JUSTICE DAVIS delivered the Opinion of the Court.
JUSTICE BENJAMIN, deeming himself disqualified, did not participate in the decision of this case.
JUDGE JOLLIFFE, sitting by temporary assignment.
CHIEF JUSTICE ALBRIGHT dissents and reserves the right to file a dissenting opinion.
This appeal was filed by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways, appellant/petitioner below (hereinafter referred to as DOT), from an order of the Circuit Court of Logan County granting partial summary judgment (See footnote 1) to Joyce L. Robertson, appellee/defendant below (hereinafter referred to as Ms. Robertson). Additionally, the circuit court's order was adverse to Ethel Erickson, an intervener. However, Ms. Erickson has not appealed the adverse decision. Here, DOT contends that the circuit court committed error in denying its motion for partial summary judgment. After thoroughly reviewing the briefs, the record designated for appellate review, and pertinent authorities, we affirm in part and reverse in part the lower court's ruling and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Standing is comprised of three elements: First, the party attempting to establish standing must have suffered an injury-in-fact--an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent and not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct forming the basis of the lawsuit. Third, it must be likely that the injury will be redressed through a favorable decision of the court.
213 S.E.2d 80, 576 S.E.2d 807. We believe the procedural facts of this case support DOT's
standing to bring this appeal.
First, as a consequence of the partial summary judgment order, DOT has sustained an injury-in-fact. As previously noted, DOT filed a separate motion for partial summary judgment. Ms. Robertson filed a response to the motion. In that response, Ms. Robertson argued that should the court find that she was the owner of the 22.33 acres, then the court should hold DOT liable to her for the coal minerals underlying the additional acreage. The partial summary judgment order stated [t]he Court has studied all the motions, the responses to the motions, the memoranda of law, affidavits, depositions, and exhibits submitted by the parties. . . . As a result of these deliberations . . . the Court has concluded that Defendant Robertson is entitled to Summary Judgment. The order expressly stated that the circuit court considered all of the motions, which would include DOT's motion for partial summary judgment and Ms. Robertson's response. Thus, absent specific language in the order excluding its application to DOT's partial summary judgment motion, we must presume that in granting Ms. Robertson partial summary judgment, the circuit court's ruling meant that not only did Ms. Robertson own the disputed 22.33 acres, but that she would also be allowed to claim compensation for coal minerals underlying the 22.33 acres. (See footnote 14) Consequently, the injury-in-fact to DOT is that the circuit court's order exposes it to compensate Ms. Robertson for coal minerals underlying an additional 22.33 acres, as opposed to only 11.08 acres.
Second, there is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct forming the basis of the lawsuit. The injury to DOT is the increased liability for additional coal minerals. This injury is directly connected to the conduct forming the basis of the litigation. That is, the litigation has continued solely because the parties could not agree on the amount of compensation Ms. Robertson should receive for the coal minerals. Finally, the injury-in-fact can be redressed through a favorable decision of this Court. Accordingly, we find that DOT has standing to appeal the lower court's partial summary judgment order.
Roda was a condemnation proceeding in which the Department of Highways
sought to condemn property for the construction of a highway. During some period prior to
filing an application to condemn the property, contractors for DOH began excavation work
on the property, which included removing coal. DOH eventually filed an application to
condemn the property in August of 1974. The case lingered in court until July of 1984, when
a trial was held to determine the value of the coal that had been removed. Roda is unclear
on this point, but it appears that the coal was virtually worthless prior to the date that DOH
filed its application. However, on the date the application was filed, the coal obtained a
market value. Consequently, the landowners filed a pretrial motion in limine seeking to
prevent DOH from presenting evidence as to the value of the coal prior to the date of the
take, i.e., prior to the date the condemnation application was filed. The trial court granted
the motion. The jury returned a verdict holding DOH liable to the landowners for the sum
of $890,136.00 as just compensation for the coal. DOH appealed.
One of the issues presented in Roda was a determination of the appropriate date upon which condemned property should be valued. To resolve this issue the Court looked for guidance from decisions in other jurisdictions. Ultimately, Roda held that, in eminent domain proceedings, the date of take for the purpose of determining the fair market value of property . . . is the date on which the property is lawfully taken by the commencement of appropriate legal proceedings pursuant to W. Va. Code, 54-2-14a[.]. Roda, 177 W. Va. at 387, 352 S.E.2d at 139. Consequently, Roda affirmed the judgment against DOH.
Here, DOT has asserted that the date of the take was April 17, 2000, when it filed its condemnation application. Further, DOT contends that, under Roda, it was the date of the take that established the extent of Ms. Robertson's interests in the property being condemned and the property affected by the condemnation. Consequently, DOT contends that under Roda, Ms. Robertson could not assert a property interest greater than that which was established on the date of the take. We do not accept DOT's interpretation of Roda. The decision in Roda was not concerned with, nor did it address the issue of, the extent of a landowner's interest in property on the date of the take. Roda stands for the proposition that whenever a determination of the value of property is made, that determination must be based upon the fair market value of the property when the condemnation application was filed. Neither Roda nor the provisions in W. Va. Code § 54-2-14a address the issue of the extent of a landowner's property on the date of the take. Thus, this argument was insufficient to preclude partial summary judgment against DOT. (See footnote 16)
A party claiming that judicial estoppel bars another party from
re-litigating an issue must show: (1) the estopped party had knowledge of the
facts at the time he or she took the original position; (2) the estopped party
succeeded in maintaining the original position; (3) the position presently taken
is inconsistent with the original position; and (4) the original position misled
the adverse party so that allowing the estopped party to change its position
would injuriously affect the adverse party.
Stanley L. & Carolyn M. Watkins Trust v. Lacosta, 92 P.3d 620, 627 (Mont. 2004). Likewise, a Court of Appeals of California established the following criteria for determining when the doctrine of judicial estoppel applies:
In accordance with the purpose of judicial estoppel, we conclude that
the doctrine should apply when: (1) the same party has taken two positions; (2)
the positions were taken in judicial or quasi-judicial administrative
proceedings; (3) the party was successful in asserting the first position (i.e., the
tribunal adopted the position or accepted it as true); (4) the two positions are
totally inconsistent; and (5) the first position was not taken as a result of
ignorance, fraud, or mistake.
Jackson v. County of Los Angeles, 70 Cal. Rptr. 2d 96, 103 (1998). Similarly, a Court of Appeals of Texas set out the following criteria for determining when the doctrine of judicial estoppel applies:
Under Texas law, the elements for judicial estoppel are: (1) the opponent made a sworn, inconsistent statement in a prior judicial proceeding; (2) the opponent gained some advantage by the prior statement; (3) the statement was not made inadvertently or because of mistake, fraud or duress; and (4) the statement was deliberate, clear and unequivocal.
Dallas Sales Co., Inc. v. Carlisle Silver Co., Inc., 134 S.W.3d 928, 930 (Tex. Ct. App. 2004).
Moreover, the Supreme Court of South Carolina established the following criteria for determining when the doctrine of judicial estoppel applies:
We now adopt the following elements necessary for the doctrine to apply: (1) two inconsistent positions taken by the same party or parties in privity with one another; (2) the positions must be taken in the same or related proceedings involving the same party or parties in privity with each other; (3) the party taking the position must have been successful in maintaining that position and have received some benefit; (4) the inconsistency must be part of an intentional effort to mislead the court; and (5) the two positions must be totally inconsistent.
Cothran v. Brown, 592 S.E.2d 629, 632 (S.C. 2004). In the same vein, the Supreme Court of Arkansas established the following criteria for determining when the doctrine of judicial estoppel applies:
A prima facie case of judicial estoppel includes four elements: 1. A
party must assume a position clearly inconsistent with a position taken in an earlier case, or with a position taken in the same case; 2. A party must assume the inconsistent position with the intent to manipulate the judicial process to gain an unfair advantage; 3. A party must have successfully maintained the position in an earlier proceeding such that the court relied upon the position taken; and, 4. The integrity of the judicial process of at least one court must be impaired or injured by the inconsistent positions taken.
Dupwe v. Wallace, 140 S.W.3d 464, 467 (Ark. 2004).
After thoroughly considering the foregoing factors employed by courts to examine whether the doctrine of judicial estoppel may be invoked, we now hold that judicial estoppel bars a party from re-litigating an issue when: (1) the party assumed a position on the issue that is clearly inconsistent with a position taken in a previous case, or with a position taken earlier in the same case; (2) the positions were taken in proceedings involving the same adverse party; (3) the party taking the inconsistent positions received some benefit from his/her original position; and (4) the original position misled the adverse party so that allowing the estopped party to change his/her position would injuriously affect the adverse party and the integrity of the judicial process. We will now apply the factors of our test to the facts of this case.
(1) Inconsistent positions. The first issue we must examine involves a determination of whether Ms. Robertson assumed a position on the accuracy of the metes and bounds descriptions of Parcel 8-1, as reflected in the deed, that was clearly inconsistent with a position taken by her earlier in the same case. In Ms. Robertson's response to DOT's motion for partial summary judgment, she argued that she had been claiming additional acreage since she contracted for the purchase of the property in 1995 - over six years prior to the taking at issue. (See footnote 20) The position adopted by Ms. Robertson, for purposes of partial summary judgment, was inconsistent with the position she took when the partial final order was entered on April 10, 2001.
When the partial final order was entered, the record in the case reflected that the metes and bounds descriptions of Parcel 8-1, as set out in Ms. Robertson's deed, contained only 11.08 acres. Ms. Robertson does not dispute this fact. When the trial court accepted the parties' partial settlement agreement, the court and DOT were under the impression that the metes and bounds descriptions in the deed for Parcel 8-1 were correct and that Parcel 8-1 contained only 11.08 acres. It was not until approximately two years after the circuit court entered the partial final order that Ms. Robertson represented to the court and DOT that the metes and bounds descriptions in the deed for Parcel 8-1 were incorrect and that Parcel 8-1 contained an additional 22.33 acres.
In sum, for the purposes of the partial final order, Ms. Robertson led the court
and DOT to believe that the deed for Parcel 8-1 was correct and that she owned only 11.08
acres. Only after the partial final order obligated DOT to compensate Ms. Robertson for the
coal minerals under Parcel 8-1 did she take the inconsistent position that the deed for Parcel
8-1 was incorrect and that Parcel 8-1 contained an additional 22.33 acres.
(2) Same parties. The next element of our judicial estoppel test requires a determination of whether the inconsistent positions taken by Ms. Robertson occurred in a proceeding involving the same adverse party. The record in this case is quite clear. The inconsistent positions taken by Ms. Robertson occurred in the same condemnation proceeding filed by DOT.
(3) Benefit received. The third element of the test demands that we determine whether Ms. Robertson received some benefit from the original position she took in the case. The record clearly illustrates that Ms. Robertson benefitted from her original position. As a result of Ms. Robertson's representation to DOT that the metes and bounds descriptions for Parcel 8-1 were correct and that Parcel 8-1 contained only 11.08 acres, DOT agreed to pay and did pay her nearly 2 million dollars for Parcel 8-1. Additionally, DOT agreed to compensate her for coal minerals underlying Parcel 8-1 based upon the metes and bounds description in the deed.
( 4) The new position injures DOT. The final element of our judicial estoppel
test requires a determination of whether Ms. Robertson's original position misled DOT and
whether allowing her to change her position would injuriously affect DOT and the integrity
of the judicial process. Ms. Robertson represented to DOT, through her deed, that Parcel 8-1
was only 11.08 acres. Acting upon this representation, DOT entered into an agreement that
obligated DOT to compensate Ms. Robertson for coal minerals underlying 11.08 acres. The
new position taken by Ms. Robertson now obligates DOT to compensate her for coal
minerals underlying an additional 22.33 acres. Obviously, DOT is injured by the new
Moreover, the integrity of the judicial process is adversely affected by the new position taken by Ms. Robertson. The parties entered into a voluntary agreement that obligated DOT to compensate Ms. Robertson for coal minerals underlying Parcel 8-1, as described by the metes and bounds in the deed. The parties asked the trial court to reflect their agreement in a partial final order. That order judicially required DOT to compensate Ms. Robertson for the coal minerals underlying Parcel 8-1. Only after Ms. Robertson obtained a court order obligating DOT to compensate her for the coal minerals did she decide to disclose to the court and DOT that the metes and bounds description in the deed for Parcel 8-1 was inaccurate. Rather than, for example, asking the court to set aside its partial final order and tender back to DOT the approximately 2 million dollars she received, Ms. Robertson sought to take advantage of the binding nature of the partial final order by making DOT compensate her for an additional 22.33 acres that she claims are part of Parcel 8-1. Clearly, Ms. Robertson's position insults the integrity of the judicial process. State v. Fouse, 355 N.W.2d 366, 370 (Wis. Ct. App. 1984).
The inconsistent positions advanced by Ms. Robertson operate to defeat goals designed to promote . . . respect for the judicial system. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Mandile, 963 P.2d 295, 299 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1998). The judicial system of this State is not designed to promote footloose tactics by litigants that lead to gotcha justice. Our system is designed to dispense justice based upon truth-seeking fair and impartial proceedings. Truth is the foundation of our system. Without [it], our system would be a complete farce and cease to dispense justice. In re Estate of Law, 869 So. 2d 1027, 1030 (Miss. 2004). The integrity and respect of our court system, founded on the search for truth and the adherence to principles of fundamental fairness, depends upon circuit court judges, attorneys that practice before them, and witnesses in all matters to act with forthright conviction and a commitment to truthfulness. In re A.Y., 677 N.W.2d 684, 689-90 (Wis. Ct. App. 2004). To permit Ms. Robertson to take inconsistent positions in this case impedes, rather than promotes, the truth-seeking function of the judiciary and thereby hinders public confidence in the integrity of the judicial process. People v. Goldston, 682 N.W.2d 479, 488 n.9 (Mich. 2004).
(5) The elements of judicial estoppel have been satisfied. Having applied the facts of this case to the elements of our judicial estoppel test, we conclude that Ms. Robertson should be, and is, estopped from seeking compensation from DOT for coal minerals underlying the additional 22.33 acres. Consequently, we reverse the circuit court's denial of DOT's motion for partial summary judgment.