Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

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In 1989, Dorothy Hamm executed a deed of gift transferring her one-half interest in a parcel of property to Melba Clark. The deed of gift reserved a life estate for Dorothy. Dorothy died in 2004. In her will, Dorothy left any interest she had in the property to her son, Edward Hamm. In the deed of gift, Dorothy included a provision that sought to create a contingent reversionary interest in Dorothy in the event that Melba’s son, Reginald Clarke, ever acquired any interest in the property. Melba later died intestate, and the administrator of her estate sought a declaration that the possibility-of-reverter provision in the deed was void as an impermissible restraint on alienation. The circuit court agreed and struck the possibility of reverter from the conveyance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in declaring the possibility-of-reverter provision to be void, as no rule of law or equity forbade Dorothy from making her conveyance subject to the condition that the conveyance to Melba would revert if Reginald ever acquired any interest in the property. View "Hamm v. Hazelwood" on Justia Law

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In 2014, the trustee under a deed of trust conveyed the Parrish property to the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), which sent the Parrishes a notice to vacate and filed a summons for unlawful detainer in the general district court. The Parrishes alleged that the foreclosure was invalid because their deed of trust incorporated 12 C.F.R. 1024.41(g), which, they asserted, prohibits foreclosure if a borrower submitted a completed loss mitigation application more than 37 days before the foreclosure sale. They alleged that they had submitted such an application. The court awarded Fannie Mae possession. On appeal, Fannie Mae argued that the court should exclude any defense contesting the foreclosure’s validity because the lower court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to try title in a proceeding on unlawful detainer. Fannie Mae contended that because the circuit court’s subject matter jurisdiction on appeal from the general district court was derivative of the general district court’s jurisdiction, the circuit court also lacked jurisdiction. The court awarded Fannie Mae possession. The Supreme Court of Virginia vacated, restoring the parties to their status quo before the unlawful detainer proceeding. Courts not of record lack power to try title unless expressly conferred by the General Assembly. The court cited Code sections 16.1-77(3) and 8.01-126 and acknowledged the practical implications of its holding. View "Parrish v. Fed. Nat'l Mortgage Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Dominion obtained necessary certificates for transmission lines to connect Dominion’s recently-approved Wise County power plant with an existing Russell County substation. In 2008, Dominion offered Hylton $19,100 to purchase a 7.88-acre easement. Hylton owned 354 acres across 20 contiguous and two non-contiguous tracts. He owned the surface and mineral rights of some tracts and only the mineral rights of others. Dominion included an appraisal, acknowledging that, according to Hylton, two major coal seams run through or near the property and that Hylton’s ability to sell or lease those mineral rights might be damaged. The appraisal did not consider mineral rights in determining fair market value. The parties signed an agreement granting Dominion the right to enter and construct the transmission line. Dominion filed its petition for condemnation, limited to the surface use of Hylton’s property and moved to prohibit Hylton from presenting evidence of “the separate value of coal,” damage to tracts not taken, and “damages for duplicative or inconsistent claims.” Hylton later moved to dismiss, arguing that Dominion’s pre-petition offer to purchase was not a bona fide offer, under Code 25.1-204, so that Dominion had failed to meet jurisdictional requirements for condemnation. The trial court dismissed and awarded Hylton attorneys’ fees. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the dismissal and the denial of Dominion’s motion in limine with regard to evidence related to the separate value of the coal and the potential surface mine. Because the issue of whether the unity of lands doctrine applies with respect to neighboring lands, not part of the taking, is a question of fact, denying the motion on that issue was appropriate. View "Va. Elec. & Power Co. v. Hylton" on Justia Law

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Powell owned property in Chesapeake, Virginia. In 2004, a developer, 3 MAC, bought her property for $265,000 and “one (1) lot to be mutually agreed upon by both Buyer and Seller in writing” to develop North Rollingwood Estates subdivision. In 2005, Powell and 3 MAC prepared an addendum, stipulating that Powell would receive the lot designated as Lot 1 on the preliminary subdivision plat. Several times over the next few years, Powell allegedly asked 3 MAC to convey Lot 1, but in 2012, 3 MAC sold the lot to Ashdon for $110,000. Powell sued, alleging breach of contract and fraudulent conveyance, and sought the imposition of a constructive trust upon Lot 1. After a settlement, the trial court dismissed Powell’s claim against Ashdon with prejudice, releasing Powell’s claim to Lot 1. Powell asked the court to impose a constructive trust upon the remaining land owned by 3 MAC that had not yet been sold, “Lot A,” which was subject to the Bank’s recorded first-lien deed of trust. The court held that the Bank had constructive knowledge of Powell’s rights and imposed the constructive trust. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed and entered judgment for Powell in the amount of $110,000. Powell failed to distinctly trace her claim to the property that was the subject of the constructive trust. View "Bank of Hampton Roads v. Powell" on Justia Law

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A Suffolk developer set aside an Equestrian Center Parcel (ECP) for lease to a riding school and stable, with the stable to pay real estate taxes owed on the ECP. The lease expressly anticipated that ownership of the ECP would later be conveyed to a property owners’ association, which was subsequently organized. Although the stable could sell services to non-members, the lease required preferential treatment for Association members. The Association’s declaration included the ECP as Association’s property but noted that it was leased. The city began assessing real estate tax on the ECP in 2009. In 2012, the city exonerated the Association of liability for tax years ending in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The city again assessed tax on the ECP for tax years ending in 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. No one paid the assessments. The city published notice that the ECP would be sold for non-payment of taxes. The Association sought a declaratory judgment that the ECP could not be directly assessed because, under Code 58.1-3284.1(A), any tax due was payable only by the Association’s individual members. The court ruled that the stable was a commercial enterprise and that the statute did not intend “open or common space” to include real estate used for commercial enterprises open to nonmembers of an owners’ association. The Supreme Court of Virginia reversed; nothing in the statutory definition excludes commercial property. Association members who did not board horses at the Stable used its picnic tables, trails, and parking area. View "Saddlebrook Estates v. City of Suffolk" on Justia Law

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The City filed a petition for condemnation asking for a determination of just compensation for property taken and damages to the residue. The circuit court awarded Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC $44,141 for the value of the fee take and more than $2.1 million for the damages to the residue, including loss of visibility and loss of direct access. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court awarding Dominion damages to the residue and entered final judgment in favor of the City on that claim, holding that Dominion failed to present any evidence by which any of over $2.1 in damages that the circuit court awarded could be apportioned to the City’s take of a utility easement and a temporary construction easement outside the area of reservation. View "City of Chesapeake v. Dominion SecurityPlus Self Storage, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a successor in title to property interests retained by grantors in two severance deeds executed in 1886 and 1887, filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that the term “minerals” used in the deeds did not effect a conveyance of the natural gas and coal bed methane underlying her land. The circuit court sustained demurrers to Plaintiff’s original and amended complaints, holding that the term “minerals” included the gas as a matter of law. The Supreme Court affirmed after reaffirming the holding in Warren v. Clinchfield Coal Corp., holding that the two severance deeds at issue in this case conveyed the gas as a matter of law. View "Dye v. CNX Gas Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a compliant against Defendants in order to enforce a mechanics lien. Wells Fargo was named in the complaint because it was the trustee and secured party of certain property. Wells Fargo filed a motion for leave to file answer out of time and requested its fees and costs incurred with regard to the motion. The trial court granted Wells Fargo’s motion and ordered Plaintiff’s counsel to reimburse Wells Fargo’s counsel $1200 for fees and costs incurred regarding the motion for leave to file answer out of time. The trial court also granted Plaintiff’s motion for default judgment against Defendants. In its final order, the trial court stated that the mechanics lien had been released and that it had issued the $1200 sanctions award against Plaintiff’s counsel for its failure to voluntarily extend the time in which Wells Fargo might file its answer. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment regarding sanctions, as Plaintiff’s counsel did not engage in behavior that could be characterized as unprofessional, an ethics violation or behavior that is subject to statutory sanctions. View "Env’t Specialist, Inc. v. Wells Fargo Bank" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Plaintiffs filed a declaratory judgment action against their homeowners’ association (the HOA) challenging the validity of a 2008 amendment to the declaration of protective covenants and restrictions. The HOA filed a special plea in bar, arguing that the case should be dismissed as untimely under the one-year statute of limitations in Va. Code 55-515.1(E). The circuit court granted the special plea in bar and granted “prevailing party” attorney fees to the HOA. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the HOA filed a certification that did not comply with Va. Code 55-515.1(F), thus precluding the 2008 amendment from becoming effective for purposes of triggering the one-year limitations period in section 55-515.1(E). The Supreme Court agreed with Plaintiffs and reversed, holding (1) the one-year limitations period runs only from the date of an “effective” amendment; and (2) one of the requirements for an “effective” amendment - a proper certification - was not satisfied in this case, and therefore, circuit court erred in granting the HOA’s special plea in bar and dismissing the case as untimely. View "Tvardek v. Powhatan Village Homeowners Ass’n" on Justia Law

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Wetlands America Trust, Inc. (WAT) held a conservation easement on property owned by White Cloud Nine Ventures, LP. When White Cloud commenced construction activities on the property, WAT filed the present action seeking a declaratory judgment that White Cloud’s construction activities and intended commercial use of a new facility on the property violated the easement’s restrictive covenants. White Cloud denied violating the easement and asserted as affirmative defenses that the easement was unenforceable because it was impermissibly vague and ambiguous and that WAT’s claims were barred by estoppel and laches. The trial court generally ruled in White Cloud’s favor. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the restrictive covenants in the easement are ambiguous and must be strictly construed against restriction and in favor of White Cloud. View "Wetlands America Trust v. White Cloud Nine" on Justia Law