Woman experienced other triumphs, tragedies in courtroom

By Lawrence Smith | Dec 31, 2006

CHARLESTON – In addition to filing suit against her employer, a state employee, and her husband, have been parties in several legal actions, including plaintiffs in two personal injury suits.

In 1999, Vonda L. Spencer, now a case manager with the state Department of Health and Human Services, filed suit against her then-employer the state Bureau of Employment Programs. Spencer filed a motion in Kanawha Circuit Court seeking clarification on the back pay she was to be awarded in a grievance she won against BEP for wrongful termination.

Spencer and her attorney Roger L. Forman believed that the administrative law judge who ruled in Spencer's favor was not specific enough in the monetary compensation she was to receive for pay and benefits she would have received from June 25, 1996 through June 25, 1999. Judge Andrew MacQueen agreed, and on July 14, 2000 remanded the case back to the administrative law judge for a specific remedy.

Twice settled personal injury suits

The case was not the only time Spencer received a favorable ruling. In 1993, she and her husband, Charles, reached a settlement with Wal-Mart for an alleged injury he received while in the Sam's Wholesale Club in Cross Lanes.

According to court records, while in Sam's on April 3, 1989, a container "fell and struck plaintiff Charles L. Spencer's leg and injured him." The injury caused Spencer "mental anguish, loss of income and enjoyment of life."

On March 27, 1991, the Spencers filed suit against the Wal-Mart Corporation. Though the case was filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, Wal-Mart's lawyers were successful in moving it to U.S. District Court in Charleston.

In their suit, the Spencer's asked for $125,000 in damages. It was not immediately clear if they received that as on Sep.28, 1992, the case was dismissed when it was "fully settled, compromised and adjusted."

Three years later the Spencers were back in court over a personal injury. This time, court records show it over an injury Charles sustained in a car wreck.

According to court records, Charles was involved in a accident with Theodore J. Christy. The wreck occurred on March 5, 1993, on the ramp onto I-64 along U.S. 119 and Oakwood Road.

On March 7, 1995 the Spencers filed suit against Christy asking for a cumulative of $40,000 in damages. Court records show, Charles was asking for $30,000 for injuries sustained to his head, neck and back, and $10,000 for Vonda for loss of "companionship and consortium."

Default judgment was nearly granted to the Spencer when Christy could not be served with legal process within 120 days of the Spencers filing suit. However, Christy was found in California, and he replied to the Spencer's allegations denying any culpability for Charles' injuries.

After four years of legal wrangling, a trial appeared eminent. However, both sides agreed to mediate the suit with retired Mingo County Circuit Judge Robert G. Chafin serving as mediator.

According to court records, the parties met on March 26, 1999.

Though details were not specific, Christy made a "reasonable offer to settle the claim" which the Spencers rejected.

In his report, Chafin said "mediation was made difficult because the Plaintiff had no medical evidence to support his claim for inability to work in excess of two to three months; and nothing to support his claim for income loss, although counsel for plaintiff was of the opinion he could get such information from plaintiff's physician (plaintiff has not seen his doctor since 1993) and could get copies of income tax returns from the IRS." Court records show the mediation conference was adjourned with the understanding Spencer would supply the information to support his claim, and later inform Chafin of when they would be ready to mediate again.

Though records are not specific, mediation appeared to work as Judge Paul Zakaib on June 10, 1999 dismissed the case after "all matters and issues between the parties have be mutually settled and agreed."

2005 not a good year

However, the Spencer's good fortune in the courtroom ran out last year. Within a period of six months, the Spencers were sued for unlawful occupation of their home after a foreclosure sale, and later filed for bankruptcy.

According to court records, Green Tree Servicing LLC filed suit against the Spencers on March 8, 2005 to force them to vacate their home in South Charleston (Kanawha County Circuit Court, Case No. 05-C-545). Green Tree instituted foreclosure proceedings via a trustee sale on Feb. 15, 2005 after the Spencers were delinquent $5,970.86.

Records show Green Tree serviced the Spencers a note for $81,000 to purchase the two parcels of property along Davis Creek Rd. on April 29, 1999. It was about this time that Vonda won her grievance against BEP.

On Feb. 17, 2005, records show, Green Tree received simple title to the property when they purchased it in the trustee's sale for $67,125. Four months later, Nathan Wasser, the trustee of the deed, filed a motion with Judge Charles King asking for default judgment on Green Tree's behalf after the Spencers failed to respond within the required 120 days of Green Tree filing its complaint.

According to court records, King on June 15, 2005 granted Wasser's motion, and a writ of possession was entered on Green Tree's behalf on July 22. Notes written by the Kanawha County Sheriff's Deputy who went to serve the writ show the Spencers already vacated by the time that he got there.

Shortly thereafter, the Spencers filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. According to their bankruptcy petition, the Spencers listed the suit against Green Tree was still pending, and their address still as Rt. 8, Box 509, South Charleston.

In their petition, the Spencer's listed $145,565 in assets, and $355,179.43 in liabilities. Half of their liabilities, or $177,179.43, came in unsecured non-priority claims.

A listing of the Spencer's non-priority claims show the bulk coming from past due medical bills. In her grievance against BEP, Spencer claimed the harassment she received from Kizzie Nunley caused her acute anxiety, resulting in her to consult with various physicians.

Though it was not immediately clear if the injuries he sustained from the 1993 container-fall or the 1995 car wreck was a contributing factor, but Charles listed no income for 2005 up to the time the petition was filed. In the petition, Charles listed his 2004 income as $6,180 from the paving business he's owned since 1978.

Court records show the U.S. Bankruptcy Court granted the Spencer's petition, and closed their case on Feb. 26.

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