WV's new business court explores new territory - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

WV's new business court explores new territory

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The state's newest addition to its court family is exploring new territory and two Steptoe & Johnson attorneys say it could be a better and faster place for business disputes.

The business court division, which went live Oct. 10, is not actually a separate court, explained Russell Jessee in a recent Steptoe & Johnson webinar.

"All cases that eventually will end up in the business court division still begin in circuit court following a complaint filed there," explained Jessee, who is a member at Steptoe's Charleston office. "It's not an intermediate appellate court. It doesn't have any separate jurisdiction. It's a specialized area of the circuit court to specifically handle business disputes."

Divided into seven regions, the division will hear business against business disputes. Although business disputes cover a broad spectrum, the division will not hear cases such as consumer litigation, commercial insurance disputes, bad faith actions or criminal cases.   

"It clearly could involve even sole proprietorship since it's still a business entity. Entry to a business court division does not turn on the type of business entity or how many people are involved in that business," Jessee explained. "Beyond that, it remains to be seen I could conceive that two members of a two member LLC could have a dispute that would be a dispute of governance of a business."

The case would not immediately go to the division, however. Jessee said parties would file a motion in the circuit court and then the state Supreme Court chief justice would approve or deny the motion.

Jessee said it is up to judicial interpretation if litigants disagree on transferring to the division.

"An alternative division for moving a case is to have a judge make a motion to transfer the case," explained Deva Solomon, an associate at Steptoe's Morgantown office.  

However, the circuit court case will not be completely on hold. Parties still may seek preliminary injunctions or even a dismissal while the case is before the business court.

"Parties can seek relief. They can still seek preliminary injunction. They can make a motion to dismiss without delay," Jessee said.

Solomon said the division's goal is to resolve cases within 11 months from the date the initial case management document was filed.

"Nothing in the rule provides a penalty if that does not occur. It's set forth in the rules as expectations. We think one of the good things about the business court division. First, there are few cases and judges are going to pay a lot more attention to the business cases for several reasons," Solomon said.

Solomon said the division will be good for business because judges will receive issues unique to businesses, will be more knowledgeable on the types of cases and the 11-month timeframe could mean a faster resolution.

Up to seven judges will serve seven-year staggered terms. Judges will serve on the court with no additional pay.

According to a state Supreme Court news release, four judges have been appointed so far.

Chief Justice Menis Ketchum appointed 11th Judicial Circuit Judge James Rowe (Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties), 24th Judicial Circuit Judge James Young, Jr. (Wayne County) and  T 22nd Judicial Circuit Judge Donald Cookman (Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties) to serve with 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes (Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties).

Although the court is headquartered in Martinsburg, Jessee said it is important to remember that business court judges will travel to cases. They also may have telephonic cases.

"The intent of the Supreme Court in setting it up is the cases remain in circuit court where they are filed. You don't have to worry about a radical change in venue," Jessee said.

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