CHARLESTON – Every American enjoys a constitutional right to sue any other American in a West Virginia court, according to a Pittsburgh attorney who represents about 1,000 residents of other states demanding access to West Virginia courts.
Robert Daley of the law firm Robert Pierce & Associates wants the Supreme Court of Appeals to reverse Circuit Judge Arthur Recht, who dismissed 1,000 asbestos suits that Daley filed in West Virginia.
Recht handles about 25,000 asbestos suits under special assignment from the Court.
Recht relied on a 2003 law that restricts access to state courts. But at oral arguments before the Justices on April 1, Daley said the law violates the U. S. Constitution.
He said the Legislature did not hold hearings and did not identify any burden that residents of other states impose on West Virginia courts.
"West Virginia is very efficient at handling these cases," he said.
He said West Virginia could impose a higher filing fee on residents of other states.
"Total exclusion should be something done as last resort," he said.
Luke Lafferre of Huddleston Bolen in Huntington, representing railroads CSX, Norfolk Southern and Conrail, said, "None of these cases arose here."
He said legislators acted within their prerogative and Recht ruled correctly. He asked why West Virginia should resolve cases it doesn't have to resolve.
He said the law is not absolute, because people can bring claims in West Virginia if they have nowhere else to bring them.
Noting that plaintiffs sued under the Federal Employer Liability Act, he argued that if they wanted a West Virginia court they could have sued in West Virginia federal court.
Justice Joseph Albright said, "There is no evidence that they ever rode a train here?"
Lafferre said, "They concede that these actions didn't arise here."
Daley and the Peirce firm are no strangers to West Virginia courts or headlines.
CSX previously has alleged that the Pittsburgh-based firm that specializes in asbestos claims was involved a claim ripe with fraud.
In a case filed by the firm in 2002 in Marshall County, a former CSX employee provided the name of doctor who doesn't exist "to provide the needed medical evidence and support for his asbestosis claims."
In another case in U.S. District Court in Wheeling, CSX said the firm was involved in a scheme to concoct bogus X-rays that showed asbestos in the lungs of a CSX employee.
CSX claimed former CSX worker Robert Gilkison was hired by the Peirce firm as a "runner" to round up former colleagues for lawsuits, suggested that CSX employee Ricky May get someone who previously tested positive to pretend to be him at a 2000 asbestos screening. CSX said May had Danny Jayne, a CSX worker who had been diagnosed with asbestosis in 1999, to impersonate him for the X-ray. The suit claimed Gilkison helped make this happen by letting May complete the paperwork and walking Jayne through the exam.
In court papers, the Peirce Firm acknowledged the scheme but denied knowledge of it.