Monday, November 03, 2003

Friday's Virginia Supreme Court cases

In Ryland v. Manor Care, Inc., the Court in an opinion by Justice Kinser affirmed a circuit court granting relief in equity from an earlier default judgment in a medical malpractice case. The court explained that the elements necessary for the equitable remedy from a default are these: "(1) a judgment which ought not, in equity and good
conscience, to be enforced; (2) a good defense to the alleged cause of action on which the judgment is founded; (3) fraud, accident, or mistake which prevented the defendant in the judgment from obtaining the benefit of his defense; (4) the absence of fault or negligence on the part of the defendant; and (5) the absence of any adequate remedy at law." The Supreme Court noted that the trial court did not really explain its findings on these five elements, and for future reference, the Supreme Court wants "to stress that a trial court must articulate its findings with particularity regarding each of the five elements." The gist of the facts is that the insurance defense counsel was hired but failed to notify anyone in time for other counsel to be retained in time to avoid default. The Court makes a strangely fine point in its opinion, trying to distinguish the lawyer's conflict problems as something of different character as a lawyer simply missing a deadline.

In Montgomery Mut. Ins. Co. v. Riddle, the Court in an opinion by Justice Lemon held that Va. Code § 38.2-309 "requires proof of actual reliance by an insurance company on material misrepresentations made in an application for insurance before a policy of insurance can be declared void."

In Blake Construction Co., Inc. v. Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority, the Court applied for the first time the statutory prohibition against "no damages for delay" clauses in public construction contracts, now codified at subsection (A) of Va. Code § 2.2-4335, concluding, among other things, that the contract provisions at issue were prohibited under the statute.

In Williams v. Gloucester County Sheriff's Department, the Court held that the "contemporaneous objection" rule applies to proceedings to obtain worker's compensation benefits, barring the claimant from raising new issues on appeal.

In Kappa Sigma Fraternity, Inc. v. Kappa Sigma Fraternity, the Court held that a challenge in equity to the validity of amendments to the articles of incorporation of non-stock corporation was subject to a defense of statute of limitations - either the statute applicable to claims for breach of written contracts, breach of fiduciary duty, or injury to property, citing, among other things, the "well-established principle uniformly acted upon by courts of equity, that in respect to the statute of limitations equity follows the law; and if a legal demand be asserted in equity which at law is barred by statute, it is equally barred in equity."

In Lewis, Adm'r v. C.J. Langenfelder & Son, Jr., Inc., the Court held in an opinion by Justice Kinser that the removal of the case to federal court left nothing in state court over which the Supreme Court could have jurisdiction on appeal, and therefore the appellant could not obtain review of rulings that were made in state court prior to removal.

In Chase v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., the Court in an opinion by Justice Lemons held that the plaintiff was not entitled to statutory attorneys' fees under the Virginia Motor Vehicle Warranty Enforcement Act, Va. Code 59.1-207.9 to -207.16:1, where the case settled out of court and there was no order or judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The Court concluded that "being 'successful'" within the meaning of the statute "by definition, means that the action terminates in favor of the claimant." This opinion will be likely to have some effect on how these cases get settled in the future, as the wary plaintiffs' counsel will want to do something to get a court order reflecting the "successful" outcome. Attorneys' fees are a big deal in these consumer protection cases.

In Klaber v. Freemason Associates, the Court in an opinion by Justice Koontz concluded among other things that the shareholders lacked standing to appeal the judgment against their corporation, and could only appeal the issue of whether or not the corporate veil was properly pierced by the trial court.

In Glazebrook v. Board of Supervisors of Spotsylvania County, the Court in an opinion by Justice Lemons held that the County failed to give the notice required by Va. Code § 15.2-2204 for certain amendments to its zoning ordinance.

In Wilkins v. Peninsula Motor Cars, Inc., the Court in an opinion by Justice Lemons held that the plaintiff having prevailed on both his fraud and Virginia Consumer Protection Act claims was not required to elect between the two remedies, but instead was entitled to: (1) his compensatory damages, (2) the $100,000 punitive damages on the fraud claim (but not the liquidated damages on the VCPA claim), and (3) his attorneys' fees under the VCPA. The misrepresentation at issue in the case was whether the car sold with 900+ miles on it was a "new" car, when in fact it had been previously owned. (Yes, it was a BMW, as in the famous punitive damages case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court out of Alabama, where the jury awarded $4 million to the fellow who found his car had been repaintedon account of predelivery damage.)

In Ford Motor Co. v. Jones, the Supreme Court in an opinion by Chief Justice Hassell held that the plaintiff was entitled to take a nonsuit following the remand of the case after an appeal. (In state court in Virginia, when things start to go bad for a plaintiff, the lawyers take their nonsuit, and there is nothing the defense lawyers can do about it, but often those same things stay bad and the case is never refiled. On the other hand, there are times when a nonsuit seems kind of like an abusive thing, like the story of the Southwest Virginia lawyer who took a nonsuit when a trial dragged on so he could attend the ACC basketball tournament.)

In Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County v. Robertson, the Court in an opinion by Justice Kinser affirmed the County's denial of a special exception from the setback requirements in the zoning ordinance, reversing the trial court on the issue of whether the county's decision was "fairly debatable."

In Herndon v. St. Mary's Hospital, a Wise County, the Court in an opinion by Justice Keenan held that the law as to how "infants" can file suit in Virginia is unchanged from the common law and that Circuit Court Judge Robert Stump held correctly that this case was not brought correctly. The suit was styled "Debbie Thompson Herndon, as mother and next friend of Matthew McNeil Herndon," and it was supposed to be styled, "Matthew McNeil Herndon, an infant, by Debbie Thompson Herndon, his next friend," if my form books have it right. (You can bet I'll be double-checking that point the next time I defend an infant case.)

In Pease v. Com., the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the murder conviction in Wise County of Merry Pease, after multiple trials and appeals.

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