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Kanawha judge denies temporary restraining order over terminated unemployment benefits

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A Kanawha County judge has denied a request for a temporary restraining order in connection with a lawsuit over West Virginia’s termination of unemployment benefits.

Last month, two West Virginia women who lost their benefits sued WorkForce West Virginia Commissioner Scott Adkins. The suit was filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court by Mountain State Justice, which provides legal advocacy for low income residents.

Plaintiff attorneys representing Rebecca Urie and Kimberly Griffith are seeking to reinstate jobless benefits that were ceased in June by Governor Jim Justice.

Maryclaire Akers

West Virginia, along with 25 other states, ended the $300 weekly federal payments early due to worker shortages. The benefits were set to expire on Sept. 6 as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Maryclaire Akers dismissed the injunction during a court hearing Thursday. She did not rule on the merits of the case.

“I think it’s clear that injunctive relief here is not appropriate because the benefits have stopped,” Akers told the court.

Attorney Brent Pomponio argued other states such as Arkansas and Oklahoma have moved forward with temporary restraining orders and that West Virginia should do the same.

Akers said the circumstances are different from state to state.

“Those states probably have different language and different laws that rule their particular state’s situation,” she said.

Urie, one of the women named in the suit, lost her job as a laboratory technician in March 2020 and has been looking for work ever since. She has relied on unemployment as a life line, which has amounted to about half her previous salary. The federal aid was enough to care for her two children, who are both autistic.

“There’s no question, even from the pleadings, that your clients have been harmed here and to say otherwise is disingenuous. Their benefits are cut off,” Akers told Pomponio. “But under the law, we have to proceed with the correct procedure.”

In addition to the injunction request, Pomponio filed a separate mandamus which deals with decisions after the fact.

Akers will hear the plaintiffs’ petition for a writ of mandamus at a hearing set for 3 p.m. Monday.

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