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Watts v. R.E. Michel Company, LLC

Supreme Court of West Virginia

May 20, 2019

Anthony Watts, Defendant Below, Petitioner
v.
R.E. Michel Company, LLC, Plaintiff Below, Respondent and State of West Virginia ex rel. Anthony Watts, Petitioner
v.
Honorable James W. Courier Jr., Judge of the Circuit Court of Mineral County, Respondent

          Mineral County Nos.17-C-78, 16-C-78

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Anthony Watts, by counsel Lawrence E. Sherman Jr., appeals the Circuit Court of Mineral County's March 2, 2018, order denying his Rule 60(b) motion "to set aside any prior Orders entered by t[he c]ircuit [c]ourt . . . in both 16-C-78 and 17-C-78 . . . ." In addition, petitioner filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting that he be allowed to present evidence from a handwriting expert as to the authenticity of petitioner's signature on a certain agreement. Respondent R.E. Michel Company, LLC, by counsel David Collins, submitted responses to both the petition for appeal and the petition for a writ of mandamus. Respondent Judge James W. Courrier Jr. submitted a response to the petition for a writ of mandamus.

         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 in Case No. 18-0407 is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure. In addition, upon consideration whereof, the Court is of the opinion that a rule should not be awarded in Case No. 19-0024, and the writ prayed for by petitioner is hereby refused.

         Petitioner's signature appears on an undated guaranty that specifically provides that he, as the customer/guarantor, guaranteed payment to Respondent R.E. Michel Company, LLC, of

all amounts due from Customer, including purchases, service charges, interest, collection fees, court costs, and attorney fees. In the event of default, Guarantor(s) authorizes any attorney of a Court of Record to appear for me/us, and to confess judgment against me/us for the full amount due to Creditor. In the event of litigation, unless otherwise determined by Creditor in its sole discretion, personal jurisdiction and venue shall be in the State of Maryland.

         Respondent filed a complaint for confessed judgment against petitioner in the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, Maryland, in 2016. Respondent attached a copy of the guaranty to that complaint, asserting that petitioner personally guaranteed the obligations of Anthony Watts HVACR LLC owing to respondent. In that complaint, respondent claimed that "the principal balance represents goods and equipment purchased by Anthony Watts HVACR LLC" from respondent pursuant to the terms of the credit application and sales agreement, plus collection fees of $14, 516.77. Under the credit application, Anthony Watts HVACR LLC agreed to pay collection fees calculated at a rate of 25%. Therefore, the total balance owing at that time was $72, 583.83.[1] On June 15, 2016, the Maryland court entered an "Order Directing Clerk to Enter Judgment by Confession," finding that, pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-611(b), respondent's complaint complied with the requirements of Rule 2-611(a) and respondent had demonstrated a factual and legal basis for entitlement to confess judgment. The judgment against petitioner was for $72, 583.83, plus the cost of suit of $185. Post-judgment interest was to accrue at a rate of 10% per year after the date the judgment was entered.

         On or about July 2, 2016, petitioner filed a motion in the Maryland court to vacate the judgment by confession, but that motion was denied. The Maryland court found, in relevant part, that "[w]ith no facts submitted under affidavit as is required by Rule 2-611(d) & (e), there is no basis for the motion to be granted. No substantial and sufficient basis for an actual controversy as to the merits of the action has been stated." Petitioner sought to appeal to the Maryland Court of Appeals seeking to overturn the denial of his motion to vacate the judgment by confession. However, because he failed to file the documents necessary to perfect that appeal, it was dismissed.

         After the Maryland judgment was registered in Mineral County, West Virginia, in Civil Action No. 16-C-78, petitioner moved the circuit court to vacate the judgment by confession. The circuit court later denied that motion. Respondent filed its August 11, 2017, complaint to enforce the judgment lien, initiating Civil Action No. 17-C-78 in the Circuit Court of Mineral County. On January 18, 2018, respondent filed its "Documentation for the Court's Review and Request to Uphold Order Appointing Special Commissioner to Sell Real Property." By order entered March 2, 2018, the circuit court found that, based on such documentation, the underlying foreign judgment at issue is valid, was properly registered in accordance with West Virginia Code § 55-14-2, and is entitled to full faith and credit in West Virginia. The circuit court further found that respondent is entitled to proceed with the sale of petitioner's real property, "as previously ordered by [the circuit c]ourt." In its March 2, 2018, order, the circuit court also denied petitioner's Rule 60(b) motion and upheld its "Order Appointing Special Commissioner to Sell Real Property."[2] Petitioner appeals from that order.[3]

         This Court has previously recognized that "[a]n appeal of the denial of a Rule 60(b) motion brings to consideration for review only the order of denial itself and not the substance supporting the underlying judgment nor the final judgment order." Syl. Pt. 3, Toler v. Shelton, 157 W.Va. 778, 204 S.E.2d 85 (1974). Further, we have stated:

4. In reviewing an order denying a motion under Rule 60(b), W.Va.R.C.P., the function of the appellate court is limited to deciding whether the trial court abused its discretion in ruling that sufficient grounds for disturbing the finality of the judgment were not shown in a timely manner.
5. A motion to vacate a judgment made pursuant to Rule 60(b), W.Va.R.C.P., is addressed to the sound discretion of the court and the court's ruling on such motion will not be disturbed on appeal unless there is a showing of an abuse of such discretion.

Syl. Pts. 4 and 5, Toler at 778, 204 S.E.2d at 86.

         On appeal, petitioner asserts four assignments of error. At the outset, he argues that the circuit court erred in finding that the Maryland judgment by confession is valid because he did not sign the guaranty containing the confessed judgment; he now asserts that the signature on the guaranty is a forgery. He contends that the Maryland judgment is not entitled to full faith and credit because it is invalid under West Virginia law. Petitioner admits that guaranty contracts are governed by the law of the state where the last act necessary to make them binding takes place; therefore, Maryland law governs the agreement. See Gen. Electric Co. v. Keyser, 166 W.Va. 456, 275 S.E.2d 289 (1981). Petitioner asserts that, under Maryland law, a trial on the merits is required because the allegation that the signature is a forgery is a defense to the claim under the rule allowing for a motion to open, modify, or vacate a confessed judgment.

         Respondent points out that petitioner failed to argue that his signature was a forgery until he filed his amended Rule 60 motion in the Circuit Court of Mineral County - nearly two years after the Maryland judgment was entered against petitioner. Petitioner set that matter for hearing on June 19, 2018, before the circuit court in 16-C-78, which was the underlying registration of the foreign judgment case. As a result, respondent asserts that petitioner seeks to re-litigate issues that could have been raised in the Maryland proceeding. Respondent also argues that because ...


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