CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has issued a memorandum decision, ruling that R.T. Rogers Oil Company will receive a new trial in a lawsuit against the owner of a corporation who owed $80,000 before declaring bankruptcy.
Glenville Ratliff appealed Greenbrier Circuit Court’s Oct, 7, 2016, order granting R.T.’s motion for a new trial, according to the Oct. 23 memorandum decision.
Ratliff argued that the circuit court erred in granting R.T.’s motion because it failed to make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its order.
“This court has considered the parties’ briefs and the record on appeal,” the decision states. “The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, this Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error.”
The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s order, deeming that it is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.
Ratliff operated several businesses in Greenbrier County and was a 90 percent shareholder in a corporation known as C&G Corporation, with his daughter holding the remaining shares.
This corporation, created in 2005, purchased oil and gasoline products from R.T.
R.T. also loaned Ratliff’s corporation money to erect a canopy over gas pumps that the corporation owned. Eventually, the corporation entered bankruptcy. At the time of bankruptcy, the corporation owed R.T. $80,000. This debt was eventually discharged in bankruptcy.
Following the bankruptcy proceeding, R.T. filed a civil action against Ratliff, individually, and sought to pierce the corporate veil in regard to satisfying the outstanding debt owed, according to the decision.
In March 2016, the matter proceeded to a jury trial, during which the jury answered a number of interrogatories.
In response to one interrogatory, the jury found that “there is such unity of interest and ownership that separate personalities of C&G Corporation and…Ratliff no longer existed.”
However, the jury did not find that an inequitable result would occur if Ratliff was not held personally liable for the debt owed to respondent. As such, the jury found unanimously in Ratliff’s favor.
Shortly after the jury’s verdict, R.T. moved for a new trial under Rule 59 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. In support of its motion, R.T. argued that it was the only party that presented evidence as to fairness, or lack thereof.
On appeal, Ratliff argues that the circuit court failed to make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions of law to support its order, as required by Rule 59(d) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.
“The circuit court’s order granting respondent a new trial in this matter was not entered on the circuit court’s own initiative,” the memo states. “Rather, it was entered in response to respondent’s motion for such relief. As such, the circuit court was bound not by Rule 59(d), but by Rule 59(a) governing the granting of new trials upon motions by parties. As such, petitioner’s entire argument is premised upon an inapplicable rule.”
Moreover, Ratliff’s argument ignores the fact that the circuit court made abundant findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its order, according to the memo.
“Here, petitioner does not allege that the circuit court abused its discretion,” the memo states. “Instead, he simply alleges that the circuit court made insufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law after supplanting the jury’s determination about the case with its own. According to petitioner, ‘[t]he judge has not set out any reason as to why his judgment is any superior [sic] to those on the jury.’ However…the record clearly shows that the circuit court made sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its order. Accordingly, we find no abuse of discretion in the granting of respondent’s motion for a new trial.”
The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court’s order granting R.T. a new trial.
W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 16-1048