State ex rel. Bumgarner v. Sims

In State ex rel. Bumgarner v. Sims, 139 W. Va. 92, 79 S.E.2d 277 (1953), the plaintiff had been accidentally shot by Coiner, a prison guard, while the latter was searching for an escaped convict. The plaintiff later brought a successful negligence action against Coiner, which resulted in a $ 3,000 judgment. A later attempt to collect on the judgment through execution proved unsuccessful, however, and Coiner's liability was later discharged in bankruptcy. The plaintiff subsequently sought relief from the Court of Claims, which awarded the plaintiff $ 2,000. Yet the Auditor refused to honor the resulting legislative appropriation, asserting that it was unconstitutional insofar as the State was not morally obligated to compensate the plaintiff. In determining whether the plaintiff in Bumgarner was entitled to payment of the award made by the Court of Claims, the Court addressed the "question whether the unsatisfied judgment in plaintiff's favor and against Coiner alone, entered by the Circuit Court of Roane County in the action at law instituted by the plaintiff against Coiner, and whether Coiner's bankruptcy and his discharge in the bankruptcy proceeding, without any satisfaction of plaintiff's claim, either in whole or in part, would serve to release Coiner's employer, if such employer were a private person and not the State of West Virginia." Bumgarner, 139 W. Va. at 111, 79 S.E.2d at 289. In Bumgarner, the Court meandered toward the issue of respondeat superior in a somewhat convoluted and unique manner. Mr. Wallace Bumgarner had brought an action in mandamus against the State Auditor "for the purpose of commanding the auditor to honor the requisition of the State Board of Control for two thousand dollars, the amount awarded to petitioner by the State Court of Claims. . . ." 139 W. Va. at 95, 79 S.E.2d at 281. Mr. Bumgarner had been shot in the thigh by state prison guard I.M. Coiner while Mr. Coiner was searching for an escaped prisoner in Roane County, West Virginia. Id. at 96, 79 S.E.2d at 282. The case had proceeded to trial, and Mr. Bumgarner had obtained a judgment against Mr. Coiner in the amount of $ 3,000.00. The judgment remained unsatisfied, and upon adjudication of Mr. Coiner as bankrupt, the Court of Claims awarded Mr. Bumgarner $ 2,000.00. The Legislature thereafter allegedly "made an appropriation . . . and authorized payment . . . as a claim against the State Board of Control to be paid from the general revenue fund." Id. at 97, 79 S.E.2d at 282. The Auditor refused to pay the $ 2,000.00 on the grounds that there is no moral obligation of the State to pay and that the legislative appropriation was unconstitutional. Thus, the Court stated that "the basic question presented by this record is whether the appropriation in the amount of two thousand dollars made by the Legislature in the Budget Act for the 1953-55 biennium contained in Chapter 1, Acts of the Legislature, First Extraordinary Session, 1953, is unconstitutional. . . ." Id. at 104, 79 S.E.2d at 286. Thus, in determining the moral obligation of the state, the Court noted that while the "doctrine of respondeat superior is not applicable to the State because of the State's immunity from suit . . ., this Court has tacitly applied the rationale of the doctrine in several cases in which declarations by the Legislature of moral obligations on the part of the State, arising from the negligence of its officers, agents and employees in the exercise of governmental functions, were held to be valid." Id. at 109, 79 S.E.2d at 288. Upon reaching the subject of respondeat superior, the Court addressed the question of whether an unsatisfied judgment against the agent, coupled with the agent's bankruptcy, would serve to release Mr. Coiner's employer, "if such employer were a private person and not the State of West Virginia." Id. at 111, 79 S.E.2d at 289.