Monday, March 08, 2004

Advisory committee on rules proposes single action for Virginia

Here is a proposal for a single action for legal and equitable claims in Virginia, from the advisory committee on rules.

I can't imagine who would be opposed to this change. Lawyers my age and perhaps a good bit older learned the federal rules in law school and have to unlearn and relearn a lot of strange stuff to pass the Virginia bar and practice in state court. The limited nature of this procedural reform is demonstrated by the following, taken straight off the website:


1. Law and Equity Would not be "Merged". The proposal creates a single procedure system for civil cases in the Commonwealth, while preserving in all respects the distinctions between law and equity, as noted below, concerning the substance of equitable claims and defenses, rights of action, limitations principles, and the powers and limits on the courts in entertaining such actions.

2. Subject matter Competence, and Powers, of the Courts would not be altered. Apart from creating a single "side" at the circuit court level, no expansion or contraction of powers of any court, or of the claims properly heard therein, would result. (Nor would venue, forum non conveniens, or service of process rules be affected in any way.)

3. What is a Legal Claim, and what is Equitable, would not be changed. The proposal would make no changes m the historic characterization of causes of action as legal or equitable in nature.

4. Jury Trial Rights would not be affected. The proposal would not alter the historic rules for availability of a jury. Jury trial rights in those actions at law in which a jury is available would be preserved. Actions sounding in equity would be heard by the court without a jury. Virginia's well-articulated rules for jury consideration of dispositive factual matters arising in Pleas in equity, and for advisory jury verdicts on issues out of chancery, would also be maintained. In mixed claims, it is expected that claims triable to a jury will be heard before judgment is entered on claims tried to the court.

5. The Law applicable to Equitable Claims would not change. The proposal would also not affect the established law of Virginia on the elements or requirements for equitable causes of action, e.g., partition of real property.

6. The Law applicable to Claims or Defenses at Law would not change. Similarly, no change would be effected in the nature or application of law governing claims heretofore brought on the law side of the court, or defenses applicable to such claims. See Rules 1:4(k), 3:8, Code § 8.01-422.

7. Pleading and Motion Practice would not be affected . No change would be worked in the philosophy of Virginia toward the broad goals of "notice pleading", expressed in rules and practices governing sufficiency and particularity of pleadings, or such considerations as variance between pleading and proof. Similarly, motions, pleas, demurrers and related procedures would not be affected.

8. Requirements for Equitable Relief would not be altered. The proposal would not affect the requirements for obtaining an injunction, specific performance, or other forms of equitable relief. The showings required under existing law would continue to apply.

9. Equitable Defenses would not be applied differently . Defenses of an equitable nature (such as unclean hands) would be applied to equitable claims as they have in the past, and the proposal would not enlarge the range or use of defenses in legal claims.

10. The rules governing Joinder of Claims would not be altered. The proposal would not alter the rules permitting joinder of claims or defenses under alternative factual or legal theories, arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. See Rule 1:4(k) and Code § 8.01-272 (contract and tort claims). The trial court would retain discretion to determine the propriety of conjoined causes of action, for pretrial and trial purposes. Similarly, multifarious equitable claims would also be subject to the power of the court, and it is not intended that any greater freedom be created to bring, for example, independent and unrelated claims in a single suit.

11. Joinder of Parties would not be changed. The proposal will neither expand nor contract existing provisions for joinder of parties plaintiff or defendant under the Code, the Rules, or case law. See, e.g., Fox v. Deese 234 Va. 412, 362 S.E.2d 699 (1987). (Likewise, the law of joint tortfeasors, contribution and indemnity would not be affected.)

12. The law of Standing would not be altered . The proposal would not affect the established rules in Virginia concerning who has standing to maintain action, whether controlled by statute (see, e.g., Code §55-22) or case law. See, e.g., Wells v. Lorcom House Condominiums' Council of Co-Owners, 237 Va. 247, 377 S.E.2d 381 (1989).

13. Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata principles are not affected. The proposal would not seek to alter the doctrines or res judicata or collateral estoppel, or the requirement of mutuality of estoppel articulated in the Virginia cases.

14. Statute of Limitations and Laches law would not be changed. The proposal, by preserving the distinction between legal and equitable claims, would work no alteration in the limitations principles found in the Code and Supreme Court decisions, nor would it affect the law of laches. Limitations principles would continue to apply to legal claims, and laches would apply as in the past for equitable claims. Any overlap would be handled as it has historically been dealt with. See, e.g., Belcher v. Kirkwood, 238 Va. 430, 383 S.E.2d 729 (1989).

15. The practices for use of Commissioners in Chancery would not be altered . In equitable actions the trial court would remain free to use Commissioners in accord with the Code and local practice.

16. The role of the General District Court and the J&DR Court would not change. This proposal would not confer on the General District Court, or the J&DR Court, any greater power to issue injunctions or other equitable relief than the court has at present. Rather, the focus of the proposal is to harmonize the two sides of the circuit court.

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