remand for proceedings consistent with this decision.

         I. Factual Background

         The civil rights action from which this appeal arises concerns the unlawful eviction of Mr. Workman from his residence.[2] Mr. Workman received an interest in this property-Lot No. 53 in the Taplin Subdivision with a doublewide trailer-after his father passed away intestate in 2004. Mr. Workman received a 12.5% interest in this property, as did each of his three siblings. Mr. Workman's mother received 50% interest in this property that she later conveyed to defendant below, Frank M. Dillon.

         On September 9, 2011, Mr. Workman moved into the home. That same day, Mr. Workman obtained a title report from attorney George L. Partain (the "Partain letter") showing that he was a co-owner of the property and that all owners had "equal access and right to be on the property at all times." Mr. Workman signed up for utility services and made repairs to the home.

         On February 14, 2013, Mr. Dillon went to the home along with defendant below Kellie Curry (Mr. Dillon's ex-girlfriend) and defendant below Christopher Codispoti (Ms. Curry's then-boyfriend). Mr. Dillon told Mr. Workman that he (Mr. Dillon) had a deed to the property, and that Mr. Workman had to move out so that Ms. Curry and Mr. Codispoti could move in. Mr. Workman responded by calling the police. West Virginia State Trooper Roger Glaspell, who responded to the call, reviewed the Partain letter and the utility bills in Mr. Workman's name. Trooper Glaspell also reviewed Mr. Dillon's "deed." Trooper Glaspell concluded that the matter was civil in nature and needed to go through the court system.

         The underlying lawsuit concerns the events that took place the following day, February 15, 2013. Frank M. Dillon and his father (also named Frank Dillon, hereinafter "Mr. Dillon's father") asked Magistrate Leonard Codispoti for a criminal warrant of trespass for an unknown trespasser on the property. Magistrate Codispoti refused, and told the Dillons to go to the sheriff's office for an "intake," and to let the sheriff seek a warrant. Mr. Dillon and his father went to the sheriff's office where Mr. Dillon apparently drafted and signed a statement regarding Mr. Workman and the property. Mr. Dillon's father later testified that Logan County Sheriff Sonya Porter told deputies to "[g]o get him out" or "[p]ut him out."

         At about 4:00 p.m. on February 15, 2013, Deputy Brumfield and defendant below Logan County Sheriff Deputy Joseph Lyall went to the property and told Mr. Workman that they had an order to remove him. Mr. Workman responded that he was part owner and gave the deputies the Partain letter, which both appeared to read. Deputy Brumfield stated that the letter was "not worth the paper it was written on" and that Mr. Workman had twenty minutes to gather what he could and get off the property. When Mr. Workman protested, the deputies started to arrest him. Mr. Dillon told the deputies he did not want Mr. Workman arrested, but just wanted him off the property. Deputy Brumfield told Mr. Workman that (1) Mr. Workman would have to go to magistrate court to sort the matter out, and (2) Mr. Workman would be arrested if he came back to the property. Mr. Workman left on foot with the possessions he could carry. Ms. Curry and Mr. Codispoti moved into the residence later that evening.

         Mr. Workman learned that there was no court order for his eviction. Mr. Workman lost personal belongings including furniture and was homeless for more than two years. He slept on friends' couches, in his truck, or outdoors.

         II. Procedural Background

         Mr. Workman filed this action against Deputies Brumfield and Lyall, and Sheriff Porter, for violating his rights secured by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and requested damages and attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. Mr. Workman alleged Mr. Dillon, Ms. Curry, and Mr. Codispoti acted in concert with the deputies.[3]

         The four-day jury trial in this matter commenced in October 2017. Deputy Brumfield moved for judgment as a matter of law and maintained his defense of qualified immunity. The circuit court rejected his motion. The jury found only one defendant, Deputy Brumfield, liable and assessed $4, 862 in special damages for lost personal property and $5, 000 for annoyance and inconvenience. On October 18, 2017, the court entered judgment against Deputy Brumfield for $9, 862.

         Post-trial, Deputy Brumfield filed a Rule 50 motion for a judgment as a matter of law and a Rule 59 motion for a new trial. Mr. Workman also filed a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law against Deputy Lyall, a Rule 59 motion for a new trial on punitive damages, and a motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 on behalf of George L. Partain and two other lawyers who worked on the case.

         Following a November 2017 hearing on the post-trial motions, the circuit court denied Mr. Workman's Rule 59 and Rule 50 motions. It also denied Deputy Brumfield's Rule 50 and Rule 59 motions. The circuit court granted Mr. Partain's motion for $201, 913 in attorney's fees and $5, 323 in costs. This appeal followed.

         III. Standard of Review

         Between them, the parties raise fifteen assignments and cross-assignments of error. For purposes of clarity, we consolidate those that are related. See Tudor's Biscuit World of Am. v. Critchley, 229 W.Va. 396, 401-02, 729 S.E.2d 231, 236-37 (2012) (consolidating related and/or redundant assignments of error).[4]

         Deputy Brumfield appeals the circuit court's orders denying his post-trial motions. Rule 50(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to move for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict if, with respect to an issue essential to a plaintiff's case, there exists no legally sufficient evidentiary basis for the jury to find in favor of the plaintiff. In syllabus point one of Mildred L.M. v. John O.F., 192 W.Va. 345, 452 S.E.2d 436 (1994), this Court held:

In reviewing a trial court's ruling on a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, it is not the task of the appellate court reviewing facts to determine how it would have ruled on the evidence presented. Its task is to determine whether the evidence was such that a reasonable trier of fact might have reached the decision below. Thus, in ruling on a motion for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. If on review, the evidence is shown to be legally ...

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.