Bill Creating the Intermediate Court of Appeals Completes Legislative Action
April 1, 2021
By: Danielle M. Waltz and Blair Wessels
On April 1, 2021, the West Virginia Legislature completed legislative action on Senate Bill 275, the West Virginia Appellate Reorganization Act of 2021, creating the Intermediate Court of Appeals of West Virginia, which will consist of one three-judge panel that will serve the entire State. The Act will now head to Governor Justice, who is expected to sign the Act into law.
The new law will be codified at § 51-11-1 et seq. and will amend certain existing sections of the West Virginia Code. The Intermediate Appellate Court will be established and operable on July 1, 2022. The Court will not have any original jurisdiction, but it will have appellate jurisdiction over the following matters: (1) final judgments or orders of a circuit court in civil cases; (2) final judgments or orders of family courts; (3) final judgments or orders of a circuit court concerning guardianship or conservatorship matters pursuant to § 44A-1-1 et seq.; (4) final judgments, orders, or decisions of an agency or an administrative law judge; (5) final orders or decisions of the Health Care Authority in a certificate of need review; (6) final orders or decisions issued by the Office of Judges after June 30, 2022, and prior to its termination; and (7) final orders or decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review.
However, the Intermediate Court of Appeals will not have appellate jurisdiction over (1) judgments or final orders in any criminal proceedings; (2) judgement or final orders issued in any juvenile proceeding; (3) judgement or final orders in child abuse and neglect proceedings; (4) orders of commitment, issued pursuant to § 27-5-1 et seq.; (5) final decisions of the Public Service Commission; (6) interlocutory appeals; (7) certified questions of law; (8) extraordinary remedies, as provided in § 53-1-1 et seq.; (9) proceedings of the Lawyer Disciplinary Board; and (10) proceedings of the Judicial Investigation Commission. Jurisdiction over these matters remains with the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
The Intermediate Court of Appeals’ written opinions, orders, and decisions are binding precedent for the decisions of all circuit courts, family courts, magistrate courts, and agencies. Once a party receives a final order of judgment from the Intermediate Court of Appeals, the party may petition the Supreme Court of Appeals for appeal. The Supreme Court of Appeals has discretion to grant or deny such petitions. However, parties may also, within twenty days after a petition for appeal is filed with the Intermediate Court of Appeals, file a motion in the Supreme Court of Appeals for direct review of a final judgment or order that is otherwise within the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ appellate jurisdiction. The Supreme Court of Appeals may grant a motion for direct appeal in the following extraordinary circumstances: (1) the appeal involves a question of fundamental public importance; and (2) the appeal involves exigencies, in which time is of the essence.
Judges of the Intermediate Court of Appeals will be elected on a nonpartisan basis to serve 10-year terms. The Governor shall make the initial appointments to the court in 2022, and beginning in 2024, the terms and elections of the judges shall be staggered. To be eligible to serve as a judge, the person must be in good standing with the West Virginia State bar, be admitted to practice law in West Virginia for ten years and be a resident of West Virginia for five years.
In addition to creating the Intermediate Court of Appeals, the Act also amends several other existing sections of Code. Notably, the Act eliminates the the Workers’ Compensation Office of Administrative Law Judges, otherwise known as the Office of Judges, and transfers its duties and powers to the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review. The Offices of Judges will terminate on or before October 1, 2022. The Office of Judges has until September 30, 2022, to issue final decisions in, or dispose of, the matters pending before it. As described above, the Intermediate Court of Appeals will have exclusive appellate jurisdiction over the Workers’ Compensation Board of Review’s decisions.
With the creation of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, West Virginia joins the ranks of the 41 other states that have intermediate appellate courts. The Intermediate Court of Appeals will generate more binding legal authority in West Virginia, and it relieves the Supreme Court of Appeals’ of the burden of issuing memorandum decisions, thereby leaving the Supreme Court of Appeals to focus on the most important and difficult cases. Further, by moving certain appeals out of the circuit courts, the Intermediate Court of Appeals should alleviate some of the backlog burdening circuit courts and allow litigants to receive decisions more quickly. West Virginia’s judicial system is about to undergo historical changes, and West Virginia practitioners will need to familiarize themselves with these changes to serve their clients competently and diligently.