Kenneth E. Chittum, Esq. Teresa D. Daniel, Esq.
Bluefield, West Virginia Law Offices of Dana F. Eddy
Attorney for the Appellant Nationwide Trial Division
Beckley, West Virginia
Attorney for Appellee,
Howard E. Myers, III
Andrew F. Workman, Esq.
Mark L. Garren & Associates
Corporate Law Department
State Farm Mutual Automobile
Charleston, West Virginia
Attorney for Appellee
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
1. Appellate review of a circuit court's order granting a motion to
dismiss a complaint is de novo. Syllabus point 2, State ex rel. McGraw v. Scott Runyan
Pontiac-Buick, Inc., 194 W. Va. 770, 461 S.E.2d 516 (1995).
2. Rule 60(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure applies to
clerical errors made through oversight or omission which are part of the record and is not
intended to adversely affect the rights of the parties or alter the substance of the order,
judgment or record beyond what was intended. Syllabus point 3, Johnson v. Nedeff, 192
W. Va. 260, 452 S.E.2d 63 (1994).
3. The presumption that public officers discharge their duties in a regular
and proper manner is a strong presumption compelled first by experience and second by
society's interest in avoiding frivolous litigation over technicalities. Syllabus point 2, Roe
v. M & R Pipeliners, Inc., 157 W. Va. 611, 202 S.E.2d 816 (1973).
The appellant herein and plaintiff below, Loretta Wright [hereinafter referred to as Ms. Wright], appeals from an order entered January 15, 2003, by the Circuit Court of Monroe County. By that order, the court dismissed as untimely filed Ms. Wright's complaint seeking damages from the appellees herein and defendants below, Howard E. Myers, III [hereinafter referred to as Mr. Myers], and Lawrence Hoke [hereinafter referred to as Mr. Hoke], for injuries she sustained in an automobile accident. Upon a review of the parties' arguments, the record submitted for appellate consideration, and the pertinent authorities, we reverse the decision of the Circuit Court of Monroe County and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
In response to this late filing, Mr. Hoke moved, on October 18, 2002, to
dismiss Ms. Wright's complaint as untimely filed; Mr. Myers made a similar motion to
dismiss on October 22, 2002. During a hearing on the matter, Ms. Wright presented the
affidavit of the circuit clerk who averred that I feel that I honestly received this complaint
in a timely manner, however the date-stamp was inadvertently omitted on the day of
arrival. In further support of her position, Ms. Wright urged the court to grant her relief
from the clerk's clerical error pursuant to Rule 60(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil
(See footnote 3)
Ultimately, however, the circuit court denied Ms. Wright's request for relief
and granted the defendants' motions to dismiss, finding that Ms. Wright had failed to timely
file her complaint or demonstrate the applicability of an exception to the governing statute
of limitations. From this adverse ruling, Ms. Wright appeals to this Court.
Both Mr. Myers and Mr. Hoke respond that the circuit court properly
dismissed Ms. Wright's complaint as untimely filed. In support of their argument, they
urge that Ms. Wright has failed to prove that the circuit clerk did, in fact, properly discharge
her official duties and contend that Ms. Wright has failed to demonstrate that the circuit
court abused its discretion in denying her request for relief pursuant to W. Va. R. Civ. P.
Typically, we have held that statutes of limitations impose very strict temporal requirements within which a cause of action must be initiated. See, e.g., Syl. pt. 2, Perdue v. Hess, 199 W. Va. 299, 484 S.E.2d 182 (1997) (The ultimate purpose of statutes of limitations is to require the institution of a cause of action within a reasonable time.); Syl. pt. 1, in part, Stevens v. Saunders, 159 W. Va. 179, 220 S.E.2d 887 (1975) (Statutes of limitation are statutes of repose and the legislative purpose is to compel the exercise of a right of action within a reasonable time[.]), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Frantz v. Palmer, 211 W. Va. 188, 564 S.E.2d 398 (2001). Failure to file a lawsuit within such time periods usually results in the dismissal of the action as having been untimely filed.
When, however, clerical errors have potentially occurred which would
prevent an otherwise timely filed complaint from being designated as such, courts are
permitted to look beyond the rigid time limits and to ascertain whether, in fact, the
plaintiff's failure to timely file his/her cause of action is attributable to such alleged clerical
error. To this end, Rule 60(a) of the West Virginia Rule of Civil Procedure directs that
[c]lerical mistakes in judgments, orders or other parts of the record and errors therein arising from oversight or omission may be corrected by the court at any time of its own initiative or on the motion of any party and after such notice, if any, as the court orders.
Rule 60(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure applies to clerical errors made through oversight or omission which are part of the record and is not intended to adversely affect the rights of the parties or alter the substance of the order, judgment or record beyond what was intended.
Syl. pt. 3, Johnson v. Nedeff, 192 W. Va. 260, 452 S.E.2d 63 (1994). Accord Syl. pt. 4, Barber v. Barber, 195 W. Va. 38, 464 S.E.2d 358 (1995). This authority to correct clerical errors is also an inherent part of the judicial power accorded to circuit courts. See, e.g., Syl. pt. 1, in part, Highland v. Strosnider, 118 W. Va. 647, 191 S.E. 531 (1937) (A court has inherent power at any time, except as restrained by statute, to correct an error of record which prevents it from expressing the judgment rendered[.]); id., 118 W. Va. at 648, 191 S.E. at 531 (The errors which a judge or court has inherent power to correct . . . are limited to clerical and such other errors of record[.] (citations omitted)).
In light of the evidence presented to the circuit court, we are of the opinion
that the lower court abused its discretion by not thoroughly considering Ms. Wright's
request for relief pursuant to Rule 60(a). To support her contention that she had timely filed
her complaint, Ms. Wright presented a memorandum memorializing the filing of the
complaint which her counsel had dated on August 7, 2002, when he allegedly mailed the
complaint to the Monroe County Circuit Clerk's Office.
Furthermore, it is widely accepted that, in general, public officers fulfill their official duties according to the requirements of their office. This is so because [t]he presumption that public officers discharge their duties in a regular and proper manner is a strong presumption compelled first by experience and second by society's interest in avoiding frivolous litigation over technicalities. Syl. pt. 2, Roe v. M & R Pipeliners, Inc., 157 W. Va. 611, 202 S.E.2d 816 (1973). Accord Syl. pt. 2, Winston v. Wood, 190 W. Va. 194, 437 S.E.2d 767 (1993) (per curiam). In this regard, Ms. Wright tendered an affidavit of the circuit court clerk wherein the clerk averred that she received for filing in this office a Complaint & Memorandum in the above-styled case. I feel that I honestly received this complaint in a timely manner, however the date-stamp was inadvertently omitted on the day of arrival.
Based upon the persuasive evidence presented by Ms. Wright in defense of the defendants' motions to dismiss, we conclude that the proper remedy in this case is to direct the circuit court to reconsider whether the Circuit Clerk of Monroe County timely received Ms. Wright's complaint for filing before the statute of limitations had expired and whether the clerk's failure to earlier date-stamp Ms. Wright's complaint was a simple clerical error. Accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's order dismissing Ms. Wright's complaint as untimely filed and remand this case for the circuit court to reconsider the evidence presented by the parties. In addition to that evidence which is already a matter of record in this case, we also urge the circuit court to consider the actual testimony of the circuit court clerk as well as the date of Ms. Wright's check to the circuit clerk that was tendered as payment for the filing fees associated with her complaint and the date of the circuit clerk's bank slip depositing the same.
Reversed and Remanded.
Rule 3 of the West Virginia
Rules of Civil Procedure requires, in mandatory language, that a completed
civil case information statement accompany a complaint submitted to the circuit
clerk for filing. In the absence of a completed civil case information statement,
the clerk is without authority to file the complaint.
Syl. pt. 5, Cable v. Hatfield, 202 W. Va. 638, 505 S.E.2d 701 (1998).