On Tuesday, March 26, 2024, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued a ruling in a case involving Robert E. Ryan, Judge of the Circuit Court of Grant County.

The case originated in Grant County when Darvin Berg passed away in January 2018 without a will. He was married to Denita Berg and also had three children from a previous marriage – Joseph Berg, Jason Berg, and Jennifer Ford. Denita Berg administered Darvin’s estate and said it was insolvent. However, the children later questioned whether all of Darvin’s assets were properly accounted for.

After some back-and-forth between the county commission and circuit court, the children filed a civil suit against Denita Berg in December 2019. They alleged that she failed to disclose all of Darvin’s personal property in administering the estate. This included items like tools, vehicles, and firearms. The children maintained that as Darvin’s descendants, they were entitled under state law to half of any uncovered assets.

During the legal proceedings, Judge Ryan denied Denita Berg’s motion to dismiss. And appointed a special commissioner to investigate and inventory any personal property assets that may not have been disclosed before. The commissioner submitted a report identifying numerous items at Denita Berg’s residence. However, Judge Ryan then went a step further and ordered that the listed property be sold before issues of ownership or a judgment were determined.

Denita Berg appealed this ruling to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, arguing that Judge Ryan exceeded his legitimate authority. In its decision, the Court agreed that ordering the sale of contested property without settling the question of ownership first constituted a clear legal error. While the appointment of a special commissioner was allowed, prematurely selling assets crossed the line. The justices opted to grant Denita Berg’s petition for a writ of prohibition but molded the writ to only prohibit the mandated sales. The case was then remanded back to Judge Ryan’s court for further proceedings.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.