The West Virginia Business Court Division recently issued its 2020 Annual Report. A copy of the report can be found here.
This nine-year old business court is described generally as follows:
The West Virginia Business Court Division is a specialized court docket established to efficiently manage and resolve litigation involving commercial issues and disputes between businesses. The division judges’ case management techniques, specialized training, experience in business principles, and knowledgeable and timely decisions on motions and discovery issues in complex litigation reduces litigation costs for businesses and creates a more efficient judicial system. Additionally, the Business Court Judges’ mediation training and experience, along with the alternative dispute resolution aspect of Trial Court Rule 29, allow the resolution judges to offer various alternative dispute resolution options throughout the litigation process, resolving a considerable number of cases in a timely manner, short of trial.
There are seven business court judges appointed by West Virginia’s Chief Justice, six active judges and one senior judge. “The active judges maintain their own general dockets and have agreed to undertake the additional caseload because they have an interest and expertise in business litigation.” These business court judges “receive specialized training in business law subjects and are members of the American College of Business Court Judges. Some are or have been members of the American Bar Association Business Law Section. The Division judges typically meet biannually at the judicial conferences to discuss new developments, caseload distribution, case management techniques, and any other issues that may need addressed.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, this business court continued to use video or teleconferencing technology, which had been in place well before the pandemic. Further, two cases even proceeded to trial in 2020, including a jury trial and 17-day bench trial. The court did implement Covid-19 protocols and precautions to allow those trials to go forward, including: a supplemental jury questionnaire on excusing jurors for Covid-19 or other medical reasons; holding jury selection offsite; requiring masks; counsel not approaching the jury box; “[a]ny out-of-town attorneys and witnesses traveling from Supreme Court-designated “red” or “hot spot” areas were required to test and/or quarantine before trial,”; some remote testimony; and spreading out and rearranging tables in the courtroom to keep social distancing.
Case statistics and the use of ADR
Thirteen new cases were taken into the Business Court Division in 2020. This was the first year in which all motions to include cases within the Division only came from the parties, with no requests from judges. Of the 116 cases received in the Division since its creation, 91 have been disposed.
The report also observes, “[m]ost cases are assigned a resolution judge to assist in the resolution of the case upon transfer to the Business Court Division.” These resolution judges work to narrow issues early in the case, and typically schedule mediations and status hearings early in a case. Additional mediation sessions require agreement of all parties, or direction of the presiding judge. Resolution judges and the parties are encouraged to think outside the box in coming up with suitable ADR processes.