18 new lawsuits filed against Humphreys for mishandling of flood litigation

By Chris Dickerson | Aug 8, 2016

CHARLESTON – Nearly 20 more lawsuits have been filed against a prominent Charleston attorney over his firm’s alleged mishandling of litigation involving flooding that occurred in 2001.

Jim Humphreys is named as the defendant in 18 lawsuits filed Aug. 3 in Kanawha Circuit Court. Each of the cases are filed by people who lived in Tazewell County, Va., in 2001 when floods did extensive damage there.

The lawsuits all are similar to one filed in 2014 by Ira Calvary Horne and Mavis Horne, who also live in the Cedar Bluff area of Tazewell County, just south of Bluefield. All of the plaintiffs in the new cases live in the same hollow as the Hornes, and some of them are relatives.

The complaints detail the plaintiffs’ retention of Humphreys and the James F. Humphreys & Associates law firm to handle their litigation regarding damage to their property caused by construction at the Tazewell County Airport.

The complaints also detail communications between the plaintiffs and Humphreys and his firm, including promises that “your complaint was filed.”

However, the plaintiffs claim Humphreys and his firm missed the statute of limitations deadline to file the cases properly. They also allege Humphreys and his firm covered up that mistake. They say they didn’t learn of Humphreys’ negligence and fraud until mid-August 2014. That’s when the Hornes filed their lawsuit against Humphreys and his firm.

The complaints detail “specific knowledge of cover-up and fraud” that included documentation of one email in which an associate of Humphreys suggest “burn the files, delete them … and pretend we’ve never heard of them.”

The plaintiffs claim the defendants, in 2006, attempted to attach the plaintiffs’ claims to mass flood litigation in West Virginia on behalf of flood victims in the Mountain State who were harmed allegedly by activities of coal and timber companies. The claims were dismissed in West Virginia in April 2006.

Still, the plaintiffs say Humphreys’ agents still were telling the plaintiffs they had a case in 2009 and 2010.

The plaintiffs claim that with competent legal representation, they would have prevailed in their flood claims. They seek compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorney fees, interest, court costs and other relief.

The plaintiffs are represented by Charleston attorney Rod Jackson as well as John C. Palmer IV, Stephen D. Annand, Keith J. George and Devan K. Flahive of Robinson & McElwee PLLC

In other litigation, Humphreys recently appealed a recent federal bankruptcy court ruling that remanded part of a case against him and his firm back to Kanawha County.

James F. Humphreys & Associates filed a notice of appeal July 21 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The firm also filed a motion for a stay pending the appeal. On July 15, Judge Frank W. Volk of U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of West Virginia filed a memorandum opinion and order remanding the flood damage case of an elderly Virginia couple against Humphreys individually back to Kanawha Circuit Court. But the firm’s bankruptcy means it won’t be remanded back to Kanawha County, Volk wrote.

Then, on July 19, Jim Humphreys filed the claim in federal bankruptcy court against James F. Humphreys and Associates LC. In the document, Humphreys says his firm, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, would be on the hook for $13.5 million in a lawsuit filed against Humphreys and his firm by a Virginia couple who say Humphreys and his firm mishandled their flood damage case.

Essentially, the proof of claim says Humphreys values the alleged malpractice and fraud claims against him at $13.5 million and wants his firm to indemnify him, meaning the firm would need to pay him if the claims are found to be true.

With the July 21 filings, the Humphreys law firm appeals Volk’s opinion and order as well as seeks the stay in the Kanawha County case.

In its memorandum of law supporting the stay, the firm says the stay is necessary and that it believes Volk’s remand order will be reversed. It says the firm would “suffer irreparable harm without a stay” and “that the Hornes [the Virginia couple] will suffer little (if any) harm from a stay, and that public policy favoring the wise stewardship of a bankrupt’s limited assets support a stay.”

The firm argues the remand “would almost certainly result in the immediate resumption of heated and protracted litigation in the circuit court of extraneous issues.”

Also, last year, Humphreys and his firm were accused in a class action lawsuit of mishandling a mass tort asbestos exposure case against Celotex. The number of potential plaintiffs exceeds 500, according to the complaint.

“It is apparent that both discretionary abstention and equitable remand are appropriate as to the claims against Mr. Humphreys,” Volk wrote in his July 15 opinion and order. “It is, accordingly, ordered that the Hornes’ motion to remand be, and hereby is, granted to the extent of the claims pled against Mr. Humphreys …

“Judge (Jack) Alsop may proceed immediately with the adjudication of those claims.”

In January, Humphreys said his law firm had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The firm entered bankruptcy to “resolve all pending and potential claims against the firm in one forum and in a timely and equitable manner,” according to a statement from the firm.

In a January statement, Humphreys said the filing should not affect the day-to-day operations of the firm and cases it currently is handling. He said he hopes the issues can be “sorted out quickly and effectively in bankruptcy court, ultimately enabling the firm to continue offering effective legal representation.”

“Our first and foremost obligation is to our clients,” Humphreys said. “As painful and as difficult as it is to take this step, this action will allow us to move quickly and transparently to identify and pay these obligations, and settle any legitimate claims against the firm.

“I profoundly regret any inconvenience this situation has caused and I am determined to make sure each and every one of these clients is made whole.”

In October, Humphreys and his firm were listed in a class action by people who allege the firm mishandled a mass tort asbestos exposure case against Celotex. The number of potential plaintiffs exceeds 500, according to the complaint.

In the Celotex complaint, McCormick claims Humphreys and his firm negligently failed to follow procedure for properly submitting the plaintiffs’ claims against Celotex.

That came after a 2014 lawsuit in which Humphreys and his firm allegedly “failed completely” to pursue claims that an elderly Virginia couple’s home and property were damaged by flooding and rains resulting from Hurricane Camille in July 2001.

Jackson is representing both the Celotex plaintiffs and the Virginia couple in their claims against Humphreys.

After the firm filed for bankruptcy, Humphreys’ bankruptcy lawyers asked that the bankruptcy court blanket extend it to Humphreys. That happened. But Jackson and his team of attorneys moved that the case in total be moved back to Kanawha.

What Volk did in his order was allow the Horne case to proceed against Humphreys individually in Kanawha Circuit Court, but not against the law firm.

Humphreys is a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates and state Senate. He also ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 and 2002, losing to Shelley Moore Capito both times.

In the bankruptcy filings, Humphreys and his firm are represented by Judith K. Fitzgerald, Beverly Weiss Manne, Jeremiah Vandermark and Danielle L. Dietrick of Tucker Arensberg PC of Pittsburgh as well as Julia Chincheck and Floyd E. Boone of Bowles Rice in Charleston.

Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 16-C-1168, 16-C-1169, 16-C-1170, 16-C-1171, 16-C-1172, 16-C-1173, 16-C-1174, 16-C-1175, 16-C-1176, 16-C-1177, 16-C-1178, 16-C-1179, 16-C-1180, 16-C-1181, 16-C-1182, 16-C-1183, 16-C-1184, 16-C-1185

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Organizations in this Story

James F. Humphreys & Associates Kanawha Circuit Court Robinson & McElwee PLLC

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