Atchinson v. Erwin

Decision Date25 March 1983
Docket NumberNo. 15723,15723
Citation172 W.Va. 8,302 S.E.2d 78
PartiesDavid R. ATCHINSON, et al. v. Willard ERWIN, et al., etc.
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

1. "Statutes relating to different subjects are not in pari materia." Syllabus Point 5, Commercial Credit Corp. v. Citizens National Bank, 148 W.Va. 198, 133 S.E.2d 720 (1963).

2. "The Legislature has the power to make changes in its public employment, including the Civil Service System, which changes result in either abolishing positions or diminishing the economic rights of civil service employees." Syllabus Point 2, Baker v. Civil Service Commission, 161 W.Va. 666, 245 S.E.2d 908 (1978).

3. "A basic purpose of Article VI, Section 39 of the Constitution of West Virginia is to preserve uniformity and consistency in the statutory enactments of this State." Syllabus Point 1, State ex rel. Taxpayers Protective Association of Raleigh County v. Hanks, 157 W.Va. 350, 201 S.E.2d 304 (1973).

4. "The well settled general rule is that in cases of doubt the intent of the Legislature not to exceed its constitutional powers is to be presumed and the courts are required to favor the construction which would consider a statute to be a general law." Syllabus Point 8, State ex rel. Heck's, Inc. v. Gates, 149 W.Va. 421, 141 S.E.2d 369 (1965).

5. "A statute is general when it operates uniformly on all persons and things of a class and such classification is natural, reasonable and appropriate to the purpose sought to be accomplished." Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Taxpayers Protective Association of Raleigh County v. Hanks, 157 W.Va. 350, 201 S.E.2d 304 (1973).

6. "The constitutional requirement that a law be general does not imply that it must be uniform in its operation and effect in the full sense of its terms. If a law operates alike on all persons and property similarly situated, it is not subject to the objection of special legislation or class legislation and does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States." Syllabus Point 7, State ex rel. Heck's, Inc. v. Gates, 149 W.Va. 421, 141 S.E.2d 369 (1965).

7. Where economic rights are concerned, we look to see whether the classification is a rational one based on social, economic, historic or geographic factors, whether it bears a reasonable relationship to a proper governmental purpose, and whether all persons within the class are treated equally. Where such classification is rational and bears the requisite reasonable relationship, the statute does not violate Section 39 of Article VI of the West Virginia Constitution.

8. W.Va.Code, 20-6-5 (1976), which conferred additional pay on supervisors and employees of the Surface Mine Reclamation Division of the Department of Natural Resources as a result of increased work responsibilities resulting from expanded coverage of the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, does not violate the special act limitation of Section 39 of Article VI of the West Virginia Constitution.

J. David Cecil, Cecil, Pearson & Barth, Leo Catsonis, Charleston, for appellants.

Richard L. Earles, Asst. Atty. Gen., Charleston, for appellees.

MILLER, Justice:

The appellants, who are inspectors and supervisors of the Water Resources Division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), appeal from an adverse decision of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. The appellants claim that the circuit court erred in holding that a 1976 amendment to W.Va.Code, 20-6-5, which set a salary increase for the appellants' counterparts in the Surface Mining Reclamation Division of the DNR could not be read to provide the same increase for the appellants. The appellants maintain that if the statute is not interpreted to include them, then it violates the equal pay for equal work provisions of the civil service statute. They also assert that the amendment was a special act, which violates Section 39 of Article VI of the West Virginia Constitution. We affirm the circuit court's ruling.

It is not disputed that, prior to 1976, the appellants were under civil service and were classified with the surface mine inspectors and supervisors of the Reclamation Division of the same department. In 1976, the Legislature enacted an amendment to the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act, which expanded coverage of the reclamation law and placed additional duties on reclamation inspectors. Another amendment increased the compensation of the surface mine inspectors and supervisors of the Reclamation Division as follows: "Every surface-mining reclamation supervisor or inspector shall be paid not less than fifteen thousand dollars per year." W.Va.Code, 20-6-5 (1976).

In order to comply with the new legislation, the DNR proposed, and on May 20, 1976, the Civil Service Commission approved, a new classification and salary level for the surface mine inspectors and supervisors of the Reclamation Division. The "conservation inspector II" position, formerly held by both Reclamation Division employees and Water Resources Division employees, was discontinued in the Reclamation Division and the new position of "surface mine inspectors and supervisors" was created.

The appellants challenged the reclassification order, and, upon a lack of response by the Civil Service Commission, filed suit in circuit court against the Commission, its members, and the director of the DNR. The appellants offered affidavits and other evidentiary material indicating that the reclassification was not based upon any distinction between the qualifications or duties of the Water Resources Division's and those of the Reclamation Division's inspectors and supervisors. They argued that the reclassification as proposed and implemented by the Commission, was instituted solely to comply with the 1976 legislation increasing the salaries of the latter group. Affidavits and depositions submitted by the appellees indicated that the qualifications and duties of the Reclamation Division's inspectors and supervisors had increased significantly by virtue of the added jurisdiction imposed by W.Va.Code, 22-2-63(g), 1 while the qualifications and duties of the appellants had not. The circuit court was persuaded by the appellees' evidence of additional duties, requirements and qualifications, and held that the Civil Service Commission's reclassification was not in error.

The question of whether the Legislature may enact a specific pay increase for certain civil service employees, where those employees have been given enhanced duties, has received little attention in the courts. We are not cited nor have we found a case in point. While the appellants argue that the Civil Service Commission violated the equal pay for equal work provision of W.Va.Code, 29-6-10(2) (1977), 2 it is clear from the record that the Civil Service Commission's reclassification was perfunctory and was made in order to comply with the statutory amendment increasing the pay to $15,000 per year.

The appellants argue that the civil service statutory requirement of equal pay for equal work should have required the Commission to include the appellants in the increased pay reclassification by reading the pay provision of W.Va.Code, 20-6-5 (1976), in pari materia with the equal pay provision of W.Va.Code, 29-6-10(2). This argument ignores two basic problems. First, the pay provision refers only to every "surface-mining reclamation supervisor or inspector" as receiving the salary of $15,000 per year. The concept of reading statutes in pari materia begins with the premise that they relate to the same subject. Newton v. Dailey, 167 W.Va. 347, 280 S.E.2d 91 (1981); Smith v. State Workmen's Compensation Commissioner, 159 W.Va. 108, 219 S.E.2d 361 (1975). Thus, in Syllabus Point 5 of Commercial Credit Corp. v. Citizens National Bank, 148 W.Va. 198, 133 S.E.2d 720 (1963), we said:

"Statutes relating to different subjects are not in pari materia."

See also Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Miller v. Sencindiver, 166 W.Va. 355, 275 S.E.2d 10 (1980). Furthermore, we believe that even if the pay provision in W.Va.Code, 20-6-5 (1976), had some relationship to the equal pay provisions of the civil service statute, the pay statute is a special act which is ordinarily entitled to preference over a general statute. State ex rel. Sahley v. Thompson, 151 W.Va. 336, 151 S.E.2d 870 (1966); 2A Sutherland, Statutes and Statutory Construction § 51.05 (Sands 4th ed. 1973).

Finally, the circuit court found that there had been increased duties placed on the surface mining reclamation personnel as a result of the 1976 amendments to the Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act. Therefore, the personnel of the two divisions were no longer assigned similar or equal work, and the civil service provision relating to equal pay for equal work was not applicable. 3

The ability of the Legislature to enact changes to the State Civil Service System was settled in Baker v. Civil Service Commission, 161 W.Va. 666, 245 S.E.2d 908 (1978). At issue in Baker was an enactment abolishing the Office of Federal-State Relations whose employees were covered under civil service. One of the terminated employees challenged the validity of the statute on a number of grounds foreign to the issues raised here, but in the course of rejecting his claims, we said in Syllabus Point 2:

"The Legislature has the power to make changes in its public employment, including the Civil Service System, which changes result in either abolishing positions or diminishing the economic rights of civil service employees."

We did, however, in Baker recognize that there were some limits on the legislative power:

"In [State ex rel. Musick v. Londeree, 145 W.Va. 369, 115 S.E.2d 96 (1960) ], it was suggested that the legislative action could not be arbitrary or done in bad faith. Certainly, if the legislative enactments created an impermissible classification under the Equal Protection...

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