Games-Neely ex rel. West Virginia State Police v. Real Property
In Games-Neely ex rel. West Virginia State Police v. Real Property, 211 W. Va. 236, 565 S.E.2d 358 (2002), the was asked to determine the validity of a legislative statute that conflicted with a rule of this Court.
The decision in Games-Neely involved the State's seizure of the home of an elderly woman. The home had been used by others to engage in drug trafficking.
The State filed a petition to seize the home under the West Virginia Contraband Forfeiture Act (the "Forfeiture Act"), W. Va. Code 60A-7-701 et seq The home owner failed to file an answer within the timeframe set by the Forfeiture Act.
Consequently, a default judgment was rendered. The home owner subsequently filed a motion to set aside the default judgment under Rule 60(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure.
The trial court denied relief. In the appeal, one of the issues the Court addressed was whether or not a provision in the Forfeiture Act precluded the circuit court from entertaining a Rule 60(b) motion.
The provision in question, W. Va. Code 60A-7-705(d) (1988) (Repl. Vol. 2000), provided as follows:
If no answer or claim is filed within thirty days of the date of service of the petition pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, or within thirty days of the first publication pursuant to subsection (b) of this section, the court shall enter an order forfeiting the seized property to the state.
The Court in Games-Neely properly concluded that W. Va. Code 60A-7-705(d) could not prevent a trial court from hearing a Rule 60(b) motion:
Despite the mandatory language of Section 705(d), the Appellant maintains that the circuit court still has discretion to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. . . .
. . . .
. . . There is no question that rules promulgated under authority of the state constitution . . . prevail whenever there is a conflict, real or perceived, between such rules and legislative provisions involving court procedures. . . .
. . . .
Upon consideration of these established principles concerning conflicts between judicially-enacted rules of procedure and legislative acts that contain procedural directives, we conclude that Rule 60(b) has the force and effect of law; applies to forfeiture proceedings under the Forfeiture Act; and supersedes West Virginia Code 60A-7-705(d) to the extent that Section 705(d) can be read to deprive a circuit court of its grant of discretion to review a default judgment order. Accordingly, we hold that a circuit court has discretion under Rule 60(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure to set aside a judgment by default entered pursuant to West Virginia Code 60A-7-705(d) of the Forfeiture Act for failure to file an answer or claim within thirty days of the date of service of a petition of forfeiture or within thirty days its first publication.
(Games-Neely, 211 W. Va. at 244-45, 565 S.E.2d at 366-67.)