State Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis (Photo courtesy of Michael Switzer for the state Supreme Court)
CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court has created a Business Court that begins in October.
An administrative order signed by Chief Justice Menis Ketchum approves the addition of the court, which goes into effect Oct. 10. Justice Robin Jean Davis presided over a press conference Tuesday afternoon to unveil the plan.
She said the rules for the Business Court were modeled after the ones that govern the Mass Litigation Panel.
"Our goal was to design a Court that focuses on the complex issues that arise in commercial litigation," Davis said at Tuesday's press conference in the Supreme Court Chamber. "Those issues can get bogged down in a busy circuit court docket. This provides a way for circuit court judges to be relieved from the burden of handling those novel or complex issues. It also should provide a more expeditious and judicious resolution of disputes for business litigants."
The Business Court eventually will have seven active or senior status circuit court judges appointed by the Supreme Court.
The idea for a Business Court started in 2010. A Business Court Study Committee, led by Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt, was formed later that year and drafted rules. Those rules were presented earlier this year to the Supreme Court, and they then were open for public comment.
The Business Court will handle a specialized court docket. The litigation that will be able to be transferred to the Court will include circuit court actions in which the principal claims" involve matters of significance to the transactions, operations or governance between business entities" and the dispute involves "commercial and/or technology issues in which specialized treatment is likely to improve the expectation of a fair and reasonable resolution."
"Generally, disputes must be between businesses," Davis said.
Cases with a principal claim involving consumer litigation, such as product liability, personal injury, wrongful death, consumer class actions, insurance disputes, West Virginia Consumer Credit Act cases, employee suits, consumer malpractice cases, real estate disputes, domestic relations, criminal cases, eminent domain and administrative disputes will not be heard by the new court. Complex tax appeals, however, will be eligible to be heard by the Business Court.
Any party or judge involved in a case can seek referral to the Business Court. The motion may be filed within three months of the filing date, but a judge can file the motion at any time.
After a case is transferred to Business Court, it will be assigned to a presiding judge. After that, the presiding judge will conduct a case management and scheduling conference within 30 days. After that conference, the judge will issue a case management order. And then, the presiding judge "shall make all reasonable efforts to conclude Business Litigations within 10 months from the date the case management order was entered."
There are seven assignment regions for the Business Court, and it will have a yet-to-be-announced central office. That location will be announced Oct. 10 when the Business Court Division goes into effect.
The first judges to be on the court are Christopher Wilkes from the 23rd Circuit, Jim Rowe from the 11th Circuit and Donald Cookman from the 22nd Circuit. Wayne Circuit Judge James Young Jr. will begin a term on the Business Court starting Jan. 1. Wilkes will be the first chairman of the Business Court.
Wilkes, Rowe and Cookman all served on the Business Court Committee. The other members of that committee were Judge Rudolph Murensky and Judge Susan Tucker.
"I want to say how very grateful everyone on the Supreme Court is to all these circuit judges for the enormous amount of study and work they put into helping us write these rules," Davis said Tuesday. "I also want to thank the many members of the public and the business
community who provided comments in writing and at a day-long discussion meeting with the Business Court Committee last year. Chief Justice Ketchum and I attended that session and found it very informative."
She also thanked House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, for "the roadmap provided in House Bill 4352" that was passed in March 2010.