State Business Court now looking for cases

PARKERSBURG – West Virginia’s new Business Court has gotten under way and is looking for cases to handle, a local attorney said.

Aaron Boone from the law firm of Bowles Rice, in a presentation to the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley, attended a conference with members of the state Supreme Court, including Justice Robin Davis, on the new court.

“I have had a real keen interest in this business court,” Boone said. “With the complex nature of business transactions and the highly technical commercial issues that are in play, there is a need for a court to resolve these commercial issues that occur between businesses. Just because you have a business dispute does not get you into the Business Court. It has to do with complex issues. There also has to be a need for specialized treatment.”

The Business Court started in October to handle disputes involving commercial or technology issues, including tax appeals.

“This court is very promising, having a court to deal with legal litigation involving businesses,” said Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. “This system was set up in West Virginia so cases involving business issues don’t get lumped into the court docket with everything else.”

Parsons believes the court will improve the perception that the state is anti-business.

“It is a step in the right direction,” she said.

The court operates as a part of the circuit court system.

The court has seven regions with each region encompassing from six to 11 counties. The Supreme Court can appoint seven judges to serve on the business court in addition to their other circuit duties with no additional pay. The judges will have seven-year staggered terms and can serve successive terms.

Judges assigned to the court are Christopher C. Wilkes of Berkeley County, James J. Rowe of Greenbrier County, Donald H. Cookman of Hampshire County and James Young of Wayne County. They are either active or retired judges, some with their own dockets in their own circuit courts.

Judges with specialties in the business field were preferred.

“Having judges with specialized training in business matters is important,” Parsons said.

Wood County is a part of Region B, which covers Wirt, Pleasants, Ritchie, Doddridge, Tyler, Wetzel, Marshall, Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties.

The judges have the authority hear cases anywhere in the state, Boone said. If the case is based in Wood County, a judge will come to Wood County to hear it and the initial jury pool will be local, he said.

Lawyers or judges can file a motion to refer a case to the business court.

Cases eligible for the business court will be evaluated based on a three factor test.

First, claims heard by the business court would involve matters “of significance to the transactions, operations or governance between business entities,” Boone said.

Second, the dispute presents commercial and/or technology issues in which specialized treatment is likely improve the expectation of a fair and reasonable resolution of the controversy.

Third, cases that do not qualify include consumer litigation, liability, personal injury, wrongful death, non-commercial insurance disputes, extra protractional claims, employee lawsuits, consumer environmental actions, consumer malpractice actions, consumer real estate, domestic relations, criminal cases, eminent domain and administrative disputes with governmental organizations and regulatory agencies.

“Complex tax appeals are eligible to go to the business court,” Boone said. “There was a real effort to keep the business court between business entities.”

The goal of the court is to expedite decisions within 10 months after a judge enters a case management order.

Two cases have been referred to the business court thus far. One was accepted and one was not.

“Right now referrals are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” Boone said. “The judges said the complexity of the matter is what will be critical to get it into the business court.

The court is encouraging businesses to bring matters to them to see if their cases qualify, Boone said.

“Until we take these cases to the business court we won’t know exactly they will be treated,” he said.