State v. Scott, No. 21-0230

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtJenkins, Chief Justice
Citation866 S.E.2d 350
Docket NumberNo. 21-0230
Decision Date22 November 2021
Parties STATE of West Virginia, EX REL. WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS, INC., Petitioner, v. The Honorable Cindy S. SCOTT, Judge of the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia, and A.F., a Minor, by and through Her Next Friends, Sarah F. and Daniel F., Individually, Respondents.

866 S.E.2d 350

STATE of West Virginia, EX REL. WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS, INC., Petitioner,
v.
The Honorable Cindy S. SCOTT, Judge of the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia, and A.F., a Minor, by and through Her Next Friends, Sarah F. and Daniel F., Individually, Respondents.

No. 21-0230

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: October 6, 2021
Filed: November 22, 2021
Concurring and Dissenting Opinion of Justice Wooton November 23, 2021


Christine S. Vaglienti, Assistant VP/Senior Litigation Counsel, West Virginia United Health System, Inc., Morgantown, West Virginia, Attorney for Petitioner.

Michael G. Simon, Kevin M. Pearl, Frankovitch, Anetakis, Simon, Decapio & Pearl, LLC, Weirton, West Virginia, Alan H. Perer, Swensen & Perer, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Attorneys for Respondents, A.F., Sarah F., and Daniel F.

Thomas J. Hurney, Jr., Blair E. Wessels, Jackson Kelly PLLC, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for Amici Curiae, The West Virginia Hospital Association, The West Virginia Mutual Insurance Company, a Magmutual Company, and The West Virginia State Medical Association.

Jenkins, Chief Justice:

866 S.E.2d 354

This case was brought as a writ of prohibition under the original jurisdiction of this Court by Petitioner West Virginia University Hospitals, Inc. ("WVUH"). The Respondents, A.F. and Sarah F. and Daniel F., individually and as next friends of A.F., ("Respondents"), filed their original complaint in April of 2020, in which they put forth multiple causes of action including medical negligence, loss of services and parental loss of consortium, and corporate negligence stemming from the hands-on nursing care and treatment of their child, A.F. In response, WVUH filed a combined answer and petition for declaratory judgment (hereinafter "petition for declaratory judgment") in which it asked the Circuit Court of Monongalia County to declare that the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act, West Virginia Code sections 55-7B-1 to - 12 ("MPLA"), applies to the corporate negligence allegations asserted by Respondents in the original complaint.

Before the circuit court ruled on the petition for declaratory judgment, Respondents filed an amended complaint in which several new corporate negligence claims against WVUH were added; however, Respondents did not fulfill the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA. In response, WVUH filed a motion to dismiss and strike the amended complaint (hereinafter "motion to dismiss") with regard to the newly added claims. After a hearing was held on the petition for declaratory judgment and the motion to dismiss, the circuit court denied both.

Before this Court, WVUH challenges the circuit court's rulings and contends that the circuit court committed clear legal error by: (1) denying the motion to dismiss because the Respondents failed to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA, and, therefore, the circuit court was deprived of subject matter jurisdiction; (2) denying the motion to dismiss because the complaint otherwise fails to state claims upon which relief can be granted; and (3) withholding declaratory judgment regarding the MPLA's applicability to the corporate negligence claims.

Having considered the briefs submitted on appeal, the appendix record, the parties’ oral arguments, and the applicable legal authority, we conclude that the circuit court was devoid of subject matter jurisdiction over the claims of corporate negligence added in the amended complaint due to Respondents’ failure to comply with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA for these claims.

866 S.E.2d 355

Moreover, we conclude that litigation of the claims of corporate negligence that were first asserted in the original complaint, for which the pre-suit notice requirements were satisfied, are governed by the MPLA. Accordingly, we grant the requested writ of prohibition as moulded.1

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In October of 2017, Respondent Sarah F. presented to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, to give birth to twins. Eleven hours after the birth, it is alleged that one of the twins, A.F., was introduced to air bubbles through intravenous equipment. The air bubbles went into A.F.’s blood stream and were delivered to her liver, heart, and brain. It is asserted by the Respondents that this unfortunate event was caused when a WVUH-employed nurse failed to properly prime the intravenous tubing, pump, and/or equipment and therefore negligently allowed for the introduction of air bubbles into A.F.’s intravenous tubing. Now, according to Respondents, A.F. is neurologically impaired and requires twenty-four-hour care.

In November of 2019, Respondents served WVUH with a pre-suit notice of claim and screening certificate of merit in accordance with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA. WVUH demanded pre-suit mediation, which ultimately was unsuccessful. As such, the original complaint was filed in Monongalia County on April 6, 2020. In response, WVUH filed an answer and petition for declaratory judgment. In its petition, WVUH asked the circuit court to declare that the MPLA is applicable to the allegations asserted by Respondents in Count II (corporate negligence) of the original complaint.

Before the circuit court could rule on the petition for declaratory judgment, Respondents filed an amended complaint adding several new corporate negligence claims—failure to purchase and utilize, failure to document, spoliation of evidence, and failure to report—against WVUH. However, Respondents did not file any new notice of claim or certificate of merit as required by the MPLA. See W. Va. Code § 55-7B-6 (eff. 2019). In response, WVUH filed a motion to dismiss with specific regard to the new claims added to Count II (corporate negligence). A few months later, a hearing was held on the petition for declaratory judgment and the motion to dismiss. From the bench, and without explanation, the circuit court denied both. After being asked by WVUH for findings of fact and conclusions of law, the court issued a new order. It is from this order that WVUH seeks relief.

II.

STANDARD FOR ISSUANCE OF WRIT

This Court has explained the standard of review applicable to a writ of prohibition, stating in Syllabus point 2 of State ex rel. Peacher v. Sencindiver , 160 W. Va. 314, 233 S.E.2d 425 (1977), that "[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." Further, this Court will grant writs of prohibition

to correct only substantial, clear-cut, legal errors plainly in contravention of a clear statutory, constitutional, or common law mandate which may be resolved independently of any disputed facts and only in cases where there is a high probability that the trial will be completely reversed if the error is not corrected in advance.

Syl. pt. 1, in part, Hinkle v. Black , 164 W. Va. 112, 262 S.E.2d 744 (1979), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in State ex rel. Thornhill Grp., Inc. v. King , 233 W. Va. 564, 759 S.E.2d 795 (2014).

866 S.E.2d 356

When considering a writ of prohibition, this Court is guided by the following:

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.

Syl. pt. 4, State ex rel. Hoover v. Berger , 199 W. Va. 12, 483 S.E.2d 12 (1996). "In determining the third factor, the existence of clear error as a matter of law, we will employ a de novo standard of review, as in matters in which purely legal issues are at issue." State ex rel. Gessler v. Mazzone , 212 W.Va. 368, 372, 572 S.E.2d 891, 895 (2002). With these standards in mind, we now examine WVUH's request for a writ of prohibition.

III.

DISCUSSION

In the case sub judice, WVUH has alleged that the circuit court committed numerous errors. Accordingly, we will review each alleged error in turn.

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1 practice notes
  • Damron v. PrimeCare Med. of W.Va., 20-0862
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 9, 2022
    ...saying that [a plaintiff] cannot avoid the MPLA with creative pleading." State ex rel. W.Va. Univ. Hosp. v. Scott, 246 W.Va. 184, __, 866 S.E.2d 350, 359 (2021). Thus, the circuit court correctly observed that Petitioner's complaint was a claim for 4 medical negligence, not the distinct cau......
1 cases
  • Damron v. PrimeCare Med. of W.Va., 20-0862
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • June 9, 2022
    ...saying that [a plaintiff] cannot avoid the MPLA with creative pleading." State ex rel. W.Va. Univ. Hosp. v. Scott, 246 W.Va. 184, __, 866 S.E.2d 350, 359 (2021). Thus, the circuit court correctly observed that Petitioner's complaint was a claim for 4 medical negligence, not the distinct cau......

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