Parks v. Mut. Benefit Grp., 20-0065

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtArmstead, Justice
Citation865 S.E.2d 62,245 W.Va. 660
Parties Eric PARKS, Petitioner v. MUTUAL BENEFIT GROUP, Respondent
Docket NumberNo. 20-0065,20-0065
Decision Date28 October 2021

245 W.Va. 660
865 S.E.2d 62

Eric PARKS, Petitioner
v.
MUTUAL BENEFIT GROUP, Respondent

No. 20-0065

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: October 6, 2021
Filed: October 28, 2021


Kevin T. Tipton, Esq., Tipton Law Offices, Fairmont, West Virginia, Counsel for Petitioner.

Jeanette H. Ho, Esq., Thomas, Thomas & Hafer LLP, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Counsel for Respondent.

Armstead, Justice:

Eric Parks ("Petitioner") appeals the Circuit Court of Monongalia County's final order granting judgment as a matter of law1 in the amount of $5,589.11 in favor of Mutual Benefit Group ("Respondent"). The circuit court conducted a trial de novo from a magistrate court judgment, in which Respondent brought an action against Petitioner as the result of an automobile accident. The circuit court's basis for its grant of judgment as a matter of law was that Petitioner had failed to respond to requests for admissions that Respondent had served upon Petitioner in the magistrate court. Because the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure for Magistrate Courts provide the exclusive means of discovery in magistrate courts and clearly do not provide for parties to serve requests for admission, we reverse the circuit court and remand for further proceedings.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 23, 2017, Petitioner and Renee Dillow ("Dillow") were involved in an automobile

865 S.E.2d 64

accident. Respondent was Dillow's insurer and paid to her the sum of $5,089.11 for the damage to her automobile. Dillow had a $500 deductible. Respondent then brought suit in Monongalia County Magistrate Court to recover the monies it paid Dillow and for Dillow's deductible.

The magistrate court conducted a bench trial and found in favor of Respondent in the amount of $5,589.11, plus court costs and interest. Petitioner appealed that judgment to circuit court. The appeal of the magistrate court bench trial to circuit court resulted in a trial de novo before the circuit court. See W. Va. Code § 50-5-12(d) (1994).

In the circuit court trial, Respondent presented its evidence first. Following the close of Respondent's case, Respondent moved for directed verdict2 on the grounds that Petitioner did not respond to requests for admission that were served in magistrate court. During the course of the proceedings in magistrate court, Respondent served requests for admission upon Petitioner and Petitioner did not answer them.3 Petitioner objected to the circuit court entering judgment against his client during the trial on the grounds that the magistrate court has very limited discovery. This argument was detailed in Petitioner's written objection to entry of the circuit court's final order. Nonetheless, the circuit court agreed with Respondent and deemed the following matters admitted:

a) The accident between [Petitioner] and [Dillow] was caused by [Petitioner's] negligence;

b) The cost of repairs which were performed on [Dillow's] car total $5,589.11;

c) The repairs that were performed on [Dillow's] car were reasonable and necessary;

d) [Respondent] paid $5,089.11 for the repairs to [Dillow's] car;

e) [Dillow] paid the $500.00 deductible required under her insurance policy for the repairs that were made to her car; and

f) The cost of repairs to [Dillow's] car as well as the amounts paid by [Dillow] and [Respondent] were fair and reasonable.

Before granting the motion for judgment as a matter of law, Petitioner was not afforded the opportunity to present any evidence at the trial de novo in the circuit court despite having witnesses, including Petitioner, available and ready to testify. The circuit court found that "the [Petitioner] failed to respond [to the requests for admission], therefore they're admitted." In its order, after having made the findings regarding the specific admissions noted above, the circuit court found "that the motions [for a directed verdict and judgment in its favor] are meritorious."

It is from the circuit court's entry of its final order granting judgment as a matter of law that Petitioner appeals.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Petitioner asserts that we should apply the de novo he standard of review applicable to a circuit court's grant of a Rule 50 motion for judgment as a matter of law:

"The appellate standard of review for the granting of a motion for a [judgment as a matter of law] pursuant to Rule 50 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure is de novo. On appeal, this court, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant party, will sustain the granting of a [judgment as a matter of law] when only one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict can be reached. But if reasonable minds could differ as to the importance and sufficiency of the evidence, a circuit court's ruling granting a directed verdict will be reversed." Syllabus Point 3, Brannon v. Riffle, 197 W.Va. 97, 475 S.E.2d 97 (1996).

Syllabus Point 5, Smith v. First Cmty. Bancshares, Inc. , 212 W. Va. 809, 575 S.E.2d 419 (2002).

Respondent does not dispute whether Rule 50 applies but argues that we should consider the standard of review applicable after a

865 S.E.2d 65

circuit court conducts a bench trial, citing to a memorandum decision for this proposition. See Weikle v. Bolling , No. 12-0549, 2013 WL 3184956 (W. Va. June 24, 2013) (memorandum decision).

Upon consideration of the parties’ positions and the procedural posture of this matter, we believe the circuit court granted judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Rule 52 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.4 Under that rule, the appropriate standard of review, as under Rule 50, is de novo :

The appellate standard of review for a circuit court order either granting or denying a motion for judgment as a matter of law in a bench trial, made pursuant to Rule 52 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure, is de novo. On appeal, this Court, after considering the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant party, will sustain the granting of a judgment as a matter of law when only one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict can be reached. But if reasonable minds could differ as to the importance and sufficiency of the evidence, a circuit court's ruling granting a directed verdict will be reversed.

Syllabus Point 1, Waddy v....

To continue reading

Request your trial
1 practice notes
  • Dye v. Cnty. Comm'n of Marion Cnty., No. 20-0602
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 28, 2021
    ...and the county commission's actions were wholly unauthorized by statute and done in a manner that deprived the petitioner due process of 865 S.E.2d 62 law. Accordingly, the circuit court erred in upholding the county commission's order in this regard.IV. ConclusionFor the foregoing reasons,......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT