The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

State News

March 30, 2014

Court says W.Va. jail agency not liable in lawsuit

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court has dismissed the state Regional Jail Authority from a lawsuit that alleged a male correctional officer repeatedly raped a female inmate.

The court says the authority is entitled to immunity because the woman, identified only as “A.B.,” failed to provide any evidence that the officer’s alleged actions occurred within the scope of his employment.

In her lawsuit, the woman alleged that the officer raped her 17 times while she was an inmate at Southern Regional Jail in 2009. She was transferred to Lakin Correction Center in April 2010 to serve the remainder of her sentence.

Her lawsuit, filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court, named the authority and the officer, identified only as “D.H.,” as defendants. The lawsuit claimed the authority was negligent in training, supervision and retention of the officer.

The court said the woman failed to identify any regulation pertaining to training, supervision or retention that the authority had violated. She also did not name specific individuals responsible for hiring and supervising the officer.

“Respondent has failed to adduce any evidence bringing these alleged acts within the ambit of his employment beyond merely suggesting that his job gave him the opportunity to commit them,” Justice Margaret Workman wrote for the court.

The court issued its 4-1 opinion Thursday, with Chief Justice Robin Davis dissenting, the Charleston Gazette reported.

“The State cannot be granted absolute immunity merely because no regulation was violated when its employee raped an inmate seventeen times,” Davis wrote in her dissent. “Just what will it take to protect women from such assaults? Simply put, the Regional Jail was grossly negligent in not having regulations in place that would have protected the plaintiff from being alone with any male correctional officer on seventeen separate occasions.”

The decision reversed a Kanawha County Circuit Court ruling that the authority could be named as a defendant in the lawsuit. The authority had argued that it had qualified immunity and was not liable for the officer’s actions.

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