IN THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST VIRGINIA
January 2000 Term
STATE OF WEST VIRGINIA EX REL. DAVID STEWART,
STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS,
AND THE WEST VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION,
THE HONORABLE JACK ALSOP, JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF CLAY COUNTY,
THE BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE COUNTY OF CLAY,
AND TERESA RAMSEY.
PETITION FOR WRIT OF PROHIBITION
Submitted: June 6, 2000
Filed: June 23, 2000
Darrell V. McGraw, Jr.
Gregory W. Bailey
Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love
Kelli D. Talbott
Charleston, West Virginia
Senior Assistant Attorney
Attorney for the Respondent
Charleston, West Virginia
Clay County Board of Education
Attorneys for the Petitioners
Michael C. Farber
Law Office of Michael C. Farber
Sutton, West Virginia
Attorney for the Respondent,
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
SYLLABUS BY THE COURT
1. Prohibition lies only to restrain inferior courts from proceeding in
causes over which they have no jurisdiction, or, in which, having jurisdiction, they are
exceeding their legitimate powers and may not be used as a substitute for writ of error,
appeal or certiorari. Syllabus point 1, State ex rel. Miller v. Reed, 203 W. Va. 673, 510
S.E.2d 507 (1998).
2. Actions wherein a state agency or official is named, whether as a
principal party or third-party defendant, may be brought only in the Circuit Court of
Kanawha County. Syllabus point 2, Thomas v. Board of Education of McDowell County,
167 W. Va. 911, 280 S.E.2d 816 (1981).
This case was filed pursuant to the original jurisdiction of this Court. David
Stewart, State Superintendent of Schools, and the West Virginia Department of Education,
petitioners herein and defendants below (hereinafter collectively referred to as State
Superintendent), seek a writ of prohibition to prevent the Honorable Jack Alsop, Judge
of the Circuit Court of Clay County, respondent, from proceeding with the underlying
action filed by Teresa Ramsey, respondent herein and plaintiff below (hereinafter referred
to as Ms. Ramsey).See footnote 1
The State Superintendent filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds
of improper venue. The circuit court denied the motion. Now, we are asked to decide
whether prohibition lies to prevent the circuit court from including the State Superintendent
in the underlying action. Based upon the parties' arguments on appeal, the record
designated for appellate review, and the pertinent authorities, we reverse the decision of
the Circuit Court of Clay County and grant the writ.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
This case originated as an administrative complaint lodged by Ms. Ramsey
against the Board of Education of Clay County (hereinafter referred to as Clay County
Board). In 1998, Ms. Ramsey filed a grievance against the Clay County Board after it
failed to accept her bid on a contract for a school bus route. Ms. Ramsey then filed a
Level IV citizen's appeal from the adverse decision with the State Superintendent on
December 3, 1998. On December 7, 1998, the State Superintendent summarily dismissed
the appeal concluding that Ms. Ramsey failed to state grounds required for an appeal.
Ms. Ramsey did not seek an appeal of the State Superintendent's dismissal
in the circuit court. Instead, in June of 1999, Ms. Ramsey filed a civil complaint in the
circuit court against the Clay County Board seeking monetary damages for the Clay
County Board's failure to award her the contract for the school bus route. The Clay
County Board filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. The circuit court found that, as a
matter of law, a monetary suit could not be maintained against the Clay County Board.
However, the circuit court denied the motion to dismiss and ordered Ms. Ramsey to amend
her complaint to seek equitable relief and to include the State Superintendent as a party.
Pursuant to the circuit court's order, in February of 2000, Ms. Ramsey
amended her complaint. She sought a writ of mandamus and/or prohibition against the
Clay County Board and the State Superintendent. Subsequently on February 25, 2000, the
State Superintendent filed a motion to dismiss asserting that venue was improper. The
circuit court denied the motion to dismiss. Thereafter, the State Superintendent filed the
instant petition for a writ of prohibition against the circuit court.
STANDARD FOR ISSUANCE OF WRIT
In this proceeding, the State Superintendent contends that the circuit court
had no jurisdiction over the case as venue was improper in Clay County. In Syllabus point
1 of State ex rel. Miller v. Reed, 203 W. Va. 673, 510 S.E.2d 507 (1998), we held that
'[p]rohibition lies only to restrain inferior courts from proceeding in causes over which
they have no jurisdiction, or, in which, having jurisdiction, they are exceeding their
legitimate powers and may not be used as a substitute for writ of error, appeal or
certiorari.' (Quoting Syl. pt. 2, Cowie v. Roberts, 173 W. Va. 64, 312 S.E.2d 35 (1984);
Syl. pt. 1, Crawford v. Taylor, 138 W. Va. 207, 75 S.E.2d 370 (1953)). Accordingly,
[t]o justify this extraordinary remedy, the petitioner[s] ha[ve] the burden of showing that
the lower court's jurisdictional usurpation was clear and indisputable and, because there
is no adequate relief at law, the extraordinary writ provides the only available and adequate
remedy. State ex rel. Paul B. v. Hill, 201 W. Va. 248, 254, 496 S.E.2d 198, 204 (1997)
(quoting State ex rel. Allen v. Bedell, 193 W. Va. 32, 37, 454 S.E.2d 77, 82 (1994)
(Cleckley, J., concurring)).
A. Nature of the Circuit Court Proceeding
Pivotal to the resolution of the instant matter is a determination of the nature
of the proceeding that was actually before the circuit court. The State Superintendent
contends that the proceeding before the circuit court was an original action seeking
equitable relief. Yet, the circuit court's order treats the matter as an appeal from an
administrative proceeding.See footnote 2
The State Superintendent has filed an objection to the circuit
court's order with this Court contending that the order was not circulated prior to its entry.
Additionally, the State Superintendent argues that the order does not reflect what took
place during the hearing on its motion to dismiss for improper venue.
The circuit court's order provides that [t]he alleged action of the State
Superintendent of Schools in refusing to hear [Ms. Ramsey's] timely appeal gave rise to
a 'contested case' under W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4 such that this court has jurisdiction to
review any such case[.] The record before this Court does not support the circuit court's
conclusion. Ms. Ramsey's action was not properly instituted under W. Va. Code § 29A-5-
4  of the State Administrative Procedures Act. To invoke W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4(b) Ms. Ramsey was obligated to seek review within thirty days after the date upon
which [she] received notice of the final order or decision of the agency. Ms. Ramsey did
not comply with the thirty-day review time period.
Additionally, the proceeding commenced in circuit court against the State
Superintendent is not governed by W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4. The caption of Ms. Ramsey's
complaint reads: AMENDED PETITION FOR WRITS OF MANDAMUS AND/OR
PROHIBITION. W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4 provides for an appeal of an administrative
order or decision. See West Virginia Bd. of Med. v. Spillers, 187 W. Va. 257, 259, 418
S.E.2d 571, 573 (1992) ([P]rocedures for appeals of decisions by administrative agencies
are governed by the State Administrative Procedures Act.); Johnson v. Commissioner,
Dep't. of Motor Vehicles, 178 W. Va. 675, 677, 363 S.E.2d 752, 754 (1987) (That
statute is a part of this state's administrative procedures act and generally provides for
judicial review of contested administrative cases, allowing a court to reverse, vacate, or
modify an agency's decision on certain grounds.).See footnote 3
Simply put, the statute at issue does
not authorize relief by way of an extraordinary writ.See footnote 4
In view of the foregoing, we find that the proceeding filed by Ms. Ramsey
against the State Superintendent was not governed by W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4. Her action
was an original complaint for extraordinary relief which was clearly outside the scope of
B. Venue in Clay County
Having determined that the action against the State Superintendent was not
an appropriate appeal under W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4, we must also decide whether Clay
County was the proper venue in which to litigate Ms. Ramsey's mandamus and/or
prohibition proceeding. We have long recognized that [a]ctions wherein a state agency
or official is named, whether as a principal party or third-party defendant, may be brought
only in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Syl. pt. 2, Thomas v. Board of Educ., of
McDowell County, 167 W. Va. 911, 280 S.E.2d 816 (1981). See Syl. pt. 5, State ex rel.
West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Perry, 189 W. Va. 662, 434 S.E.2d 22 (1993). We
observed in West Virginia Board of Medicine v. Spillers, 187 W. Va. 257, 259-60, 418
S.E.2d 571, 573-74 (1992), that jurisdiction of writs of mandamus and prohibition for
actions against [a state agency or official] is appropriate only in the Circuit Court of
Kanawha County in accordance with . . . W. Va. Code § 14-2-2.See footnote 5
Further, [w]e have
consistently held that the provisions of W. Va. Code § 14-2-2, as amended, are exclusive
and controlling as to other general venue provisions. Vance v. Ritchie, 178 W. Va. 155,
157, 358 S.E.2d 239, 241 (1987). See State ex rel. West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Perry,
189 W. Va. 662, 668, 434 S.E.2d 22, 28 (1993) ([I]t is equally clear that such a
mandamus action must be brought in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County because the
[defendant] and its members constitute a public agency, and public officials are entitled to
the benefit of the venue provisions of W. Va. Code § 14-2-2.); Syl. pt. 2, Blower v. West
Virginia Educ. Broad. Auth., 182 W. Va. 528,389 S.E.2d 739 (1990) (The West Virginia
Educational Broadcasting Authority is a public agency and is entitled to the special venue
provisions of W. Va. Code, 14-2-2 (1976)); Syl. pt. 5, Shobe v. Latimer, 162 W. Va. 779,
253 S.E.2d 54 (1979) (When a state officer is properly made a party defendant in a civil
action, venue is controlled and determined by W. Va. Code § 14-2-2.); Syl. pt. 2, in
part, Taylor v. Baltimore & Ohio R. R. Co., 138 W. Va. 313, 75 S.E.2d 858 (1953)
([T]he venue for a proceeding in mandamus against the State Road Commission is in
Kanawha County, notwithstanding that a private corporation is a joint defendant along with
such Commission.).See footnote 6
The State Superintendent is a state official in a state agency. Consequently,
the proper venue for Ms. Ramsey's action against the State Superintendent is Kanawha
County. Thus, the circuit court of Clay County had no jurisdiction over the State
Superintendent. Therefore, it was error to deny the petitioners' motion to dismiss. See
State ex rel. Riffle v. Ranson, 195 W. Va. 121, 126, 464 S.E.2d 763, 768 (1995) (To be
clear, the West Virginia Legislature is the paramount authority for deciding and resolving
policy issues pertaining to venue matters. Once the Legislature indicates its preference by
the enactment of a statute, the Court's role is limited. Our duty is to interpret the statute,
not to expand or enlarge upon it.).
This Court has previously utilized a writ of prohibition to preclude a trial
court from proceeding to hear a case where venue was improper under W. Va. Code §
14-2-2. See, e.g., State ex rel. West Virginia Bd. of Educ. v. Perry, 189 W. Va. 662, 434
S.E.2d 22 (1993); State ex rel. Ritchie v. Triplett, 160 W. Va. 599, 236 S.E.2d 474
(1977). The rationale for a writ of prohibition is set out in Syllabus point 2 of State ex rel.
Winter v. MacQueen, 161 W. Va. 30, 239 S.E.2d 660 (1977): Prohibition will lie to
prohibit a judge from exceeding his legitimate powers. In the case sub judice, a writ of
prohibition is proper to preclude the circuit court from requiring the State Superintendent
to remain a party to the underlying action.
For the foregoing reasons, a writ of prohibition is granted prohibiting the
Circuit Court of Clay County from including the State Superintendent in this case.
The Board of Education of Clay County, which was also named as a defendant in
the underlying action, has filed a response herein indicating it takes no position on the
merits of this dispute.
The circuit court filed its order denying the dismissal directly with this Court. Ms.
Ramsey had filed an order that was not entered by the circuit court. No other response to
this Court's rule to show cause was filed by Ms. Ramsey or the circuit court.
We outlined in Syllabus point 2 of Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Department v.
State ex rel. State Human Rights Commission, 172 W. Va. 627, 309 S.E.2d 342 (1983),
the extent of judicial review under the State Administrative Procedure Act:
Upon judicial review of a contested case under the West Virginia
Administrative Procedure Act, Chapter 29A, Article 5, Section 4(g), the
circuit court may affirm the order or decision of the agency or remand the
case for further proceedings. The circuit court shall reverse, vacate or
modify the order or decision of the agency if the substantial rights of the
petitioner or petitioners have been prejudiced because the administrative
findings, inferences, conclusions, decisions or order are: (1) In violation
of constitutional or statutory provisions; or (2) In excess of the statutory
authority or jurisdiction of the agency; or (3)Made upon unlawful
procedures; or (4) Affected by other error of law; or (5) Clearly wrong in
view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record;
or (6) Arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or
clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.
4Although W. Va. Code § 29A-5-4 governs only appeals from adminstrative
decisions, the statute does not preclude a party from seeking relief from an administrative
decision through an extraordinary writ. It is specifically provided under W. Va. Code §
29A-5-4(a) that nothing in this chapter shall be deemed to prevent other means of review,
redress or relief provided by law. See Halstead v. Dials, 182 W. Va. 695, 699, 391
S.E.2d 385,389(1990)(allowing relief by extraordinary writ where appeal of administrative
decision would take too long and work an adverse consequence). When a party seeks to
challenge an adminstrative decision through an extraordinary writ, he/she does so under
the authority of the statutes permitting such writs. See W. Va. Code § 53-1-1, et seq.
5The venue provision of W. Va. Code § 14-2-2  provides in relevant part:
(a) The following proceedings shall be brought and
prosecuted only in the circuit court of Kanawha county:
(1) Any suit in which the governor, any other state
officer, or a state agency is made a party defendant, except as
garnishee or suggestee.
6We note that there are exceptions to the general rule that actions involving the State
have their proper venue in Kanawha County. See, e.g., Syllabus, Vance v. Ritchie, 178
W.Va. 155, 358 S.E.2d 239 (1987) (An action in mandamus to compel the State
Commissioner of Highways to institute condemnation proceedings and pay a property
owner just compensation for damage done to his or her real property as a result of road
work conducted by the State Department of Highways or agents thereof is within the
contemplation of W.Va.Code, 14-2-2(b)  relating to '[a]ny proceeding for injunctive
or mandamus relief involving the taking, title, or collection for or prevention of damage
to real property' which establishes proper venue in the "circuit court of the county in
which the real property affected is situate.); Syl. pt. 3, Pittsburgh Elevator Co. v. West
Virginia Bd. of Regents, 172 W.Va. 743,310 S.E.2d 675 (1983) (The exclusive venue
provision of W.Va.Code § 14-2-2 is not applicable to a cause of action wherein recovery
is sought against the liability insurance coverage of a state agency.).