West Virginia Business Court Division’s 2019 Annual Report

In late 2012, West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals established the Business Court Division of West Virginia’s Circuit Court. The Business Court Division recently made its 2019 annual report to the Supreme Court, as required by the state’s trial court rules. A copy of the report can be found here.The report covers the Business Court’s creation, purpose, jurisdiction, and judiciary, including the specialized training of its judges, as well as a range of statistical information.

Business Court Web Page Updated to Include Significant Opinions

In 2019, the Business Court’s web page was “updated and now loads the most recent significant orders on the home page with a tab that will contain a perpetual list of all significant orders moving forward.” That link can be found here.

New Arbitration Rules in the Works

In 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeals issued an opinion, West Virginia Management Board v. Variable Annuity Life Ins. Co., upholding arbitration by Business Court Division Judges. The Supreme Court noted, however, that “at least in the context of arbitrations, litigants and courts would benefit from additional rulemaking….” As a result, the “Division Judges are in the process of proposing arbitration rules to the [Supreme] Court for adoption.” A copy of West Virginia Management Board v. Variable Annuity Life Ins. Co. can be found here.

Case Assignment, ADR and Resolution Judges

The Chief Justice serves as the gatekeeper in determining which cases go onto the Business Court Division’s docket. If a case is accepted, the Business Court Division’s Chair assigns both a presiding judge and a resolution judge to that case. (Resolution judges are described here.)

Under the heading “Resolutions” the 2019 report states:

Most cases are assigned a resolution judge to assist in the resolution of the case upon transfer to the Business Court Division. Generally, mediation or a status hearing is scheduled early in the case by the resolution judge with additional mediation sessions scheduled upon the agreement of parties or at the direction of the presiding judge. Early on, the resolution judge works with the parties and counsel in identifying and narrowing issues, oftentimes leading to a later full-settlement of the case or a shortened trial. Trial Court Rule 29.08(h), authorizes the resolution judge to conduct any alternative dispute resolution as agreed to by the parties and the resolution judge, which allow the parties and judge to think “outside the box” in developing cost effective ways of resolving complex business litigation. In 2019, the Business Court Resolution Judges scheduled 15 mediations or status hearings regarding mediation. Table 6 shows that 75% of the disposed cases in 2019, were disposed by an agreed order of dismissal.

Statistical Summary

As reflected in the report’s summary and accompanying data, West Virginia’s Business Court Division is not a high volume docket, but focuses on the most complex business and commercial cases:

Overall, there have been 179 motions to refer considered by the presiding Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, since October of 2012. Of those, 103 cases have been transferred to the Business Court Division. There have been 86 disposed cases, leaving 17 pending cases.

In 2019, 14 motions to refer from nine counties were filed. Of those, 10 were deemed to be complex business litigation by the Chief Justice, as required by Trial Court Rule 29.04(a)(1), and were transferred to the Business Court Division. The average case age of the cases disposed in 2019 was 654 days. The average case age of the cases pending in the business court is 451 days. The Division Judges scheduled approximately 60 hearings, decided approximately 145 motions, and entered approximately 210 orders in the 12 cases disposed of over the past year. Additionally, there were 15 mediations or mediation status hearings scheduled by the resolution judges in 2019. Of the disposed cases in 2019, 75% of the cases were settled partially or completely by agreement of the parties, resulting in agreed dismissal orders.