Figaniak et al v. Fraternal Order of Owl's Home Nest et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER CONFIRMING PRONOUNCED ORDER OF THE COURT GRANTING AS FRAMED PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND DENYING DEFENDANT JARRETT CHANDLER'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW: Granting 239 Motion as framed and Denying Def. Chandler's oral motion for judgment as a matter of law. Signed by Senior Judge Frederick P. Stamp, Jr on 8/9/17. (soa)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF WEST VIRGINIA
THOMAS G. FIGANIAK and
VALERIE A. FIGANIAK, as
Administrators of the
Estate of Kevin Figaniak,
Civil Action No. 5:15CV111
CRAIG TYLER PEACOCK, individually,
JARRETT CHANDLER, individually,
and TYLER JOHNSON, individually,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CONFIRMING PRONOUNCED ORDER OF THE COURT
GRANTING AS FRAMED PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW AND
DENYING DEFENDANT JARRETT CHANDLER’S
MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AS A MATTER OF LAW
On July 27, 2017, the plaintiffs filed a motion under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 50 for judgment as a matter of law as to
The parties appeared by counsel before this Court
for a conference on July 31, 2017 in which this Court granted as
framed the plaintiffs’ motion.
Further, at that conference,
Chandler made an oral motion for judgment as a matter of law
regarding the plaintiffs’ claim that Chandler was negligent in
contributing to the instigation of the fight at issue in this civil
This Court denied Chandler’s motion.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 permits a court to enter
judgment as a matter of law where “a party has been fully heard on
an issue during a jury trial.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).
nonmovant],” and (2) that the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law as to that issue.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a)(1).
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
At the close of their case and before the defendants rested,
the plaintiffs filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law as to
Chandler’s negligence in contributing to Kevin Figaniak’s death.
Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that Chandler is collaterally
estopped from denying liability because he earlier plead guilty to
misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter for Kevin’s death.
Collateral estoppel, or claim preclusion, “is designed to
foreclose relitigation of issues in a second suit [that] have
actually been litigated in the earlier suit even though there may
be a difference in the cause of action between the parties of the
For a more thorough background of this civil action, see ECF
first and second suit.”
Conley v. Spillers, 301 S.E.2d 216, 220
collateral estoppel, courts must consider: (1) “[w]hether the
issues presented in the present case are the same as presented in
the earlier case;” (2) “whether the controlling facts and legal
principles have changed substantially since the earlier case;” and
(3) “whether there are special circumstances that would warrant the
conclusion that enforcement of the judgment would be unfair.”
The parties agree that the controlling facts and law have
not changed substantially since Chandler’s conviction.
Chandler argues that the first and third factors weigh against
enforcement of his prior conviction in this civil action.
First, involuntary manslaughter is “an unintentional homicide
. . . result[ing] from [one’s] unlawful act, or [one’s] lawful act
performed in an unlawful manner.”
State v. Craig, 51 S.E.2d 283,
unintentional death of another person does not constitute that
Id.; see also State v. Lawson, 36 S.E.2d 26, 31-32 (W.
Va. 1945) (providing that involuntary manslaughter must involve an
act that is “something more than the simple negligence, so common
While counsel for Chandler points out that the West Virginia
Supreme Court of Appeals has not expressly determined that a
litigation on civil liability in negligence, the court has made
clear that criminal convictions, including guilty pleas, may affect
collateral estoppel in a subsequent civil action.
State ex rel.
Leach v. Schlaegel, 447 S.E.2d 1, 4 (W. Va. 1994).
this Court finds no basis in West Virginia law for not enforcing a
conviction for involuntary manslaughter in a subsequent civil
Because Chandler plead guilty to the involuntary
manslaughter of Kevin Figaniak, he necessarily admitted that he was
more than negligent in causing Kevin Figaniak’s death.
Additionally, Chandler argues that he should be permitted to
assert self defense as a complete defense to liability in this
However, Chandler’s guilty plea is an admission of
all elements of the offense, which necessarily waives all defenses
he may have had to the offense.
Further, there is no indication
that Chandler entered into a written plea agreement that was
conditional or otherwise reserved for subsequent civil litigation
the issue of self defense. Thus, Chandler is barred from asserting
liability. However, Chandler may assert self defense solely in the
context of apportionment of fault, as it may be considered by the
jury, along with all of the facts and circumstances, in determining
the reasonableness of Chandler’s actions in the circumstances as
compared to all other parties.
Second, Chandler argues that the comparative fault issues in
enforcement of the conviction unfair.
However, this Court finds
that, because Chandler may assert self defense as a factual matter
in apportioning fault amongst the parties, the comparative fault
enforcement of the conviction would be unfair.
Accordingly, this Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion as
This Court instructed the jury to find that Chandler was
negligent and that his negligence was a proximate cause of Kevin
Chandler’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
Before resting his case, Chandler made an oral motion at the
charge conference, held on July 31, 2017, for judgment as a matter
of law regarding the plaintiffs’ claim that Chandler was negligent
Specifically, he argues that the evidence shows he was not involved
in the argument between defendants Craig Tyler Peacock and Tyler
Johnson, and that he did not get involved until he caught up with
the other parties.
However, this Court finds that there is
sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Chandler
caught up to the others and made statements that Kevin Figaniak
could have perceived as threatening, and that these actions were a
proximate cause of the fight.
Accordingly, Chandler’s motion is
For the reasons set forth above, the plaintiffs’ motion for
judgment as a matter of law (ECF No. 239) is GRANTED AS FRAMED, and
Chandler’s oral motion for judgment as a matter of law is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
The Clerk is DIRECTED to transmit a copy of this memorandum
opinion and order to counsel of record herein.
August 9, 2017
/s/ Frederick P. Stamp, Jr.
FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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