State ex rel. Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC v. Bedell, 112020 WVSC, 19-1006

Docket Nº:19-1006
Opinion Judge:JENKINS, JUSTICE
Party Name:STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA EX REL. SURNAIK HOLDINGS OF WV, LLC, Petitioner v. THE HONORABLE THOMAS A. BEDELL, SITTING BY ASSIGNMENT AS JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WOOD COUNTY AND PAUL SNIDER, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND A CLASS OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Respondents
Attorney:Ryan McCune Donovan J. Zak Ritchie Andrew C. Robey Hissam Forman Donovan Ritchie PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Petitioner Alex McLaughlin John H. Skaggs Calwell Luce diTrapano PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Respondent Paul Snider, on behalf of himself and a cl...
Judge Panel:JUSTICE HUTCHISON concurs and reserves the right to file a concurring opinion. Workman, Justice, dissenting:
Case Date:November 20, 2020
Court:Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA EX REL. SURNAIK HOLDINGS OF WV, LLC, Petitioner

v.

THE HONORABLE THOMAS A. BEDELL, SITTING BY ASSIGNMENT AS JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF WOOD COUNTY AND PAUL SNIDER, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND A CLASS OF OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, Respondents

No. 19-1006

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia

November 20, 2020

Submitted: September 23, 2020

PETITION FOR WRIT OF PROHIBITION WRIT GRANTED AS MOULDED

Ryan McCune Donovan J. Zak Ritchie Andrew C. Robey Hissam Forman Donovan Ritchie PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Petitioner

Alex McLaughlin John H. Skaggs Calwell Luce diTrapano PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Attorneys for the Respondent Paul Snider, on behalf of himself and a class of others similarly situated

JUSTICE HUTCHISON concurs and reserves the right to file a concurring opinion.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. "This Court will review a circuit court's order granting or denying a motion for class certification pursuant to Rule 23 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure [1998] under an abuse of discretion standard." Syllabus point 1, In re West Virginia Rezulin Litigation, 214 W.Va. 52, 585 S.E.2d 52 (2003).

2. "'A writ of prohibition will not issue to prevent a simple abuse of discretion by a trial court. It will only issue where the trial court has no jurisdiction or having such jurisdiction exceeds its legitimate powers. W.Va. Code 53-1-1.' Syllabus Point 2, State ex rel. Peacher v. Sencindiver, 160 W.Va. 314, 233 S.E.2d 425 (1977)." Syllabus point 1, State ex rel. Healthport Technologies, LLC v. Stucky, 239 W.Va. 239, 800 S.E.2d 506 (2017).

3. "In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for cases not involving an absence of jurisdiction but only where it is claimed that the lower tribunal exceeded its legitimate powers, this Court will examine five factors: (1) whether the party seeking the writ has no other adequate means, such as direct appeal, to obtain the desired relief; (2) whether the petitioner will be damaged or prejudiced in a way that is not correctable on appeal; (3) whether the lower tribunal's order is clearly erroneous as a matter of law; (4) whether the lower tribunal's order is an oft repeated error or manifests persistent disregard for either procedural or substantive law; and (5) whether the lower tribunal's order raises new and important problems or issues of law of first impression. These factors are general guidelines that serve as a useful starting point for determining whether a discretionary writ of prohibition should issue. Although all five factors need not be satisfied, it is clear that the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, should be given substantial weight." Syllabus point 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

4. "Before certifying a class under Rule 23 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure [1998], a circuit court must determine that the party seeking class certification has satisfied all four prerequisites contained in Rule 23(a)-numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation-and has satisfied one of the three subdivisions of Rule 23(b). As long as these prerequisites to class certification are met, a case should be allowed to proceed on behalf of the class proposed by the party." Syllabus point 8, In re West Virginia Rezulin Litigation, 214 W.Va. 52, 585 S.E.2d 52 (2003).

5. "'Whether the requisites for a class action exist rests within the sound discretion of the trial court.' Syllabus Point 5, Mitchem v. Melton, 167 W.Va. 21, 277 S.E.2d 895 (1981)." Syllabus point 5, In re West Virginia Rezulin Litigation, 214 W.Va. 52, 585 S.E.2d 52 (2003).

6. "A class action may only be certified if the trial court is satisfied, after a thorough analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure have been satisfied. Further, the class certification order should be detailed and specific in showing the rule basis for the certification and the relevant facts supporting the legal conclusions." Syllabus point 8, State ex rel. Chemtall Inc. v. Madden, 216 W.Va. 443, 607 S.E.2d 772 (2004).

7. When a class action certification is being sought pursuant to West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), a class action may be certified only if the circuit court is satisfied, after a thorough analysis, that the predominance and superiority prerequisites of Rule 23(b)(3) have been satisfied. The thorough analysis of the predominance requirement of West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) includes (1) identifying the parties' claims and defenses and their respective elements; (2) determining whether these issues are common questions or individual questions by analyzing how each party will prove them at trial; and (3) determining whether the common questions predominate. In addition, circuit courts should assess predominance with its overarching purpose in mind-namely, ensuring that a class action would achieve economies of time, effort, and expense, and promote uniformity of decision as to persons similarly situated, without sacrificing procedural fairness or bringing about other undesirable results. This analysis must be placed in the written record of the case by including it in the circuit court's order regarding class certification.

8. A circuit court's failure to conduct a thorough analysis of the requirements for class certification pursuant to West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and/or 23(b) amounts to clear error.

OPINION

JENKINS, JUSTICE

This matter is before this Court on a petition for writ of prohibition. Respondent the Honorable Thomas A. Bedell, sitting by assignment as Judge of the Circuit Court of Wood County, certified a class action against Petitioner, Surnaik Holdings of WV, PLLC ("Surnaik"). The circuit court named Respondent Paul Snider ("Mr. Snider") as class representative. Surnaik asserts that the circuit court clearly erred in certifying this class and asks this Court to prohibit the circuit court from conducting any further proceedings in this case until the circuit court has vacated its class certification order. Based upon the record before us, the arguments of the parties, and the applicable law, we find that the circuit court exceeded its jurisdiction by failing to conduct an appropriate and thorough analysis of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b) class certification requirements. Accordingly, we grant the writ of prohibition as moulded and vacate the circuit court's order certifying the class action.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In the early morning hours of Saturday, October 21, 2017, a fire erupted at a warehouse owned by Surnaik in Parkersburg, West Virginia. The fire burned from October 21 to October 29. Mr. Snider asserts that the fire "emitted a plume of smoke-consisting primarily of particulate matter and gases-that adversely impacted neighboring property owners and lessees for days, residents as well as businesses and government agencies." Mr. Snider further alleges that "[t]he most obvious and immediate adverse impact-as well as the one that is common to all members of the class-is annoyance resulting from the smoke itself, which at certain concentrations is irritating to the nose and throat of most[, ] if not all[, ] persons."

Mr. Snider, on behalf of himself and on behalf of a class of others similarly situated, filed a complaint against Surnaik in the Circuit Court of Wood County, on October 30, 2017. [1] In the complaint, Mr. Snider alleged negligence; reckless, willful, and wanton indifference motivated by financial gain; nuisance; trespass; and "class action allegations." Furthermore, in the complaint, Mr. Snider sought to "represent a class that consists of all residents and businesses within an 8.5 mile radius of the warehouse, which was located on the 3800 block of Camden Avenue, in Parkersburg, West Virginia." Mr. Snider indicated that "[t]he radius includes at least the following cities, towns, and population clusters in the State of West Virginia: Parkersburg, Vienna, Blennerhassett, Lubeck, Washington, and Waverly. It also includes one population cluster in the State of Ohio, around Belpre, Ohio." Mr. Snider requested compensatory damages in the form of diminution in value of property, loss of the right to use and enjoy property, lost business profits, and personal injuries, as well as punitive damages. Surnaik answered the complaint in November 2018. [2]

Subsequently, on April 30, 2019, Mr. Snider filed a motion for class certification and memorandum of law in support thereof ("the motion"). In the motion, Mr. Snider defined the class [3] as follows: All lawful possessors-primarily owners and lessees-of real property located within one [of] the isopleths depicted on the maps attached hereto as Exhibits 1-A, 1-B, and 1-C, who did one or more of the following in October 2017:

(1) Resided on the property within the isopleth; or

(2) Conducted business operations, including those of a nonprofit business, on the property within the isopleth; or

(3) Conducted state, county, [or] municipal government operations on the property within the isopleths.

Mr. Snider further alleged that the requirements of West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) [4] were met: numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy of representation. In addition, Mr. Snider asserted that this action also met the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) [5] - predominance and superiority.

On May 31, 2019, Surnaik responded to Mr. Snider's motion, contending that class certification is not appropriate because (1) a class cannot be certified when a significant number of proposed class members are...

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