State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, No. 22961

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCLECKLEY
Docket NumberNo. 22961
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia ex rel. Wanda Sue RIFFLE and Edward Riffle, Relators v. Honorable Lyne RANSON, Judge of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County; Gretchen Lewis, Secretary, Department of Health and Human Resources; James Turner; John Riffle; and Ramsay Health Care, Inc., Respondents
Decision Date27 October 1995

Page 763

464 S.E.2d 763
195 W.Va. 121
STATE of West Virginia ex rel. Wanda Sue RIFFLE and Edward
Riffle, Relators
v.
Honorable Lyne RANSON, Judge of the Circuit Court of Kanawha
County; Gretchen Lewis, Secretary, Department of Health and
Human Resources; James Turner; John Riffle; and Ramsay
Health Care, Inc., Respondents
No. 22961.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
Submitted Sept. 12, 1995.
Decided Oct. 27, 1995.

Page 764

[195 W.Va. 122] Syllabus by the Court

1. W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(b) (1986), is the exclusive authority for a discretionary transfer

Page 765

[195 W.Va. 123] or change of venue and any other transfer or change of venue from one county to another within West Virginia that is not explicitly permitted by the statute is impermissible and forbidden.

Jack S. Kaplan and Allan N. Karlan, Morgantown, for Relators.

Bryan R. Cokeley and Jan L. Fox, Steptoe & Johnson, Charleston, for Respondents Gretchen Lewis and James Turner.

CLECKLEY, Justice:

In this original proceeding for a writ of prohibition, we are asked to answer the question left unresolved in State ex rel. Smith v. Maynard, 193 W.Va. 1, 454 S.E.2d 46 (1994); namely, whether the 1986 revisions to W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(b) (1986), 1 preclude other discretionary transfers of venue not explicitly authorized by the statute. We hold that W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(b), is the exclusive authority for a discretionary transfer or change of venue and any other transfer or change of venue from one county to another within West Virginia that is not explicitly permitted by the statute is impermissible and forbidden.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In June of 1994, Wanda Sue Riffle, one of the plaintiffs below and relators herein, filed suit in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment while employed at William R. Sharpe, Jr., Hospital, the successor to the Weston State Hospital. The suit alleged violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, along with claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and assault and battery. Mrs. Riffle's husband, Edward Riffle, brought a loss of consortium claim. Two employees at the hospital, including Mrs. Riffle's supervisor, James Turner, were named as defendants, along with Gretchen Lewis, individually and in her capacity as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources of the State of West Virginia, and Ramsay Health Care, Inc.

In August of 1994, the defendants Gretchen Lewis and James Turner filed a motion to transfer the case from Kanawha County to Lewis County based on W.Va.Code, 56-9-1 (1939), 2 and the doctrine of forum non conveniens. On October 31, 1994, a hearing was held on the motion to transfer. The defendants argued that for convenience in litigation the case should be transferred to Lewis County as that is the county in which the plaintiffs reside, the hospital is located, and the majority of witnesses to be called for trial reside. The defendants argued that the only connection to Kanawha County is the fact Gretchen Lewis resides in that county. Otherwise, the entire case concerns events occurring in Lewis County.

Page 766

[195 W.Va. 124] At the hearing, the plaintiffs responded that venue was appropriate in this case as one of the defendants resides in Kanawha County. 3 Furthermore, they argued that preference should be given to their choice of county in which to file the case and that the defendants failed to overcome the presumption that the case should remain in Kanawha County. They argued the hospital is under the control of the Department of Health and Human Resources, certain witnesses are located in Kanawha County, and documents relied upon to answer certain interrogatories were obtained in Kanawha County. Finally, it was argued that due to the sensitive nature of the sexual harassment allegations, Mrs. Riffle would prefer not to testify in her home county.

After reviewing the briefs of the parties and hearing oral arguments on this issue, the circuit court ruled from the bench that the case should be transferred from Kanawha County to Lewis County. The circuit court specifically found that, notwithstanding the fact the Circuit Court of Kanawha County had venue to hear the case, "the most convenient and the most appropriate forum is Lewis County."

II.

DISCUSSION

A.

Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The authority of this Court to entertain a writ of prohibition under its original jurisdiction is well defined. See State ex rel. Smith v. Maynard, supra; Hinkle v. Black, 164 W.Va. 112, 262 S.E.2d 744 (1979). Unquestionably, in the absence of explicit statutory authority, the decision of a circuit court to transfer an action properly filed in its court to another judicial circuit is of considerable importance to the judicial system of West Virginia and has the potential of placing a "litigant at an unwarranted disadvantage in a pending action." State ex rel. John Doe v. Troisi, 194 W.Va. 28, 32, 459 S.E.2d 139, 143 (1995). Considering the inadequacy of the relief permitted by appeal, we believe this issue should be settled in this original action if it is to be settled at all. In recent times in every case that has had a substantial legal issue regarding venue, we have recognized the importance of resolving the issue in an original action. Accordingly, we find the exercise of original jurisdiction is appropriate under these extraordinary circumstances.

The normal deference accorded to a circuit court's decision to transfer a case, Syl. pt. 3, Cannelton Industries, Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 194 W.Va. 186, 460 S.E.2d 1 (1994) ("[a] circuit court's decision to invoke the doctrine of forum non conveniens will not be reversed unless it is found that the circuit court abused its discretion"), does not apply where the law is misapplied or where the decision to transfer hinges on an interpretation of a controlling statute. See Mildred L.M. v. John O.F., 192 W.Va. 345, 350, 452 S.E.2d 436, 441 (1994) ("[t]his Court reviews questions of statutory interpretation de novo "). Under these circumstances, our review is plenary.

B.

Decision to Transfer

The relators, perhaps out of caution, frame the issue as one of abuse of discretion. 4 We decline to adopt this formulation of the issue. In the first place, the

Page 767

[195 W.Va. 125] correct approach to any statutory construction issue after the Legislature adopts explicit limitations to a preexisting common law rule must be to decide initially whether the Legislature preempted the field and thereby left any room for judicial discretion. Secondly, and a somewhat similar consideration, is the question of this Court's or the lower court's authority to expand and broaden the scope of a statute that our Legislature has explicitly limited.

Because of the way the issues were formulated, the parties attach great significance to the scope and breadth of a circuit court's discretion under our case law. For instance, the relators strenuously argue that because State ex rel. Smith v. Maynard, supra, is not directly applicable to this case, "Kanawha County is a county of preference under W.Va. § 14-2-2. Therefore, the case must be evaluated under traditional law of forum non conveniens." Under the traditional doctrine of forum non conveniens, the relators claim the circuit court abused its discretion. The respondents maintain with equal vigor that the circuit court has not abused its discretion. These arguments, in

Page 768

[195 W.Va. 126] our judgment, deflect attention from the more important question presented by the circuit court's ruling. Succinctly stated, we must squarely decide whether W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(b), superseded and rendered inapplicable the doctrine of forum non conveniens as previously defined. 5

To be clear, the West Virginia Legislature is the paramount authority for deciding and resolving policy issues pertaining to venue matters. 6 Once the Legislature indicates its preference by the enactment of a statute, the Court's role is limited. Our duty is to interpret the statute, not to expand or enlarge upon it. State ex rel. Frazier v. Meadows, 193 W.Va. 20, 23-24, 454 S.E.2d 65, 68-69 (1994). More significantly, any subsequent policy changes must come from the Legislature itself and, in the absence of constitutional or statutory authority to the contrary, this Court has no blanket power to recast the statute to meet its fancy. State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995).

It has been emphasized repeatedly that "the starting point in every case involving construction of a statute is the language of the statute itself." Landreth Timber Co. v. Landreth, 471 U.S. 681, 685, 105 S.Ct. 2297, 2301, 85 L.Ed.2d 692, 697 (1985). W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(b), provides as follows:

"Whenever a civil action or proceeding is brought in the county wherein the cause of action arose, under the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, if no defendant resides in such county, a defendant to the action or proceeding may move the court before which the action is pending for a change of venue to a county wherein one or more of the defendants resides, and upon a showing by the moving defendant that the county to which the proposed change of venue would be made would better afford convenience to the parties litigant and the witnesses likely to be called, and if the ends of justice would be better served by such change of venue, the court may grant such motion."

By its terms, this statute indicates the procedural area in which this new revision is to have effect, that being, intra-State venue disputes. 7 As many courts have done in the past, because this statute appears to abrogate our recently developed common law rule in the area of forum non conveniens, our initial task is to analyze with care this legislative enactment to determine what impact this revision has to factual situations such...

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37 practice notes
  • Morris v. Crown Equipment Corp., No. 32751.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 2006
    ...on behalf of residents. Jefferds argues that this Court is restricted by our decision in State ex rel. Riffle v. Page 300 Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 464 S.E.2d 763 (1995) from narrowing or constraining a broad, literal application of W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] that would categorically bar suit......
  • Roberts v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 26850.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 19, 2000
    ...to include contributory negligence in the realm of defenses available to subscribing employers. See State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 128, 464 S.E.2d 763, 770 (1995) ("Expressio unius est exclusio alterius (express mention of one thing implies exclusion of all others) is a well......
  • Christopher J. v. Ames, No. 17-0994
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 10, 2019
    ...included, we are obliged not to add to statutes something the Legislature purposely omitted."); State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson , 195 W.Va. 121, 128, 464 S.E.2d 763, 770 (1995) ("Expressio unius est exclusio alterius ... is a well-accepted canon of statutory construction. If the Legislature ......
  • Adkins v. Cline, No. 31693
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 1, 2004
    ...v. Kirkpatrick, 199 W.Va. 501, 485 S.E.2d 445 (1997), this Court concluded that our prior decision in State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 464 S.E.2d 763 (1995), abrogating the doctrine of forum non conveniens, would "be applied prospectively to cases transferred without an appeal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
37 cases
  • Morris v. Crown Equipment Corp., No. 32751.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 29, 2006
    ...on behalf of residents. Jefferds argues that this Court is restricted by our decision in State ex rel. Riffle v. Page 300 Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 464 S.E.2d 763 (1995) from narrowing or constraining a broad, literal application of W.Va.Code, 56-1-1(c) [2003] that would categorically bar suit......
  • Roberts v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 26850.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 19, 2000
    ...to include contributory negligence in the realm of defenses available to subscribing employers. See State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 128, 464 S.E.2d 763, 770 (1995) ("Expressio unius est exclusio alterius (express mention of one thing implies exclusion of all others) is a well......
  • Christopher J. v. Ames, No. 17-0994
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 10, 2019
    ...included, we are obliged not to add to statutes something the Legislature purposely omitted."); State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson , 195 W.Va. 121, 128, 464 S.E.2d 763, 770 (1995) ("Expressio unius est exclusio alterius ... is a well-accepted canon of statutory construction. If the Legislature ......
  • Adkins v. Cline, No. 31693
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 1, 2004
    ...v. Kirkpatrick, 199 W.Va. 501, 485 S.E.2d 445 (1997), this Court concluded that our prior decision in State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W.Va. 121, 464 S.E.2d 763 (1995), abrogating the doctrine of forum non conveniens, would "be applied prospectively to cases transferred without an appeal......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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