West Virginia is on the verge of making history. Yesterday, its House of Delegates passed Senate Bill 275, the West Virginia Appellate Reorganization Act. SB 275 will create an Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA)—a significant legal reform years in the making.
West Virginia is one of the few states without an ICA, which means appeals from trial courts are heard only by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Having one court hear the thousands of appeals each year has created a backlog and allowed questionable rulings from the state’s trial courts to escape the rigorous review offered by systems with both an ICA and a Supreme Court.
Establishing an ICA has been a priority for legal reform advocates. It was a key recommendation of an independent judicial reform commission that included former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
SB 275 will create an ICA with one three-judge panel. It would shift West Virginia’s court system to be more like those in other states and the federal court system. Cases would be filed in a circuit court, decisions appealed to the ICA, and then reviewed at the state Supreme Court’s discretion.
Over the past few years, West Virginia lawmakers have worked hard to improve the state’s lawsuit climate. The state moved up from 50 to 45 in ILR’s 2017 Lawsuit Climate Survey and held steady at 45 in 2019’s survey. The stability and certainty provided by an ICA will likely improve West Virginia’s ranking in the future, and it shows job creators that the Mountain State is moving in the right direction.
ILR applauds the House of Delegates for passing SB 275 and encourages the Senate to quickly agree to the House changes and send it to Gov. Justice’s desk for his signature.