Jeremy Brown, by counsel Brian J. Headley, appeals the
Circuit Court of Wood County's January 9, 2019, order
granting summary judgment in favor of State Farm Mutual
Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm").
Respondent State Farm, by counsel R. Carter Elkins, filed a
response, and petitioner filed a reply.
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 circuit court's order is appropriate under
Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.
appeal stems from a single vehicle automobile accident that
occurred on October 23, 2015. At the time of the accident,
petitioner alleges that he was a passenger in a 2009 Ford
Taurus, insured by State Farm, that was being driven by his
then-wife, Margaret Brown (hereinafter "Ms.
Brown"). Contrary to petitioner's allegations, the
West Virginia Uniform Traffic Crash Report indicates that he
was actually the driver of the vehicle at the time of the
accident. As a result of the collision, the vehicle
struck a guardrail, causing the guardrail to penetrate the
cabin of the vehicle. Although the vehicle was equipped with
air bags, the air bags did not deploy and petitioner was
injured when he was struck in the head by the guardrail.
State Farm took possession of the vehicle after the accident.
After inspecting the vehicle and taking pictures of it, State
Farm sold the vehicle for scrap on or about December 31,
2015. At the time that the vehicle was sold by State Farm,
petitioner had not retained counsel in connection with the
underlying accident and there is no evidence in the record to
suggest that State Farm received a request to preserve the
vehicle. To the contrary, the record reflects that petitioner
placed State Farm on notice of the claim after the
vehicle was no longer in State Farm's possession.
October 17, 2016, petitioner filed suit against Ms. Brown in
the Circuit Court of Wood County. In his complaint, petitioner
alleged that Ms. Brown negligently operated the vehicle and
crashed it into a roadside guardrail. After engaging in
discovery, petitioner settled with Ms. Brown. The circuit
court entered a partial dismissal order for the claims
against Ms. Brown on November 1, 2018.
to the settlement with Ms. Brown, petitioner filed an amended
complaint naming State Farm as a defendant and asserting
negligent and intentional spoliation of evidence claims
against State Farm related to the destruction of the vehicle.
Petitioner did not conduct discovery as to the spoliation
claims in accordance with the court's scheduling order.
Instead, petitioner's counsel alleges that he and counsel
for State Farm informally agreed to stay discovery as to the
spoliation claims until after the claims were resolved
against Ms. Brown. State Farm's counsel concedes that
counsel did discuss a stay of discovery, but maintains that
the parties never reached such an agreement. Notably, counsel
did not submit any joint motions or proposed orders to stay
discovery or to vacate the scheduling order.
filed a motion for summary judgment and the circuit court
conducted a hearing on the motion on December 11, 2018. The
circuit court found that petitioner was unable to establish
the required elements for his negligent spoliation or
intentional spoliation claims. Thus, the circuit court
entered a January 9, 2019, Judgment Order granting State
Farm's motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.
appeal, this Court accords a plenary review to the circuit
court's order granting summary judgment: "[a]
circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed
de novo." Syl. Pt. 1, Painter v.
Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). In
conducting our de novo review, we apply the same standard for
granting summary judgment that is applied by the circuit
court. Under that standard,
"'[a] motion for summary judgment should be granted
only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact
to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable
to clarify the application of the law.' Syllabus Point 3,
Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Fed. Ins. Co. of New
York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963)."
Syllabus Point 1, Andrick v. Town of Buckhannon, 187
W.Va. 706, 421 S.E.2d 247 (1992).
Painter, 192 W.Va. at 190, 451 S.E.2d at 756, syl.
pt. 2. In other words,
[s]ummary judgment is appropriate where the record taken as a
whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed
to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the
case that it has the burden to prove.
Id. at 190, 451 S.E.2d at 756, syl. pt. 4.
Additionally, we note that "[t]he circuit court's
function at the summary judgment stage is not to weigh the
evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but it is to
determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial."
Id. at 190, 451 S.E.2d at 756, syl. pt. 3. Finally,
we note that "the party opposing summary judgment must
satisfy the burden of proof by offering more than a mere
'scintilla of evidence' and must produce evidence
sufficient for a reasonable jury to find in a nonmoving
party's favor. Anderson [v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc.], 477 U.S.  at 252, 106 S.Ct.  at 2512,
91 L.E.2d  at 214 ." Williams v.
Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 60, 459 S.E.2d 329,
Pt. 2, in part, Hannah v. Heeter, 213 W.Va. 704, 584
S.E.2d 560 (2003), this Court spelled out the elements