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State ex rel. Ladanye v. West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

November 22, 2019

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA ex rel. DANITA LADANYE, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF JONATHAN S. LADANYE, Petitioner
v.
WEST VIRGINIA LEGISLATIVE CLAIMS COMMISSION AND WEST VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, DIVISION OF HIGHWAYS, Respondents

          Submitted: October 16, 2019

          PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI WRIT DENIED.

          Mark R. Staun David B. Lunsford Hartley Law Group, PLLC Wheeling, West Virginia and Sean J. Sawyer Higinbotham & Higinbotham, PLLC Fairmont, West Virginia Attorneys for the Petitioner.

          Stacy A. Jacques Francis M. Curnutte Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Respondent West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways.

          Doren Burrell Staff Attorney West Virginia Legislature Joint Committee on Government and Finance

          Charleston, West Virginia and Daniel W. Greear Chief Counsel West Virginia House of Delegates Charleston, West Virginia and James M. Bailey Chief Counsel West Virginia Senate Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Respondent West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission

          JUSTICE ARMSTEAD, deeming himself disqualified, did not participate.

          JUDGE WHARTON, sitting by temporary assignment.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "Certiorari is an extraordinary remedy resorted to for the purpose of supply[ing] a defect of justice in cases obviously entitled to redress and yet unprovided for by the ordinary forms of proceeding." Syllabus point 1, Poe v. Machine Works, 24 W.Va. 517 (1884).

         2. "Where it is proper to review the proceedings of inferior jurisdictions, where neither appeal, writ of error[, ] or supersedeas are allowed to lie, resort may be had to certiorari." Syllabus point 1, Meeks v. Windon, 10 W.Va. 180 (1877).

         3. Review by writ of certiorari to this Court does not lie as to a non-binding recommendation of the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission made pursuant to West Virginia Code § 14-2-12 (2019) that does not involve an existing or special appropriation and as to which the West Virginia Legislature has not taken final action.

          OPINION

          Jenkins, Justice.

         Petitioner, Danita Ladanye, Administratrix of the Estate of Jonathan S. Ladanye ("Mrs. Ladanye"), requests this Court to issue a writ of certiorari to vacate an opinion issued on February 27, 2018, by Respondent, the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission (the "Claims Commission").[1] On December 9, 2015, [2] Mrs. Ladanye submitted a notice of claim with the Claims Commission against Respondent, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways ("the WVDOT"), following the death of her son. Subsequent to discovery and a hearing, the Claims Commission issued an opinion that stated it "[was] of the opinion to deny this claim." Before us now, Mrs. Ladanye contends that this Court has the authority, on a limited basis, to review an opinion issued by the Claims Commission on a writ of certiorari. Mrs. Ladanye further contends that several errors were committed during the hearing before the Claims Commission and in the resulting opinion. Upon review of the parties' briefs, oral arguments, the submitted record, and the pertinent authorities, we deny the requested writ of certiorari because we find that the opinion of the Claims Commission is not reviewable by this Court on a writ of certiorari at this procedural posture.

         I.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 17, 2014, there was a single vehicle crash in Monongalia County, West Virginia. Mrs. Ladanye's son, Jonathan S. Ladanye ("Mr. Ladanye"), was one of two passengers in a vehicle operated by James A. Coffman ("Mr. Coffman") that ramped over a snow pile along a bridge parapet wall on Interstate 79. The vehicle then fell approximately thirty feet to the roadway below the bridge. The WVDOT contends that Mr. Coffman accelerated on the entrance ramp of Interstate 79 until the vehicle completed three 360 degree spins on the icy roadway. Mr. Coffman continued to drive the vehicle, fishtailing around the road until he hit and drove over the side of the bridge. Mr. Ladanye was seriously injured from the accident and was subsequently pronounced dead at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia.[3] According to the WVDOT, Mr. Coffman had a blood alcohol content of .218 and illegal drugs in his system.

         On December 9, 2015, Mrs. Ladanye, as administratrix of her son's estate, submitted a notice of claim with the Claims Commission against the WVDOT. In her notice of claim, Mrs. Ladanye alleged that "the fatal crash was caused by, inter alia, [the WVDOT's] failure to maintain Interstate 79 pursuant to the standards outlined in [the WVDOT's] Maintenance Division Performance Standards." In particular, Mrs. Ladanye asserted that the vehicle "encountered a large snow pile on the shoulder of the bridge which paralleled and covered the parapet wall of the bridge" and "[w]hen the vehicle encountered the large snow pile that covered the top of the parapet wall, the snow pile acted as a ramp, and the vehicle launched over the parapet wall of the bridge, falling to Fairmont Road below the bridge." Mrs. Ladanye contended that the WVDOT was negligent in failing to timely remove the snow pile and that it was reasonably foreseeable "that a vehicle may be launched over a parapet wall to the ground below if the vehicle encounter[ed] an uncleaned snow pile on the shoulder of the bridge[.]" In response, the WVDOT contended that it was not negligent and that the snow removal activities of the Division of Highways were appropriate and consistent with its policies and procedures. The WVDOT further argued that the sole and proximate cause of the vehicle accident in question was the negligence of Mr. Coffman.

         Following discovery, on August 16, 2017, Mrs. Ladanye and the WVDOT engaged in a one-day hearing before the Claims Commission. During the hearing, Mrs. Ladanye produced three witnesses: William Yaskoweak, First Sergeant with the Monongalia County Sheriff's Office; Larry Weaver, designated representative for the WVDOT; and Kevin Beachy, an expert. The WVDOT produced two witnesses: Jerry Pigman, an expert; and Larry Weaver. After the conclusion of the hearing, the Claims Commission, on February 27, 2018, issued its opinion that Mrs. Ladanye's claim for compensation for the death of her son should be denied. The opinion stated that

[t]he law in the State of West Virginia has been adhered to by this Commission consistently in that [the WVDOT] may be held liable for defective conditions on its roads only where it has been established that the [WVDOT] knew or should have known of the defective condition and had a reasonable time in which to take corrective action.

         Furthermore, the opinion provided that

[a]fter having carefully reviewed the testimony, the exhibits admitted into evidence, the argument of counsel and the findings of facts and conclusions of law submitted at the conclusion of the hearing, the Commission is of the opinion that [the WVDOT] was not negligent in its maintenance of the Westover Bridge parapet when this accident occurred.

         It further stated that the Claims Commission was "also of the opinion that there were circumstances surrounding this accident [that] would have made a recovery by [Mrs. Ladanye] difficult." Finally, the opinion concluded that

[a]lthough the Commission is not unmindful of the tragedy [that] has occurred for [Mrs. Ladanye] as the mother of the deceased, the Commission must base its decisions upon the facts and the law as it relates to each claim.
Accordingly, the Commission is of the opinion to deny this claim.

         On March 6, 2018, Mrs. Ladanye filed with the Claims Commission a motion to alter or amend the opinion. In her motion, Mrs. Ladanye asserted that several factual findings made by the Claims Commission were clearly wrong based upon the evidence presented at the hearing; that there were "glaring omissions contained within the conclusions of law"; and that the Claims Commission "blindly ignore[d] the evidence presented[, ] . . . the weight of such evidence, and the laws of West Virginia." On March 13, 2018, the Claims Commission entered an Order noting that it "considered [Mrs. Ladanye's] Motion . . . requesting a rehearing and reconsideration of the Commission's Opinion [.]" The Claims Commission's March 13, 2018 Order found "that there [were] no new issues or newly-discovered evidence presented in [Mrs. Ladanye's] Motion that mandate either an appeal or a new hearing[.]" The Order stated that the claim ...


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