State Of West Va. Ex Rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, No. 35514.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Citation697 S.E.2d 730,226 W.Va. 138
Docket NumberNo. 35514.
Decision Date16 June 2010
PartiesSTATE of West Virginia ex rel. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitionerv.Honorable Thomas A. BEDELL, Judge of Circuit Court of Harrison County, Respondent.

226 W.Va. 138
697 S.E.2d 730

West Virginia.

STATE of West Virginia ex rel. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Petitioner
v.
Honorable Thomas A. BEDELL, Judge of Circuit Court of Harrison County, Respondent.

No. 35514.

Supreme Court of Appeals of

Submitted April 21, 2010.
Decided June 16, 2010.


697 S.E.2d 731
Syllabus by the Court

1. “ ‘Prohibition lies only to restrain inferior courts from proceeding [ ] in causes over which they have no jurisdiction, or, in which, having jurisdiction, they are exceeding their legitimate powers, and may not be used as a substitute for [a petition for appeal] or certiorari.’ Syl. Pt. 1, Crawford v. Taylor, 138 W.Va. 207, 75 S.E.2d 370 (1953).” Syl. Pt. 3, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

2. “In determining whether to entertain and issue the writ of prohibition for

697 S.E.2d 732
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.” Syl. Pt. 4 State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger, 199 W.Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996).

3. “A writ of prohibition is available to correct a clear legal error resulting from a trial court's substantial abuse of its discretion in regard to discovery orders.” Syl. Pt.1, State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Stephens, 188 W.Va. 622, 425 S.E.2d 577 (1992).

4. “Legislative power may be constitutionally delegated to an administrative agency to promulgate rules and regulations necessary and proper for the enforcement of a statute. W. Va. Const. art. VI, § 1; art. V, § 1.” Syl. Pt. 3, State ex rel. Callaghan v. W. Va. Civil Serv. Comm'n, 166 W.Va. 117, 273 S.E.2d 72 (1980).

5. “A regulation that is proposed by an agency and approved by the Legislature is a ‘legislative rule’ as defined by the State Administrative Procedures Act, W. Va.Code § 29A-1-2(d) [1982], and such a legislative rule has the force and effect of law.” Syl. Pt. 5, Smith v. W. Va. Human Rights Comm'n, 216 W.Va. 2, 602 S.E.2d 445 (2004).

6. “ ‘A valid legislative rule is entitled to substantial deference by the reviewing court. As a properly promulgated legislative rule, the rule can be ignored only if the agency has exceeded its constitutional or statutory authority or is arbitrary or capricious.’ Syllabus point 4, in part, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dept., 195 W.Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d 424 (1995).” Syl. Pt. 2, Summers v. W. Va. Consol. Pub. Ret. Bd., 217 W.Va. 399, 618 S.E.2d 408 (2005).

7. A court may not issue a protective order directing an insurance company to return or destroy a claimant's medical records prior to the time period set forth by the Insurance Commissioner of West Virginia in §§ 114-15-4.2(b) and 114-15-4.4(a) of the West Virginia Code of State Rules for the retention of such records.



E. Kay Fuller, Esq., Michael M. Stevens, Esq., Martin & Seibert, LC, Martinsburg, WV, for Petitioner, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

Tiffany R. Durst, Esq., Pullin, Flower, Flanagan, Brown, & Poe, PLLC, Morgantown, WV, for Respondent, Lana Eddy Luby.

David J. Romano, Esq., J. Tyler Slavey, Esq., Romano Law Office, Clarksburg, WV, for Respondent, Carla Blank.

D.C. Offutt, Esq., Offutt, Nord, PLLC, Huntington, WV, for Amicus Curiae, West Virginia Mutual Insurance Company.

Mary Jane Pickens, Esq., Victor Allen Mullins, Esq., Offices of the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner, Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae, Jane L. Cline, West Virginia Insurance Commissioner.

Jill Cranston Bentz, Esq., Jacob A. Manning, Esq., Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, Charleston, WV, for Amicus Curiae, West Virginia Insurance Federation.

James D. Lamp, Esq., Matthew J. Perry, Esq., Lamp, O'Dell, Bartram, Levy & Trautwein, PLLC, Huntington, WV, for Amicus Curiae, National Insurance Crime Bureau.

WORKMAN, Justice:

Petitioner State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent the Circuit Court of Harrison County, West Virginia, from enforcing a protective order issued on

697 S.E.2d 733
February 11, 2010. State Farm contends that complying with that protective order would cause it to violate a legislative rule promulgated by the Insurance Commissioner of West Virginia. Having fully considered the briefs submitted by the parties,1 the record on appeal and the parties' oral arguments, the Court grants the writ of prohibition as requested.
I.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 20, 2008, near Buckhannon, West Virginia, a vehicle driven by Jeremy Thomas crossed the center lane into oncoming traffic and collided head-on with a vehicle driven by Lynn Blank. Mr. Thomas died in the accident and a post-mortem autopsy revealed the presence of marijuana in his system. Mr. Blank also died in the accident and Carla Blank, his wife and passenger, suffered serious injuries. Both vehicles were insured by State Farm. Mr. Thomas's vehicle was covered by a liability policy, while the Blanks' policy included underinsured motorist coverage.

On February 12, 2009, Mrs. Blank, in her individual capacity and as the Administrator of Mr. Blank's Estate, filed suit against Lana Luby, as Personal Representative of Mr. Thomas's Estate (“Mr. Thomas's Estate”), in the Circuit Court of Harrison County. Mrs. Blank sought damages for her physical injuries and for emotional distress and, as the personal representative of Mr. Blank's Estate, she sought damages for his death. In addition, Mrs. Blank sued State Farm for underinsured motorist coverage, both on behalf of herself and on behalf of Mr. Blank's Estate. She additionally asserted a first-party bad faith claim against State Farm, alleging that State Farm had failed to pay underinsured motorist coverage pursuant to the terms of her insurance policy. The parties agreed to bifurcate the bad faith claim. Counsel for Mr. Thomas's Estate and counsel for State Farm decided to cooperate in their defense, with counsel for State Farm taking the lead.2

During discovery, the parties were unable to agree to the disclosure of the Blanks' medical records. State Farm had requested an authorization to obtain the records both informally and through formal discovery. Mrs. Blank, however, refused to sign an authorization, or otherwise disclose the records, unless State Farm agreed to a protective order regarding the confidentiality of the records. State Farm asserts that it was willing to sign a reasonable protective order, as it had in prior cases. It was unwilling, however, to sign the order sought by Mrs. Blank, which prohibited State Farm from electronically scanning the records and required it to destroy or return the records at the conclusion of the litigation. State Farm proffered an alternative protective order that, it alleges, complies with existing laws and regulations, but Mrs. Blank refused it.

After each party filed several motions relating to the discovery dispute, the circuit court entered an Order on February 11, 2010, entitled “Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Strike and Ordering Disclosure of Medical Records Subject to Terms of Confidentiality.” 3 In that Order, the circuit court directed Mrs. Blank to disclose all relevant medical records, but conditioned their disclosure on special confidentiality terms. Specifically, the circuit court's Order provides, in relevant part:

1. Defendants' counsel will not disclose orally or in summary form, any of the Plaintiff's or Decedent's medical records, or medical information, to any person other
697 S.E.2d 734
than their clients, office staff, and experts necessary to assist in this case, and any such person shall be advised of this Protective Order and receive and review a copy of it and be informed that they are bound by the non-disclosure terms and the other provisions of this Protective Order if they receive such protected information. No person shall scan or store any of Plaintiff's or the Decedent's medical records or medical information by any method, including but not limited to, computerized storage, filming, photographing, microfiche or other similar method....

2. Also, upon conclusion of this case, all medical records, and medical information, or any copies or summaries thereof, will either be destroyed with a certificate from Defendants' counsel as an officer of the Court that the same has been done, or all such material will be returned to Plaintiff's counsel without retention by Defendants' counsel or any other person who was furnished such materials and information pursuant to the terms of this Protective Order. Provided however should Defendants' counsel desire to retain a copy of the protested [sic] medical records produced in this case, the same shall be permitted as long as those protected medical records are maintained in a sealed manner in Defense Counsel's file and not used for any other purpose whatsoever except upon further order of this Court or in response to lawful process after notice to the protected person, or in response to a lawful order of another Court with jurisdiction, or upon written consent of the protected person whose medical records and...

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7 practice notes
  • State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, No. 35738.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W.Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as “ State Farm I ”). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfere with an......
  • State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, No. 35738
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W. Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as "State Farm I"). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfer......
  • State of West Va. EX REL. State FARM v. BEDELL, No. 35738
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W. Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as "State Farm I"). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfer......
  • State v. Marks, Nos. 12–0304
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 15, 2012
    ...of State Rules for the retention of such records.” Syllabus point 7, State ex rel. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Bedell, 226 W.Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010). 4. “In order for a delegation of authority by the legislature to be constitutional, the legislature must prescribe a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
7 cases
  • State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, No. 35738.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W.Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as “ State Farm I ”). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfere with an......
  • State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, No. 35738
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W. Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as "State Farm I"). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfer......
  • State of West Va. EX REL. State FARM v. BEDELL, No. 35738
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 1, 2011
    ...the circuit court from enforcing its February 11, 2010, protective order. See State ex rel. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bedell, 226 W. Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010) (hereinafter referred to as "State Farm I"). Specifically, we held that a protective order could not interfer......
  • State v. Marks, Nos. 12–0304
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 15, 2012
    ...of State Rules for the retention of such records.” Syllabus point 7, State ex rel. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Bedell, 226 W.Va. 138, 697 S.E.2d 730 (2010). 4. “In order for a delegation of authority by the legislature to be constitutional, the legislature must prescribe a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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