West Virginia Record

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Supreme Court denies writ of certiorari in case against DOH over fatal auto accident

State Court

By Kyla Asbury | Dec 9, 2019

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CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals sided with the state Legislative Claims Commission on an appeal of a lawsuit over allegations the Division of Highways was at fault for a fatal 2014 auto accident.

The Supreme Court denied a writ of certiorari, finding that the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission's opinion is not reviewable by the Supreme Court "on a writ of certiorari at this procedural posture," according to a Supreme Court opinion.

Justice Evan Jenkins authored the majority opinion. Justice Tim Armstead did not participate in the case and Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Jason Wharton took his place for the assignment.

Danita Ladanye, the administratrix of the estate of Jonathan S. Ladanye, requested the Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari to vacate an opinion issued on Feb. 27, 2018, by the West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission.

Danita Ladanye submitted a notice of claim with the Claims Commission against the West Virginia Department of Transportation-Division of Highways (DOH) on Dec. 9, 2015, following the death of her son.

"Subsequent to discovery and a hearing, the Claims Commission issued an opinion that stated it '[was] of the opinion to deny this claim,'" Jenkins wrote. "Before us now, Mrs. Ladanye contends that this court has the authority, on a limited basis, to review an opinion issued by the Claims Commission on a writ of certiorari."

Danita Ladanye further argued that several errors were committed during the hearing before the Claims Commission and in the resulting opinion.

"Upon review of the parties’ briefs, oral arguments, the submitted record, and the pertinent authorities, we deny the requested writ of certiorari because we find that the opinion of the Claims Commission is not reviewable by this court on a writ of certiorari at this procedural posture," Jenkins wrote.

Jonathan S. Ladanye died in a car accident on Feb. 17, 2014, when the vehicle he was in ramped over a snow pile along a bridge parapet wall in Interstate 79 and the vehicle then fell approximately 30 feet to the roadway below the bridge.

The driver of the vehicle, James A. Coffman, had a blood content of .218 and illegal drugs in his system, according to the opinion.

Danita Ladanye claims the crash occurred due to DOH's failure to maintain Interstate 79. DOH argued the crash happened because of Coffman's alleged negligence. The commission eventually denied the claim

The Claims Commission ordered on March 13, 2018, that there were no new issues or evidence presented in Danita Ladanye's motion that mandate either an appeal or a new hearing. Danita Ladanye then sought a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.

"In this matter, there is no allegation or even suggestion that Mrs. Ladanye’s claim was made under an existing appropriation or a special appropriation," Jenkins wrote. "Moreover, her claim was clearly brought pursuant to the Claims Commission’s authority to consider a claim against the State pursuant to West Virginia Code § 14-2-12. Further, there is no dispute that at the time this matter was initially brought before us, there had not been any final legislative action taken on the claim."

Jenkins wrote that the Claims Commission’s opinion regarding its mere recommendation to the legislature is not appropriate for review by this court at this procedural posture.

"Because we have disposed of this matter on the threshold question that we do not have the authority to review this non-binding recommendation at this juncture, we do not reach the remaining five questions presented by Mrs. Ladanye," Jenkins wrote. "Based upon the foregoing, we deny the requested writ of certiorari."

West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals case number 18-0356

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