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State ex. rel. Sivnksty v. Duffield

    Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner, a non-resident of Gilmer County, traveled into Gilmer County, West Virginia for the Fourth of July vacation weekend, when he accidentally hit two children with his automobile. Petitioner was incarcerated for reckless driving in Gilmer County and while in jail, he was served with a civil lawsuit regarding the injuries suffered by one of the children. Petitioner filed a plea in abatement in the civil suit claiming that he was immune from process while he was in jail.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Immunity from process is only effective if one comes into the county pursuant to arrest or other criminal or civil process. If one is actually in the county voluntarily, then he is not immune from process, regardless of the fact that he is subsequently detained and cannot leave the county.

    Facts. Sivnksty, Petitioner, a non-resident of Gilmer County, traveled into Gilmer County, West Virginia for the Fourth of July vacation weekend. While in Gilmer County, Petitioner accidentally hit two children with his automobile. Petitioner was arrested and then incarcerated for reckless driving in Gilmer County arising from the car accident with the children. While in jail, Petitioner was served with a civil lawsuit regarding the injuries suffered by one of the children. Petitioner could not afford bail and thus stayed in jail until he was tried and convicted of reckless driving. Petitioner filed a plea in abatement in the civil suit claiming that he was immune from process while he was in jail. The lower court sustained a demurrer to the plea and abatement and Petitioner filed a writ of prohibition to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

    Issue. Does immunity from civil process extend to Petitioner because he could not leave Gilmer County after being arrested even though he initially voluntarily entered Gilmer County?

    Held. No. Writ of prohibition denied. The general rule that non-residents of a county or state charged with a crime in said county or state were immune from process does not extend to individuals who are not compelled to enter said county or state. The immunity to civil process rule only applies to those non-residents that are compelled to come into the state or county by means of arrest, to testify, to defend themselves, or for some other reason pertaining to another criminal or civil process for which they are involved. Because Petitioner voluntarily entered Gilmer County at the time he had the accident, he was not here under criminal process and therefore, was not immune from civil process.

    Dissent. Not giving civil immunity to Petitioner may result in the problem of having an individual be forced to stand trial in a county or state where he, as a non-resident, will suffer prejudice. In addition, any motorist traveling through the county may find himself under arrest and forced to stand trial in both a criminal and civil suit that may not be meritorious.

    Discussion. The majority’s opinion illustrates that in order to determine whether a non- resident is immune from civil process is determined by looking at the purpose for which the non-resident has entered the jurisdiction. If the purpose is voluntary in nature and not under compulsion related to criminal or civil process, there is no immunity.


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