Beahm v. 7 Eleven, Inc., No. 33833.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation672 S.E.2d 598
PartiesCharles & Kathryn BEAHM, et al., Plaintiffs Below, Appellants, v. 7-ELEVEN, INC. and Melissa Spinks, Defendants Below, Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 33833.
Decision Date26 August 2008
672 S.E.2d 598
Charles & Kathryn BEAHM, et al., Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
7-ELEVEN, INC. and Melissa Spinks, Defendants Below, Appellees.
No. 33833.
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Submitted September 9, 2008.
Decided August 26, 2008.
Dissenting Opinion of Justice Starcher December 30, 2008.

[672 S.E.2d 599]

Syllabus by the Court

1. "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 Co. v. Federal Co., 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).

2. "A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo." Syllabus Point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994).

3. "Before the prosecution of a lawsuit may be barred on the basis of res judicata, three elements must be satisfied. First, there must have been a final adjudication on the merits in the prior action by a court having jurisdiction of the proceedings. Second, the two actions must involve either the same parties or persons in privity with those same parties. Third, the cause of action identified for resolution in the subsequent proceeding either must be identical to the cause of action determined in the prior action or must be such that it could have been resolved, had it been presented, in the prior action." Syllabus Point 4, Blake v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 201 W.Va. 469, 498 S.E.2d 41 (1997).

Paul G. Taylor, Esq., Martinsburg, for Appellants.

Charles F. Printz, Jr., Esq., Brian M. Peterson, Esq., Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, LLP, Martinsburg, for Appellees.

[672 S.E.2d 600]

PER CURIAM:


The instant action is before this Court upon the appeal of Charles and Kathryn Beahm, Randy and Kathy Johnson, and the Jefferson City Council on Aging [hereinafter "Appellants"] from a January 4, 2007, order granting defendants', 7-Eleven, Inc. and Melissa Spinks [hereinafter "Appellees"], Motion for Summary Judgment. On appeal, the Appellants allege that errors were committed by the circuit court when it applied the doctrines of res judicata and/or claim preclusion to the instant action, and when the circuit court held that Appellants suffered no recoverable damages. Conversely, the Appellees allege that summary judgment was appropriate because the instant action is barred by res judicata and the Appellants have no recoverable damages under West Virginia law. This Court has before it the petition for appeal, all matters of record and briefs and arguments of counsel. For the reasons expressed below, the January 4, 2007, order of the Circuit Court of Jefferson County is affirmed.

I.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The instant matter is the second of two actions arising from a January 2000, gasoline release occurring from underground storage tanks at 7-Eleven, Inc.'s store in Ranson, West Virginia. The Appellants claim that gasoline from 7-Eleven's store contaminated groundwater that circulates beneath their properties, and that as a result, their properties were devalued.1 All of the Appellants' properties allegedly affected by contaminated groundwater draw their water supply through a public water system. When 7-Eleven received notice of the leak and its contamination around February 20002, it identified the leaking tank and began the remediation process as required by federal and state law. 7-Eleven, Inc. and its insurers have paid all of the costs of remediating the entire site, including Appellants' properties.3

The first action to arise from the 7-Eleven gasoline leak was Proctor v. 7-Eleven, Inc., et al, Civil Action No. 3:02-CV-21, filed in the Jefferson County Circuit Court on February 21, 2002. Proctor, which was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, involved eight property owners in Ranson, West Virginia alleging that their groundwater was contaminated by the gasoline release. During the pendency of that action, the Proctor plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint to add new parties on two separate occasions. In their first motion to amend, the Proctor plaintiffs sought to add Melissa Spinks as a defendant. In their second motion to amend, the Proctor plaintiffs sought to add Charles and Kathryn Beahm and Randy and Kathy Johnson as plaintiffs. The federal district court denied both motions for leave on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired. The Beahms and Johnsons, themselves, then sought an extraordinary writ of mandamus to challenge the federal district court's decision and to have themselves added as plaintiffs in the Proctor action, which was denied by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

During the pendency of the motions to

672 S.E.2d 601

amend in the Proctor case, Appellants4 filed the instant action in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, stating virtually identical claims to those raised in the Proctor action. In addition to suing 7-Eleven, Appellants also sued Melissa Spinks, a non-diverse defendant, to prevent removal to federal district court. This matter proceeded through discovery concurrently with the Proctor litigation until the circuit court stayed the case pending an outcome in Proctor on the grounds that the two cases involved identical questions of fact and law, involving the same types of claims, issues, parties, attorneys and expert witnesses.

On April 26, 2005, the entire Proctor action was dismissed on summary judgment. The federal district court found that the plaintiffs suffered no damages recoverable under West Virginia law. The Proctor plaintiffs filed an appeal asserting that they had evidence of recoverable damages. However, they did not appeal the district court's refusal to permit the Beahms and Johnsons to intervene. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the Proctor action on May 18, 2006. The circuit court lifted the stay in this action on October 5, 2006. On January 4, 2007, the circuit court granted the Appellees' motion for summary judgment, finding that res judicata barred the action. The Appellants filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied by the circuit court by order dated March 5, 2007.

II.
STANDARD OF REVIEW

"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." Syl. Pt. 3, Aetna Co. v. Federal Co., 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963). Furthermore, "[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). Mindful of these standards, we proceed to consider the arguments of the parties.

III.
DISCUSSION
A. Res Judicata

The central issue in this appeal is whether the lower court was correct in concluding that res judicata principles preclude Appellants' claims from going forward. Appellants allege that error was committed by the circuit court when it applied the doctrine of res judicata to the instant action because the statute of limitations has not yet begun to run because Appellants have suffered continuous tortious injuries. Conversely, the Appellees allege that summary judgment was appropriate because the instant action is barred by res judicata since the statute of limitations has expired. Upon review of the record before us, we conclude that res judicata bars the instant action.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ruled that the statute of limitations has expired on all claims against 7-Eleven and Melissa Spinks arising out of the gasoline release.5 Although the decision refusing to permit Melissa Spinks as a defendant was appealed, the federal district court's decision refusing to add the Beahms and Johnsons as plaintiffs was not challenged. The Fourth Circuit did not address the merits of the statute of limitations issue. All appeals have been exhausted, and the Proctor judgment is final.

Res judicata or claim preclusion "generally applies when there is a final judgment on the merits which precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating the issues that were decided or the issues that could have been decided in the earlier action." State v. Miller,

672 S.E.2d 602

194 W.Va. 3, 9, 459 S.E.2d 114, 120 (1995). We recognized in Conley v. Spillers, 171 W.Va. 584, 588, 301 S.E.2d 216, 219 (1983), that "the underlying purpose of the doctrine of res judicata was initially to prevent a person from being twice vexed for one and the same cause." In Conley, we also observed the following additional rationale underlying the doctrine of res judicata:

"To preclude parties from contesting matters that have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate protects their adversaries from the expense and vexation attending multiple lawsuits, claim preclusion serves to conserves judicial resources, and fosters reliance on judicial action by minimizing the possibility of inconsistent decisions."

Id. (quoting Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153-54, 99 S.Ct. 970, 973-74, 59 L.E.2d 210, 217 (1979)).

"For a second action to be a second vexation which the law will forbid, the two actions must have (1) substantially the same parties who sue and defend in each case in the same respective character, (2) the same cause of action, and (3) the same object." Hannah v. Beasley, 132 W.Va. 814, 821, 53 S.E.2d 729, 733 (1949). Accordingly, we held in Blake v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 201 W.Va. 469, 498 S.E.2d 41 (1997):

Before the prosecution of a lawsuit may be barred on the basis of res judicata, three elements must be satisfied. First, there must have been a final adjudication on the merits in the prior action by a court having jurisdiction of the proceedings. Second, the two actions must involve either the same parties or persons in privity with those same parties. Third, the cause of action identified...

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    • 17 Marzo 2022
    ...the privity issue on whether the parties "represent [ ] the same legal interest").51 See, e.g., Beahm v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 223 W.Va. 269, 672 S.E.2d 598, 602-03 (2008) ; Wheeler v. Beachcroft, LLC, 320 Conn. 146, 129 A.3d 677, 690 (2016) ; BTC Leasing, Inc. v. Martin, 685 S.W.2d 191,198 (Ky. ......
  • Dan Ryan Builders, Inc. v. Crystal Ridge Dev., Inc., Nos. 16-0401, 16-0402.
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    ...Area Medical Ctr., Inc. v. Parke-Davis, 217 W.Va. 15, 21, 614 S.E.2d 15, 22 (2005).48 Beahm v. 7 Eleven, Inc., 223 W.Va. 269, 276, 672 S.E.2d 598, 605 (2008) (per curiam ).49 See, e.g., Braxton Lumber Co. v. Lloyd's Inc., 238 W.Va. at 182, 793 S.E.2d at 346 (finding third-party claim was im......
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    • 25 Febrero 2021
    ...is whether the cause of action in the second suit is the same as the first suit.’ " Beahm v. 7 Eleven, Inc. , 223 W. Va. 269, 273, 672 S.E.2d 598, 602 (2008) (citing Conley , 171 W. Va. at 588, 301 S.E.2d at 220 ). The genesis of the requirement that causes of action be "identical" traces b......
  • Daz Mgmt. v. Honnen Equip. Co., 20200656
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 17 Marzo 2022
    ...1025 (framing the privity issue on whether the parties "represent[] the same legal interest"). [51] See, e.g., Beahm v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 672 S.E.2d 598, 602-03 (W.Va. 2008); Wheeler v. Beachcroft, LLC, 129 A.3d 677, 690 (Conn. 2016); BTC Leasing, Inc. v. Martin, 685 S.W.2d 191, 198 (Ky. Ct. ......
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20 cases
  • Daz Mgmt., LLC v. Honnen Equip. Co., 20200656
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 17 Marzo 2022
    ...the privity issue on whether the parties "represent [ ] the same legal interest").51 See, e.g., Beahm v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 223 W.Va. 269, 672 S.E.2d 598, 602-03 (2008) ; Wheeler v. Beachcroft, LLC, 320 Conn. 146, 129 A.3d 677, 690 (2016) ; BTC Leasing, Inc. v. Martin, 685 S.W.2d 191,198 (Ky. ......
  • Dan Ryan Builders, Inc. v. Crystal Ridge Dev., Inc., Nos. 16-0401, 16-0402.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 14 Septiembre 2017
    ...Area Medical Ctr., Inc. v. Parke-Davis, 217 W.Va. 15, 21, 614 S.E.2d 15, 22 (2005).48 Beahm v. 7 Eleven, Inc., 223 W.Va. 269, 276, 672 S.E.2d 598, 605 (2008) (per curiam ).49 See, e.g., Braxton Lumber Co. v. Lloyd's Inc., 238 W.Va. at 182, 793 S.E.2d at 346 (finding third-party claim was im......
  • Baker v. Chemours Co. FC, No. 19-0906
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • 25 Febrero 2021
    ...is whether the cause of action in the second suit is the same as the first suit.’ " Beahm v. 7 Eleven, Inc. , 223 W. Va. 269, 273, 672 S.E.2d 598, 602 (2008) (citing Conley , 171 W. Va. at 588, 301 S.E.2d at 220 ). The genesis of the requirement that causes of action be "identical" traces b......
  • Daz Mgmt. v. Honnen Equip. Co., 20200656
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • 17 Marzo 2022
    ...1025 (framing the privity issue on whether the parties "represent[] the same legal interest"). [51] See, e.g., Beahm v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 672 S.E.2d 598, 602-03 (W.Va. 2008); Wheeler v. Beachcroft, LLC, 129 A.3d 677, 690 (Conn. 2016); BTC Leasing, Inc. v. Martin, 685 S.W.2d 191, 198 (Ky. Ct. ......
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