West Virginia Legislative Claims Commission

Volume Number: 29
Opinion Issued December 17, 2012
     Lonnie C. Simmons, Attorney at Law, for Claimant.
     Harden C. Scragg Jr., Assistant Attorney General, for Respondent.
      The Claimant, Daniel Carter Matzdorff, filed the instant claim seeking damages for wrongful detention and loss of liberty associated with time served over and above the sentence imposed on him by the regular courts of the State of West Virginia. Having reviewed the record in its entirety, the Court is of the opinion to make an award in this claim for the reasons more fully stated below.
      The uncontested facts are as follows: On August 5, 2003, the Claimant entered a guilty plea to an information containing two counts of attempting to commit a felony punishable by less than life imprisonment, a violation of W. Va. Code § 61-11-8(2). He was sentenced in the Circuit Court of Cabell County, West Virginia. The sentence was suspended and, under W. Va. Code § 25-4-6, the Claimant was committed to the Anthony Correctional Center for a period of six months to two years, followed by a period of probation.
      On December 15, 2004, having violated a condition of his probation, an order was entered recognizing that the Claimant had earned 602 days of credit toward the completion of his sentence, and the Claimant was placed back into the custody of the Division of Corrections. Applying the good time credit statute, W. Va. Code § 28-5-27 et seq., the total amount of time to be served under the Claimant’s sentence was 1152 days, of which as of December 15, 2004, the Claimant had already served 602. This left 550 days to be served by the Claimant from December 15, 2004 forward. Had the Claimant been released on the correct date, he would have been released on or about June 19, 2006. However, the Claimant was not released until December 17, 2008–a full 912 days later.
      The Claimant testified that since his release he has moved to Dayton, Ohio where he is gainfully employed in the construction industry while actively pursuing a degree in accounting. The Claimant testified that the extra time served resulted in a significant loss to his liberty. The Claimant asserts that such time could have spent in college, working, or celebrating birthdays with friends and family. Based upon the testimony, Claimant appears to be living an active and productive life since being released from his incarceration in West Virginia.
      Before the Court reaches the merits of this claim, we note that the issue in this case is distinguishable from Galliher v. State of West Virginia, 28 Ct. Cl. __ (2012). In Galliher, the Court was constrained to grant the Respondent’s Motion to Dismiss because this Court lacked jurisdiction to overturn an Order of Contempt by a family court of the Judicial Branch. The claims are similar in that both the Family Court of Hampshire County and the Circuit Court of Cabell County made an obvious error. However, in the instant claim jurisdiction falls squarely in this Court, because the Claimant alleges a loss of liberty for which the State may owe a moral obligation.
      Claimant’s counsel correctly recognizes in his supporting brief that, while at first glance the basis for awarding this claim is found in the wrongful conviction statute, W. Va. Code § 14-2-13a, the Claimant simply does not meet the required elements of this section. This does not, however, bar recovery for a Claimant who clearly suffers from an unjustified loss of liberty. This Court will consider remedies based on moral obligations when the intent of the wrongful conviction statute would be served. Thus, we proceed purely on moral grounds.
      There are few better examples of a moral obligation existing on the part of the State than when a Claimant has sustained an unjustified loss of liberty, and remedies at law are not availing. Here, Claimant was forced to endure approximately two and a half years (912 days) of incarceration over and above the time he had properly served in accordance with the laws of the State of West Virginia. Indeed, this Court recognizes that one day of unjustified loss of liberty is one day too many.
      It is difficult to quantify how much a day of lost liberty is worth. The unique facts and circumstances of each case will guide the Court in determining the amount to fairly compensate a claimant. In the instant case, in light of the severity of the Claimant’s deprivation, and after considering the unique facts and circumstances of his claim, the Court finds that an award in the amount of $92,300.00 is a fair and reasonable amount to compensate the Claimant.
      Accordingly, the Court finds in equity and in good conscience that the Claimant is entitled to the relief requested in the Notice of Claim, and the amount of $92,300.00 is fair and reasonable based on the degree of deprivation to this Claimant.
      Award $92,300.00.

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