Estate of Jones v. City of Martinsburg (In re Estate of Jones), 18-0927

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtChief Justice Tim Armstead Justice Elizabeth D. Walker Justice Evan H. Jenkins Justice John A. Hutchison
PartiesEstate of Wayne A. Jones By Robert L. Jones and Bruce A. Jones, Administrators of the Estate of Wayne A. Jones Plaintiff Below, Petitioner v. The City of Martinsburg, West Virginia, Pfc. Erik Herb, Pft. Daniel North, Ptlm. William Staubs, Ptlm. Paul Lehman, and Pft. Eric Neely, Defendants Below, Respondents And In re Application of the Estate of Wayne A. Jones to Empanel a Special Grand Jury to Consider a Complaint
Docket NumberNo. 18-1045,No. 18-0927,18-0927,18-1045
Decision Date30 October 2020

Estate of Wayne A. Jones By Robert L. Jones and Bruce A. Jones,
Administrators of the Estate of Wayne A. Jones Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
The City of Martinsburg, West Virginia, Pfc. Erik Herb, Pft.
Daniel North,
Ptlm. William Staubs, Ptlm. Paul Lehman, and Pft. Eric Neely, Defendants Below, Respondents
And
In re Application of the Estate of Wayne A. Jones to Empanel a Special Grand Jury to Consider a Complaint

No. 18-0927
No. 18-1045

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS

October 30, 2020


(Berkeley County CC-02-2016-C-490)

(Berkeley County CC-02-2018-P-318)

MEMORANDUM DECISION

The petitioner in these consolidated appeals, the Estate of Wayne A. Jones ("the Estate"), by counsel Paul G. Taylor, appeals various rulings rendered by the Circuit Court of Berkeley County. In Appeal No. 18-0927, the Estate, which is the plaintiff below, challenges an order entered on August 2, 2018, that dismissed the Estate's civil action under Rule 12(b)(6) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.1 The respondents, who are the defendants below, the City of Martinsburg, West Virginia ("Martinsburg") and Pfc. Erik Herb, Pft. Daniel North, Ptlm. William Staubs, Ptlm. Paul Lehman, and Pft. Eric Neely

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("the Officers"), by counsel, Joseph L. Caltrider, argue that the circuit court did not err in dismissing the case on various grounds.

In Appeal No. 18-1045, the Estate, which is the petitioner below, by counsel Paul G. Taylor, appeals three orders entered by the circuit court: an order entered on September 18, 2018, that granted a motion by the Officers to intervene in this action; an order entered on October 22, 2018, that denied the Estate's petition for disclosure of grand jury proceedings; and an order entered on October 23, 2018, that denied the Estate's application to empanel a special grand jury. The Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney, Catie Wilkes Delligatti ("the Prosecuting Attorney"), as a self-represented litigant, and the Officers, by counsel Joseph L. Caltrider, who are the respondents below, contend that all three orders should be affirmed.

This Court has considered the parties' briefs, oral arguments, and the record on appeal. Upon consideration of the standard of review and the applicable law, we find no substantial question of law has been presented nor is there prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's orders in both appeals is appropriate under Rule 21 of the West Virginia Rules of Appellate Procedure.

These two cases arise from the same underlying incident; however, the procedural history and issues raised for each case are different. Accordingly, we first briefly set out the factual history that is the same for both cases. We then treat each case separately, recounting the procedural history and addressing the issues properly raised for the first case before addressing the same for the second case. To this end, we note that, generally,

[i]n reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court, we apply a two-prong deferential standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard, and we review the circuit court's underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject to a de novo review.

Syl. pt. 2, Walker v. W. Va. Ethics Comm'n, 201 W. Va. 108, 492 S.E.2d 167 (1997). Where more specific standards for our review apply to our consideration of specific rulings by the circuit court, we will reference them in conjunction with the issues to which they pertain.

These consolidated cases were filed in relation to the death of Wayne A. Jones ("Mr. Jones"), a homeless, fifty-year-old black man who suffered from mental illness. The facts available from the briefs are scant, and unnecessary to our resolution of the questions of law raised in these appeals. However, additional details have been gleaned from an order

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issued in parallel federal litigation;2 thus, we provide an abbreviated, but more complete, background. On the night of March 13, 2013, in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Mr. Jones was observed by Officer Paul Lehman ("Officer Lehman"), of the Martinsburg City Police Department, walking in the street in violation of a Martinsburg ordinance. Officer Lehman approached Mr. Jones, and, after a brief discussion about whether Mr. Jones had a weapon, Mr. Jones indicated that he had "something." Officer Lehman then repeatedly ordered Mr. Jones to place his hands on Officer Lehman's vehicle. Mr. Jones did not comply, but instead distanced himself from Officer Lehman, which prompted Officer Lehman to call for backup. Officer Daniel North ("Officer North"), also from the Martinsburg City Police Department, then arrived at the scene. The encounter with Mr. Jones continued, and Officer North twice deployed a taser on Mr. Jones, which apparently had little effect. At some point, Mr. Jones ran for about a block. Officers Lehman and North pursued him on foot and called for additional backup. When Officer North caught up with Mr. Jones, he ordered Mr. Jones to get on the ground. Mr. Jones remained uncooperative, and Officer North struck Mr. Jones in the neck. By this time Officer William Staubs ("Officer Staubs"), another Martinsburg City Police Department officer, had arrived on the scene and also ordered Mr. Jones to get on the ground. Mr. Jones failed to comply, and Officers North and Staubs tried to grab him, which resulted in all three men falling to the ground. Then, Mr. Jones was tased a third time. Meanwhile, Officers Eric Neely and Erik Herb, also from the Martinsburg City Police Department, arrived at the scene and observed Mr. Jones resisting arrest. Mr. Jones was threatened with a fourth tasing if he did not stop resisting arrest. Mr. Jones continued to resist, and he was tased a fourth time.

While Officer Staubs and Mr. Jones were struggling on the ground, Officer Staubs felt a scratch on his hand, and then a sharp poke in his side. Officer Staubs observed a fixed blade knife in Mr. Jones's right hand. Apparently, however, no knife has been produced, and no explanation for its absence has been given. Officer Staubs then shouted "[h]e's got a knife; he's got a knife." The officers ordered Mr. Jones to drop the knife. Mr. Jones failed to comply, and the Officers then discharged their weapons at Mr. Jones firing twenty-two shots, all of which hit Mr. Jones.3 Mr. Jones died at the scene.

In October 2013, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely presented the facts and circumstances of the shooting to a Berkeley County Grand Jury. The grand jury declined to indict the officers, returning a result of "not a true bill."

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A. Appeal No. 18-0927

Because the resolution of this case is tied to federal litigation involving Mr. Jones's death, we first review the procedural history of the federal litigation. By complaint filed June 13, 2013, ultimately followed by a second amended complaint filed on May 21, 2014, the Estate filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia ("District Court") against Martinsburg and the Officers (collectively "the Defendants"). The second amended complaint sought damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief arising from Mr. Jones's death.4 The Defendants filed a series of requests for admissions pursuant to Rule 36 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Estate failed to timely respond to the requests, and they were deemed admitted.5 By order entered October 15, 2014, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants, based in significant part on those admissions attributed to the Estate. See Estate of Jones by Jones v. City of Martinsburg, W. Va., No. 3:13-CV-68, 2014 WL 5305966 (N.D.W. Va. Oct. 15, 2014), remanded 655 F. App'x 948, 949 (4th Cir. 2016).

The Estate appealed this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("Fourth Circuit"), and the Fourth Circuit remanded the case to the District Court for "consideration of the discretionary factors in Rule 36(b) [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] in determining whether to allow the withdrawal of the admissions." Estate of Jones by Jones v. City of Martinsburg, W. Va., 655 F. App'x 948, 949 (4th Cir. 2016).6 On remand, the District Court entered an order dated December 2, 2016, that denied the Estate's request to withdraw its admissions and held that its prior order granting summary judgment remained in full force and effect. See Estate of Jones by Jones v. City of Martinsburg, W. Va., No. 3:13-CV-68, 2016 WL 10585014 (N.D.W. Va. Dec. 2, 2016), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, and remanded, 726 F. App'x 173 (4th Cir. 2018).

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The Estate again appealed to the Fourth Circuit. By order entered on March 5, 2018, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling that denied the Estate's request to withdraw its admissions, but reversed the award of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants finding that, "notwithstanding [the Estate's] admissions, we conclude that genuine issues of disputed material fact remain as to whether police officers used excessive force at the time they shot and killed Wayne A. Jones." Estate of Jones by Jones v. City of Martinsburg, W. Va., 726 F. App'x 173, 174 (4th Cir. 2018). Therefore, the case was remanded for further proceedings only on the issue of excessive force, i.e., the Estate's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendants. The District Court then scheduled the matter for trial on those claims. On July 6, 2018, the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment in which they asserted qualified immunity and claimed that Martinsburg could not be held liable for the constitutional violations of its employees under Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978). By order entered on September 7, 2018, the District Court again granted summary...

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