Nelson v. West Virginia Public Employees Ins. Bd

In Nelson v. West Virginia Public Employees Ins. Bd., 171 W. Va. 445, 449-50, 300 S.E.2d 86, 91 (1982), Public Employees Insurance Board members admitted they failed to implement a legislative mandate regarding optional insurance coverage to dependents of deceased members "in knowing disregard of the statute's requirements." The petitioners, a state senator and surviving spouses of deceased state workers, requested that the Board be required to extend the optional insurance coverage to those who qualified. The Court held that the statute imposed a nondiscretionary legal duty on the part of the Board to extend coverage to surviving spouses and dependents at the same average premium rate chargeable to members of the pool of which their decedents were members. Although the statute made no provision for attorney fees, the petitioners nonetheless requested attorney fees and costs. After deciding the insurance coverage issue, the Court discussed whether attorney fees should be allowed by stating: "Citizens should not have to resort to lawsuits to force government officials to perform their legally prescribed non-discretionary duties. When, however, resort to such action is necessary to cure willful disregard of law, the government ought to bear the reasonable expense incurred by the citizen in maintaining the action. No individual citizen ought to bear the legal expense incurred in requiring the government to do its job." (Id., 171 W. Va. at 451, 300 S.E.2d at 92.) The Court finally determined that an award of attorney fees was justified.