Marvin W. Masters
Rachael A. Carrico
Masters & Taylor
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellants
Charles R. Bailey
Bailey & Wyant
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorney for the Appellees,
Kanawha County Sheriff's Department,
County Commission of Kanawha County,
and 911 Emergency Service
Ancil G. Ramey
Joanna I. Tabit
Steptoe & Johnson
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellee,
City of St. Albans
Thomas J. Gillooly
John A. Singleton
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellee,
Abbott's Garage & Wrecker Service
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
JUSTICE McGRAW dissents and reserves the right to file a dissenting opinion.
1. Appellate review of a circuit court's order
granting a motion to dismiss a complaint is de novo. Syl. Pt.
2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W.Va.
770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995).
2. 'A motion for summary judgment should be
granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be
tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application
of the law.' Syllabus Point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Federal
Insurance Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).
Syllabus Point 1, Andrick v. Town of Buckhannon, 187 W.Va. 706, 421
S.E.2d 247 (1992).
3. Summary judgment is appropriate if, from
the totality of the evidence presented, the record could not lead a rational
trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving
party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the
case that it has the burden to prove. Syl. Pt. 2, Williams v. Precision
Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995).
4. If the moving party makes a properly supported
motion for summary judgment and can show by affirmative evidence that there
is no genuine issue of a material fact, the burden of production shifts to
the nonmoving party who must either (1) rehabilitate the evidence attacked by the moving party, (2) produce additional evidence showing
the existence of a genuine issue for trial, or (3) submit an affidavit explaining
why further discovery is necessary as provided in Rule 56(f) of the West Virginia
Rules of Civil Procedure. Syl. Pt. 3, Williams v. Precision Coil,
Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995).
Allstate Wrecker Service (Allstate)
appeals from an adverse order entered by the Circuit Court of Kanawha County
on December 5, 2000, granting summary judgment to the Kanawha County Sheriff's
Department (Sheriff's Department); the Kanawha County Commission;
911 Emergency Services; and the City of St. Albans (hereinafter collectively
referred to as the governmental Appellees); and granting the motion
to dismiss filed by Appellee Abbott's Garage and Wrecker Service (Abbott's).
In the underlying action, Allstate complained of the methods used by the governmental
Appellees in connection with requests for towing services, asserting that
the call referral system was in violation of state antitrust laws; constituted
a conspiracy to restrain trade; tortiously interfered with prospective business
relationships; and was a breach of contract. Upon our full review of this
matter, we find no error and, accordingly, affirm.
As part of its attempt to implement a rotational system of towing referrals, the Sheriff's Department informed all the towing companies of a meeting specifically scheduled for the purpose of working out the geographical boundaries necessary to implement the contemplated rotation list. (See footnote 5) Due, however, to the inability of the towing companies to reach an agreement regarding the required geographical boundaries, such a system never eventualized. Consequently, the Sheriff's Department informed all the towing companies that a rotational system was not going to be used and that the long-standing practice of utilizing the nearest towing company to the stranded vehicle, or alternatively, the company specifically requested by a particular motorist, would again be the standard operating practice. The decision not to implement a rotational system of towing call referrals prompted the filing of Allstate's complaint below. (See footnote 6)
Shortly after Allstate filed the underlying lawsuit,
Abbott's filed a motion seeking dismissal for failure to state a claim.
(See footnote 7)
After engaging in discovery that was limited to interrogatory requests
and answers, the respective governmental Appellees filed motions for summary
judgment, wherein they argued that summary judgment was appropriate on two separate
bases: (1) the failure of Allstate to establish a genuine issue of material
fact; and (2) a legal defense of immunity arising under the provision of the
Governmental Tort Claims and Insurance Reform Act that extends immunity in connection
with the methods of providing law enforcement. See W.Va. Code §
29-12A-5(a)(5) (1986) (Repl.Vol.2001).
(See footnote 8)
After holding two hearings on the propriety of the
pending motions for dismissal and summary judgment, the circuit court ruled
that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding the allegations
against the governmental defendants, after finding that Allstate had
presented no evidence of a monopoly, conspiracy or tortious interference
with business relationships by the Public Defendants or Abbotts. The
lower court further found that the governmental Appellees were entitled to immunity pursuant to West Virginia
Code § 29-12A- 5(a)(5) for all of the claims asserted against them by
Allstate. In addition to granting the summary judgment motions, the circuit
court granted Abbott's motion to dismiss. Allstate seeks a reversal of these
dispositive rulings and a trial on the merits of the case.
We explained in syllabus point two of Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc.,
194 W.Va. 52, 459 S.E.2d 329 (1995), that
[s]ummary judgment is appropriate if, from the totality of the evidence presented, the record could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, such as where the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of the case that it has the burden to prove.
With regard to the burden of responding to a motion
for summary judgment, we articulated in Williams that
[i]f the moving party makes a properly supported motion for summary judgment and can show by affirmative evidence that there is no genuine issue of a material fact, the burden of production shifts to the nonmoving party who must either (1) rehabilitate the evidence attacked by the moving party, (2) produce additional evidence showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial, or (3) submit an affidavit explaining why further discovery is necessary as provided in Rule 56(f) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.
194 W.Va. at 56, 459 S.E.2d at 333, syl. pt. 3.
The only evidentiary response that Allstate made
to the governmental Appellees' motions for summary judgment was to submit
an affidavit prepared by trial counsel. This affidavit contains averments
that, based on trial counsel's review of information provided during discovery
concerning the period of July 1995 to April 1997, only 37 towing calls were
received by Allstate, as compared to 162 by Abbott's. In limiting its evidentiary
response to an affidavit that focused solely on the numerical disparity of
towing calls between Allstate and Abbott's, Allstate clearly failed to meet its evidentiary burden of production.
By singularly relying on this affidavit, which did not provide evidence supportive
of the allegations of monopoly; restraint of trade; conspiracy; or tortious
interference with business relationships, Allstate failed to comply with any
of the three methods established in Williams for challenging a party's
evidentiary-based motion for summary judgment. See 194 W.Va. at 56,
459 S.E.2d at 333, syl. pt. 3.
Under Rule 56, the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact that is demonstrated by the pleadings; depositions; admissions;
and affidavits entitles the moving party to summary judgment. It is well-settled
that the nonmoving party must take the initiative and by affirmative
evidence demonstrate that a genuine issue of fact exists. Painter,
192 W.Va. at 192, n. 5, 451 S.E.2d at 758, n. 5. The quantity of evidence
necessary to defeat a motion for summary judgment is more than a mere
'scintilla of evidence.' Id. at 192, 451 S.E.2d at 758 (quoting
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). In this
case, clearly nothing but a 'scintilla of evidence' was produced
in response to the governmental Appellees' motions for summary judgment. Id.
Notwithstanding our obligation to view the underlying facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the nonmoving party must nonetheless offer some 'concrete evidence from which a reasonable . . . [finder of fact] could return a verdict in . . . [its] favor' or other 'significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint.' Painter, 192 W.Va. at 193, 451 S.E.2d at 759 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256, quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 290 (1968)). Upon our review of the record in this case, we agree with the lower court's determination that the Plaintiffs presented no evidence of a monopoly, conspiracy or tortious interference with business relationships by the Public Defendants or Abbotts. Given the dearth of evidence offered in support of the averments set forth in the complaint, we find no error in the lower court's decision to grant summary judgment to the governmental Appellees. Based on the insufficient evidentiary response to the governmental Appellees' motion for summary judgment, we see no need to explore the second ground upon which summary judgment was moved for: legal immunity under West Virginia Code § 29-12A-5(a)(5).
Due to the fact that the circuit court considered
matters outside the pleadings when ruling on Abbott's motion to dismiss, the
motion was converted to a motion for summary judgment under the provisions
of Rule 12(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. See W.Va.R.Civ.P.12(b)
(stating that [i]f, on a motion asserting the defense numbered (6) to
dismiss for failure of the pleading to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted, matters outside the pleading are presented to and not excluded
by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and
disposed of as provided in Rule 56); accord Easterling v.
American Optical Corp., 207 W.Va. 123, 128, 529 S.E.2d 588, 593 (2000).
Notwithstanding this procedural conversion, we find no error in the lower
court's decision to grant judgment to Abbott's based on the paucity of evidence
with regard to the claims brought by Allstate against Abbott's. Allstate simply
failed to present a genuine issue of fact with regard to its claims against
Allstate. See W.Va.R.Civ.P.56.
Based upon our review of this matter against the record
submitted, we find no error and, accordingly, affirm the decision of the Circuit
Court of Kanawha County.
(a) Every three years, the
county commission of each county or the municipality operating an emergency
telephone system or an enhanced emergency telephone system shall, in consultation
with all public safety units, public agencies and all available towing services
registered as common carriers pursuant to the provisions chapter twenty-four-a
of this code, establish a policy that provides for the most prompt, fair,
equitable and effective response to requests or dispatches for emergency towing
(b) For each incident where towing services are required, the public agency procuring towing services shall maintain a public record of the name of the towing service utilized.
Id. (emphasis supplied). This legislation went into effect on July 12, 2001, ninety days after the passage of Senate Bill 461. See W.Va. Acts 2001, ch.122.