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West Virginia Regional Jails Entitled to Sovereign Immunity

by David M. Reutter

In May 2019, a circuit court held the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority was entitled to sovereign immunity in a lawsuit seeking payment for prisoner medical bills.

The suit was brought by Cabell Huntington Hospital to recover $168,985.65 for medical care provided to prisoner Arthur L. Edens between January 28, 2016 and February 15, 2016, while he was under the Authority’s custody. Despite being given notice of the outstanding bills, the Authority refused to pay. Edens was hospitalized after he reportedly “sustained serious injuries” at the South Central Regional Jail.

The circuit court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case after the Authority argued it was a state agency that could not be sued under Article VI, Section 35 of the West Virginia Constitution. The court said that in determining whether a particular entity is a state agency, the two most important factors are “whether the organization’s powers are substantially created by the Legislature and whether its governing board’s composition is prescribed by the Legislature.”

The court found the Authority was created by the state legislature, which also prescribed the board’s composition. Also relevant was whether the organization is dependent on public funds and whether it is required to deposit its funds in the public treasury. The Authority is required by law to deposit its funds into the state’s treasury, and relies on public funding to operate.

Thus, the circuit court concluded the Authority was entitled to sovereign immunity and the lawsuit must be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. It noted that the Legislative Claims Commission was the proper venue for the type of claim asserted by the hospital for the Authority’s failure to pay the medical bills it owes.

The hospital, represented by attorney Ralph Nagy, had argued that the Authority was a quasi-public entity not entitled to immunity. See: Cabell Huntington Hospital v. West Virginia Regional and Correctional Facility Authority, Kanawha County Circuit Court (WV), Case No. 18-C-486. 


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Related legal case

Cabell Huntington Hospital v. West Virginia Regional and Correctional Facility Authority