Brown v. City of Wheeling, No. 30243.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation569 S.E.2d 197,212 W.Va. 121
Decision Date02 July 2002
Docket NumberNo. 30243.
PartiesDouglas BROWN, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Leah Brown, Plaintiff Below, Appellant, v. CITY OF WHEELING, a municipal corporation, Defendant Below, Appellee.

569 S.E.2d 197
212 W.Va.
121

Douglas BROWN, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Leah Brown, Plaintiff Below, Appellant,
v.
CITY OF WHEELING, a municipal corporation, Defendant Below, Appellee

No. 30243.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted May 22, 2002.

Decided July 2, 2002.

Dissenting Opinion of Justice McGraw August 2, 2002.


569 S.E.2d 199
Scott S. Blass, Esq., James B. Stoneking, Esq., Bordas, Bordas & Jividen, Wheeling, West Virginia, Attorneys for Appellant

Michael G. Gallaway, Esq., Burns, White & Hickton, Wheeling, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee.

569 S.E.2d 198
PER CURIAM

In this appeal from the Circuit Court of Ohio County, the appellant challenges a circuit court order granting summary judgment. The appellant, on behalf of the estate of Leah Brown, had sued Mrs. Brown's employer, the City of Wheeling. Mrs. Brown and a co-worker were returning from an out-of-town work-related training session when Mrs. Brown died in a one-vehicle automobile accident. Mrs. Brown's co-worker was the driver of the automobile. As a result of the accident, the appellant filed the lawsuit against Mrs. Brown's employer. The circuit court entered a summary judgment order finding the employer immune from liability.

As set forth below, we affirm the circuit court's order.

569 S.E.2d 200
I.

Leah Brown was employed by the appellee, the City of Wheeling ("the City"), as a 911 dispatcher. As part of an agreement between the City and the West Virginia State Police, all of the City's 911 dispatchers were required to receive bi-annual training and certification to use certain dispatching equipment.

On September 9, 1997, Mrs. Brown and a co-worker rode together in the co-worker's personal vehicle from Wheeling to the training session at the State Police Academy in Institute, West Virginia. The co-worker drove the vehicle. As Mrs. Brown and her co-worker were returning from the training session, they were involved in a one-car accident. Mrs. Brown died in the accident.1

The appellant, Douglas Brown, is the surviving spouse and the administrator of the estate of Leah Brown. Following the accident, the appellant wrote the Wheeling City Solicitor inquiring whether the appellant would be eligible for certain pension benefits from the City's Employees Retirement and Benefit Fund. Under W.Va.Code, 8-22-9(c) [1987]2 the appellant would only be entitled to money that Mrs. Brown had contributed to the City pension fund. However, W.Va.Code, 8-22-9(a)(1) [1987]3 provides that additional benefits be paid to a surviving spouse if an employee of a municipality "die[s] as a result of personal injury or disease arising out of and in the course of his employment with the city."

The Wheeling City Solicitor responded to the appellant in a letter dated October 9, 1998, stating that:

Mrs. Brown's death did not occur in the course of her employment under the existing law. Thus I cannot advise the Board of Trustees that there is a clearly established legal basis for them to recognize a claim for benefits under the provision of W.Va.Code 8-22-9(a)(1) in this particular case. Therefore, any such claim made to this pension fund as a result of the death of Leah Brown could not be approved as a legitimate expenditure by the Board of Trustees.

Instead of challenging the City Solicitor's opinion and seeking a legal determination regarding his entitlement to pension benefits based on Mrs. Brown's employment, under W.Va.Code, 8-22-9(a)(1) [1987], or applying for dependents benefits from the Worker's Compensation Fund, the appellant filed the instant action solely against the City of Wheeling. In his complaint, the appellant alleged that the driver was acting within the course and scope of his employment so as to bind the City to liability based on the employee driver's negligence. At the same time, the complaint alleged that Mrs. Brown was not acting within the scope of her employment with the City.

In response to the civil action filed by the appellant, the City asserted that both the driver and the decedent were employees of the City, and that the City was therefore, inter alia, immune under the Workers' Compensation Act.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether Mrs. Brown was acting within the scope of her

569 S.E.2d 201
employment at the time of the accident. On September 15, 2000, the circuit court ruled that Mrs. Brown's attendance and travel to the training session was a "special act" or "special errand" performed for the benefit of the City. The circuit court ruled that Mrs. Brown was within the scope of her employment at the time of her death, and that the City was entitled to governmental immunity based on W.Va.Code, 29-12A-5 [1986], "unless the plaintiff [appellant] can show that the City should be estopped from raising the immunity created by the [political subdivision immunity] statute."

After reviewing the parties' briefs on the estoppel issue, the circuit court entered an order on February 6, 2001, ruling that the appellant had not satisfied the elements for proving estoppel and dismissed the appellant's action. The appellant now appeals the lower court's rulings.

II.

"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). We have often stated that we review de novo a circuit court's entry of summary judgment under Rule 56 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, and apply the same standard that the circuit courts employ in examining summary judgment motions. We established the traditional standard for granting summary judgment in Syllabus Point 3 of Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Federal Ins. Co. of N.Y., 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963) where we held:

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.

At issue is whether Mrs. Brown was acting within the course of her employment when she died in the automobile accident. If she was indisputably acting within the course of her employment, then the City is entitled to immunity.

The Workers' Compensation Act states that if an employee is injured or dies in the course of and as a result of his or her employment, and the employer subscribes to the Workers' Compensation Fund, then the employer is immune from most lawsuits arising from the injury or death. W.Va.Code, 23-2-6 [1991] states, in pertinent part:

Any employer subject to this chapter who shall subscribe and pay into the workers' compensation fund the premiums provided by this chapter or who shall elect to make direct payments of compensation as herein provided shall not be liable to respond in damages at common law or by statute for the injury or death of any employee, however occurring, after so subscribing or electing, and during any period in which such employer shall not be in default in the payment of such premiums or direct payments and shall have complied fully with all other provisions of this chapter. The continuation in the service of such employer shall be considered a waiver by the employee ... of the right of action as aforesaid, which the employee ... would otherwise have[.]

It is the general rule in West Virginia that when an employee is injured while going to and coming from work, that employee is not considered to be in the course of his or her employment. De Constantin v. Public Service Comm'n, 75 W.Va. 32, 83 S.E. 88 (1914); Buckland v. State Compensation Comm'r, 115 W.Va. 323, 175 S.E....

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9 practice notes
  • Calvo v. Montgomery Cnty., No. 48, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 21, 2018
    ...meeting); Eady v. Med. Pers. Pool , 377 So.2d 693, 695 (Fla. 1979) (nursing 185 A.3d 161duties); Brown v. City of Wheeling , 212 W.Va. 121, 569 S.E.2d 197, 200 (2002) (mandatory training). Although the record shows that Calvo attended the other trainings, there is no evidence whether the pa......
  • Roof Serv. of Bridgeport, Inc. v. Trent, No. 19-0200
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 2020
    ...to and from work, an employee "is being exposed to a risk that is identical to that of the general public." Brown v. City of Wheeling , 212 W.Va. 121, 126, 569 S.E.2d 197, 202 (2002) (per curiam). Notably, while the "going and coming rule" applies in those instances "where the only evidence......
  • Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., No. 33907.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 10, 2008
    ...circumstances, that employee is not considered to be "in the course of" his or her employment at the time. Brown v. City of Wheeling, 212 W.Va. 121, 125, 569 S.E.2d 197, 201 (2002)(citing De Constantin v. Public Service Comm'n, 75 W.Va. 32, 83 S.E. 88 (1914)). "In other words, the employee ......
  • McLin v. Industrial Specialty Contractors, No. 2002-C-1539.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • July 2, 2003
    ...determination that claimant's injuries while returning from the meeting were compensable. Id. at 916. See also Brown v. City of Wheeling, 212 W.Va. 121, 569 S.E.2d 197, 203 (2002) (holding that the employee was acting within the course of her employment when she died while returning from th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • Calvo v. Montgomery Cnty., No. 48, Sept. Term, 2017
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • May 21, 2018
    ...meeting); Eady v. Med. Pers. Pool , 377 So.2d 693, 695 (Fla. 1979) (nursing 185 A.3d 161duties); Brown v. City of Wheeling , 212 W.Va. 121, 569 S.E.2d 197, 200 (2002) (mandatory training). Although the record shows that Calvo attended the other trainings, there is no evidence whether the pa......
  • Roof Serv. of Bridgeport, Inc. v. Trent, No. 19-0200
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 2020
    ...to and from work, an employee "is being exposed to a risk that is identical to that of the general public." Brown v. City of Wheeling , 212 W.Va. 121, 126, 569 S.E.2d 197, 202 (2002) (per curiam). Notably, while the "going and coming rule" applies in those instances "where the only evidence......
  • Falls v. Union Drilling Inc., No. 33907.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 10, 2008
    ...circumstances, that employee is not considered to be "in the course of" his or her employment at the time. Brown v. City of Wheeling, 212 W.Va. 121, 125, 569 S.E.2d 197, 201 (2002)(citing De Constantin v. Public Service Comm'n, 75 W.Va. 32, 83 S.E. 88 (1914)). "In other words, the employee ......
  • McLin v. Industrial Specialty Contractors, No. 2002-C-1539.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Louisiana
    • July 2, 2003
    ...determination that claimant's injuries while returning from the meeting were compensable. Id. at 916. See also Brown v. City of Wheeling, 212 W.Va. 121, 569 S.E.2d 197, 203 (2002) (holding that the employee was acting within the course of her employment when she died while returning from th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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