West Virginia Record

Monday, July 15, 2019

Supreme Court upholds lower court’s decision in lawsuit against Mercer school board

By Kyla Asbury | Sep 8, 2017

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a decision made by Mercer Circuit Court in a lawsuit against the board of education for defamation.

Joseph C. McComas II filed the defamation suit against Mercer County Board of Education in April 2015, alleging the defendant defamed him during a hearing the previous year in which his employment was terminated.

“This court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal,” the memorandum decision states. “The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument.”

In support of McComas’ defamation suit, he testified that the sole basis for his claim was the posting of the minutes from the April 2014 meeting, which he alleged rendered him unable to find new employment.

During the hearing, the board accepted evidence of McComas’ alleged conduct that supported the decision to terminate his employment.

“Based on this evidence, respondent found that petitioner engaged in ‘willful neglect of duty due to continued poor performance on substitute evaluations, use of inappropriate language in the classroom, not following lesson plans, and falling asleep in class on multiple occasions,’” the memorandum decision states.

He claimed that the finding regarding use of inappropriate language was incorrect and he denied using such language.

In January 2016, Mercer filed a motion for summary judgment, after which McComas filed a response.

In June 2016, the circuit court held a hearing on the motion and, following the hearing, the circuit court granted respondent’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity.

Because the circuit court found qualified immunity applied, it declined to address the remaining arguments raised. It is from the order granting respondent’s motion for summary judgment that McComas decided to appeal.

“On appeal, petitioner raises no argument as to why the circuit court’s granting of summary judgment in favor of respondent on the basis of qualified immunity is improper,” the decision states. “Instead, petitioner simply alleges that a genuine issue of material fact exists because he argues that he submitted a letter of resignation to respondent on April 3, 2014, which respondent failed to recognize at the April 10, 2014, hearing at which his employment was terminated.”

Not only does McComas fail to argue how this fact, if assumed as true, creates a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to overcome the school board’s motion for summary judgment, he also fails to show that this argument was submitted for the circuit court’s consideration.

“Because he clearly did not raise any argument in regard to his alleged resignation, we find that petitioner has waived this argument on appeal,” the decision states. “For this reason, we decline to grant petitioner relief in this regard.”

The circuit court’s July 8, 2016, order granting respondent’s motion for summary judgment was affirmed.

W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 16-0734

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West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals