On Monday, June 10, 2024, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued a ruling involving Judge J.D. Beane of the Circuit Court of Wood County.

The case stemmed from an abuse and neglect petition filed in October 2023 by the West Virginia Department of Human Services against parents E.M. and H.M. regarding their three children, I.M., J.M.-1, and J.M.-2. The children had been living in Florida for over six months prior to moving to West Virginia in late September 2023. Shortly after relocating, the parents were involved in a domestic violence incident in front of the children, which prompted an emergency removal by DHS.

Judge Beane of the Circuit Court of Wood County ratified the removal and proceeded with the case. However, Father E.M.’s attorney argued that under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), Florida retained jurisdiction as the children’s home state. Judge Beane deferred ruling on this issue initially but ultimately found that West Virginia could hear the case since no proceedings were pending in Florida.

An adjudicatory hearing was held in January 2024 where Judge Beane declared the parents abusive despite E.M.’s attorney renewing the jurisdictional challenge. E.M. then filed a writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court, seeking to halt further action by Judge Beane and the Circuit Court.

In its June 2024 ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that Florida maintained home state jurisdiction under the UCCJEA. The brief contact between the Wood County Circuit Court’s clerk and a Florida judge’s assistant was not sufficient to establish Florida declined jurisdiction. The high court thus determined Judge Beane lacked subject matter jurisdiction to make an adjudicatory ruling.

As a result, the Supreme Court granted the writ, vacated Judge Beane’s order, and remanded the case with instructions to immediately contact the proper Florida court to inquire about assuming jurisdiction. If Florida declines, then Judge Beane may restart proceedings in the case.

The decision was a unanimous clarification that Judge Beane and the Circuit Court must follow the jurisdictional rules of the UCCJEA when deciding abuse and neglect matters involving children who recently relocated from another state. It also helped ensure the case proceeds in the appropriate legal forum going forward.

Judge Beane‘s courtroom is located at Wood County Judicial Building, 2 Government Square, Room 421, Parkersburg, WV 26101-5353, and can be reached at 304-424-1756.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.