The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
1. In reviewing challenges
to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court, we apply a two-prong deferential
standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under
an abuse of discretion standard, and we review the circuit court's underlying
factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject
to a de novo review. Syllabus point 2, Walker v. West Virginia
Ethics Commission, 201 W. Va. 108, 492 S.E.2d 167 (1997).
2. A motion to vacate
a judgment made pursuant to Rule 60(b), W.Va. R.C.P., is addressed to
the sound discretion of the court and the court's ruling on such motion will
not be disturbed on appeal unless there is a showing of an abuse of such discretion.
Syllabus point 5, Toler v. Shelton, 157 W. Va. 778, 204 S.E.2d 85
3. In reviewing the judgment
of a lower court this Court does not accord special weight to the lower court's
conclusions of law, and will reverse the judgment below when it is based on
an incorrect conclusion of law. Syllabus point 1, Burks v. McNeel,
164 W. Va. 654, 264 S.E.2d 651 (1980).
4. One of the purposes
of West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) is to provide a mechanism for instituting a collateral attack on a final judgment
in a civil action when certain enumerated extraordinary circumstances are present.
When such extraordinary circumstances are absent, a collateral attack is an
inappropriate means for attempting to defeat a final judgment in a civil action.
Syllabus point 2, Hustead ex rel. Adkins v. Ashland Oil, Inc., 197 W. Va.
55, 475 S.E.2d 55 (1996).
The respondents below and appellants herein, the West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles and its Commissioner, Joe E. Miller [hereinafter collectively referred to as the Commissioner or Commissioner Miller],See footnote 1 1 appeal from an amended final order entered by the Circuit Court of Kanawha County on July 18, 2000. In that order, the circuit court effectively exonerated the petitioner below and appellee herein, Douglas M. Coffman [hereinafter referred to as Coffman], by vacating its original final order and concluding that the Commissioner had improperly terminated Coffman's driving privileges following his second offense of driving while under the influence of alcohol. On appeal to this Court, the Commissioner contends that the circuit court improperly granted Coffman's motion to vacate its first final order pursuant to Rule 60(b)See footnote 2 2 of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. Upon a review of the parties' arguments, the record designated for appellate review, and the pertinent authorities, we agree that the circuit court erred by awarding Coffman his requested relief. Accordingly, the July 18, 2000, order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County is vacated, and the orders entered November 18, 1998, by the circuit court, and January 7, 1998, by the Commissioner, are reinstated.
After administering three field sobriety tests,See
footnote 3 3 and after Coffman had failed all three such tests,
as well as a preliminary breath test, Trooper Knight, at approximately 1:35
a.m., placed Coffman under arrest for second offense driving under the influence
of alcohol.See footnote 4 4
He then transported Coffman to the Randolph County Jail, where Coffman was given
a secondary chemical test and processed pursuant to his arrest. Following this
processing, which was completed at about 2:23 a.m., Coffman was lodged in the
jail pending his appearance before a magistrate.
The relevant procedural rule governing on-call magistrates,
which is set forth in Rule 1(b)(1)(A-B) of the Administrative Rules for the
Magistrate Courts of West Virginia, requires an on-call magistrate to contact
the county jail between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Fridays and between 10:00
a.m. and 11:00 a.m., and between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., on Saturdays. Pursuant
to this procedure, the on-call magistrate telephoned the Randolph County Jail
and subsequently conducted a preliminary hearing for Coffman at approximately
10:10 a.m. on Saturday, June 28, 1997.See
footnote 5 5
Thereafter, Trooper Knight reported Coffman's arrest
for second offense D.U.I. to the Division of Motor Vehicles, which, in turn,
issued an initial letter of revocation to Coffman to inform him of the pending
revocation of his privilege to drive a motor vehicle in this State and his right
to request an administrative hearing to review this decision. Pursuant to Coffman's request, an administrative hearing was
held on October 29, 1997. By order entered January 7, 1998, Commissioner Miller
concluded that the evidence was sufficient to establish that Coffman drove
a motor vehicle in this State while under the influence of alcohol on June 28,
1997. Accordingly, the Commissioner revoked Coffman's privilege to drive
in West Virginia for a period of ten years and thereafter until the Respondent
[Coffman] successfully completes the Safety and Treatment Program and pays all
costs of the program and all costs assessed as a result of the revocation hearing.See
footnote 6 6 See W. Va. Code § 17C-5A-2(i)
(1996) (Repl. Vol. 1996).
Coffman then appealed the Commissioner's decision
to the Circuit Court of Kanawha County on January 30, 1998, complaining that
he had not been promptly presented to a magistrate for a preliminary hearing,
and thus, his arrest was not lawful and could not form the basis for the revocation
of his driver's license. See W. Va. Code § 17C-5A-2(e).
A hearing was held on July 24, 1998, with a final order being issued on November
18, 1998. In that order, the circuit court affirmed the Commissioner's decision
to revoke Coffman's driving privileges.
Subsequently, on December 8, 1998, Coffman filed a
motion requesting the circuit court to vacate its final order.See
footnote 7 7 The court then stayed its November 18, 1998, order,
and, by subsequent order entered May 24, 2000, and amended July 18, 2000, vacated
its original ruling,See footnote 8 8
and that of the Commissioner,See footnote
9 9 effectively reinstating Coffman's privilege to drive. In
so ruling, the court determined that Coffman's motion had been made pursuant
to Rule 60(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure and observed that
the petitioner's [Coffman's] counsel has brought to the attention of this
Court, after its ruling herein, inconsistent rulings on the same legal issues
in the same Court.See footnote
10 10 Following this decision, the Commissioner appealed to
While we appreciate the necessity of treating Rule 60(b) motions with a liberal hand, see Syl. pt. 6, Toler, 157 W. Va. 778, 204 S.E.2d 85,See footnote 13 13 we simply cannot countenance the result obtained in the case sub judice. We have admonished lower courts that
[o]ne of the purposes of West
Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) is to provide a mechanism for instituting
a collateral attack on a final judgment in a civil action when certain enumerated
extraordinary circumstances are present. When such extraordinary circumstances
are absent, a collateral attack is an inappropriate means for attempting to defeat
a final judgment in a civil action.
Syl. pt. 2, Hustead ex rel. Adkins v. Ashland Oil, Inc., 197 W. Va. 55, 475 S.E.2d 55 (1996). Accordingly, '[r]arely is relief granted under [Rule 60(b)] because it provides a remedy that is extraordinary and is only invoked upon a showing of exceptional circumstances. Because of the judiciary's adherence to the finality doctrine, relief under this provision is not to be liberally granted.' Powderidge Unit Owners Ass'n v. Highland Props., Ltd., 196 W. Va. 692, 704 n.21, 474 S.E.2d 872, 884 n.21 (1996) (quoting Cox v. State, 194 W. Va. 210, 219 n.5, 460 S.E.2d 25, 34 n.5 (1995) (per curiam) (Cleckley, J., concurring) (citations omitted)).
Under the facts and circumstances presently before
us, we do not agree with the circuit court's assessment that such extraordinary
circumstances existed so as to warrant relief pursuant to W. Va. R. Civ.
P. 60(b). A review of the transcript for the hearing culminating in the court's
original final order indicates that Coffman's counsel thoroughly argued the
existence and relevance of that tribunal's prior decision in the Donohoe
case. For the circuit court to then conclude, in its amended final order, that
a mistake occurred insofar as it had not considered Donohoe in the rendering
of its prior decision, then, is simply erroneous. Just as we have cautioned that Rule 60(b)
motions should be granted in only the most extraordinary of circumstances, see,
e.g., Syl. pt. 2, Hustead, 197 W. Va. 55, 475 S.E.2d 55, we
likewise have advised that Rule 60(b) motions which seek merely to relitigate
legal issues heard at the underlying proceeding are without merit. Powderidge,
196 W. Va. at 705, 474 S.E.2d at 885 (footnote and citations omitted).
As this is precisely the effect of the circuit court's amended final order,
we find that the circuit court abused its discretion in so ruling. Accordingly,
we vacate the circuit court's amended final order granting Coffman's Rule 60(b)
motion and reinstate the two prior orders vacated thereby.See
footnote 14 14
Vacated and Reinstated.
[w]here the law commits a determination to a trial judge and his discretion is exercised with judicial balance, the decision should not be overruled unless the reviewing court is actuated, not by a desire to reach a different result, but by a firm
conviction that an abuse of discretion has been committed.
Intercity Realty Co. v. Gibson, 154 W. Va. 369, 377, 175 S.E.2d 452, 457 (1970) (internal quotations and citations omitted).
A court, in the exercise of
discretion given it by the remedial provisions of Rule 60(b), W.Va. R.C.P.,
should recognize that the rule is to be liberally construed for the purpose
of accomplishing justice and that it was designed to facilitate the desirable
legal objective that cases are to be decided on the merits.
Accord Syl. pt. 2, Hamilton Watch Co. v. Atlas Container, Inc., 156 W. Va. 52, 190 S.E.2d 779 (1972) (Inasmuch as courts favor the adjudication of cases on their merits, Rule 60(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure should be given a liberal construction.).