CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that Logan Circuit Court did not err when it denied a man's post-trial motions for judgment asking for a new trial.
In 2013, Jennings Mark Workman Jr. brought a civil rights action against Terry R. Brumfield Jr. as deputy sheriff of Logan County, et al. Workman alleged his rights secured by the Fourth and 14th Amendments were violated when he was wrongfully removed from his residence and forced to leave under the threat of arrest.
The jury found in favor of Workman, awarded $4,862 for lost personal property and $5,000 for annoyance and inconvenience, and assessed all damages against Brumfield.
Brumfield appealed the ruling of Logan Circuit Court that denied his post-trial motions for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. He argued the circuit court should have dismissed the claims against him on the basis of qualified immunity.
Brumfield also appealed an award of $201,913 in attorneys' fees to Workman's counsel, according to the March 26 memorandum decision.
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the circuit court denying the parties’ post-trial motions, vacated the order awarding attorney’s fees, and remanded for proceedings consistent with this decision. The decision was written by Chief Justice Elizabeth Walker and Justices Margaret Workman, Tim Armstead and John Hutchison. Justice Evan Jenkins authored a dissenting opinion.
On Sept. 9, 2011, Workman moved into his residence and on that same day, he obtained a title report from attorney George L. Partain that showed he was co-owner of the property and that all owners had “equal access and right to be on the property at all times,” according to the decision.
On Feb. 14, 2013, Frank M. Dillon went to the home along with Kellie Curry, who was Dillon’s ex-girlfriend, and Christopher Codispoti, who was Curry’s then-boyfriend.
Dillon told Workman that he had a deed to the property and that Workman had to move out so that Curry and Codispoti could move in. Workman responded by calling the police.
West Virginia State Trooper Roger Glaspell responded to the call and reviewed the letter by Partain and the utility bills in Workman’s name. Glaspell also reviewed Dillon’s "deed" and concluded that the matter was civil in nature and needed to go through the court system.
On Feb. 15, 2013, Brumfield arrived at the home and gave Workman 20 minutes to get his things and leave the home. Workman responded that he was part owner and gave the deputies the Partain letter, which both appeared to read. Brumfield stated that the letter was “not worth the paper it was written on” and Workman needed to leave the property. When Workman protested, the deputies started to arrest him, but Dillon said he did not want Workman to be arrested. Workman left on foot with the possessions he could carry and Curry and Codispoti moved into the residence that same evening.
Workman later learned there was no court order for his eviction. Because of what occurred, Workman lost personal belongings, including furniture, and was homeless for more than two years.
The Supreme Court affirmed the Dec. 20, 2017, order denying Workman’s Rule 59 motion; the Dec. 26, 2017, order denying Workman’s Rule 50 motion; and the Jan. 11, 2018, order denying Brumfield’s Rule 59 and 59 motions.
"We vacate the Jan. 16, 2018, order awarding attorney’s fees and costs, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this decision," the decision states.
In his dissenting opinion, Jenkins wrote that the majority’s opinion, in this case, finds that Brumfield was not entitled to statutory immunity because he violated Workman’s clearly established rights.
"However, I do not agree with the majority’s assessment of the facts or its application of the law in this matter, and for the following reasons, I respectfully dissent," Jenkins wrote. "The crux of this case comes down to the single question of what would a reasonable officer do under the same set of circumstances. The majority relies on disputed facts to support its argument that Deputy Brumfield violated Mr. Workman’s constitutional rights under the Fourth and 14th Amendments when he arrived at the property."
Jenkins wrote that the majority "glossed-over" disputed facts.
"Any reasonable officer would know that an unreasonable search without a warrant is a violation of an individual’s rights; however, it was not clearly established when Deputy Brumfield arrived on the property, who had the rights to the property," Jenkins wrote. "As such, contrary to the findings reached by the majority, it is my opinion that an officer acting in Deputy Brumfield’s situation would have reasonably believed that he was not violating clearly established law."
West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Case number 18-0109