Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Landowner initiated plans to develop his property as a cluster subdivision. Landowner received a compliance letter from the county zoning administrator indicating that Landowner’s property met the standards set forth in the applicable ordinance. After the zoning administrator issued the compliance letter, the county’s board of supervisors repealed the ordinance. Landowner filed a declaratory judgment action against the county and the board, seeking a declaration that he obtained a vested right to develop his property as a by-right cluster subdivision in accordance with the terms of the ordinance. In support of his claim, Landowner asserted that the compliance letter constituted a significant affirmative governmental act under Va. Code Ann. 15.2-2307, which was necessary to find Landowner had vested land use rights. The circuit court ruled in favor of Landowner. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the zoning administrator’s issuance of the confirmation letter was not a significant affirmative governmental act; and (2) therefore, the circuit court erred in holding that Landowner acquired a vested right under section 15.2-2307 to develop his property as a cluster subdivision. View "Bd. of Supervisors of Prince George County v. McQueen" on Justia Law

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The City of Alexandria and the City Council (collectively, the City) granted a special use permit and license to 106 Union Dublin, LLC and 106 Union Ireland, LLC (collectively, the Union parties) allowing the Union parties to construct an outdoor dining deck on a public street named Wales Alley. Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) filed an action against the City and the Union parties, seeking to enforce an alleged private easement over Wales Alley that had been deeded prior to Wales Alley becoming a public street. ODBC sought a declaration that its vested easement existed and a permanent injunction against the City and the Union parties prohibiting them from obstructing its easement. The circuit court concluded that the City had accepted a fee simple interest in Wales Alley, and that acceptance had extinguished OBDC's easement pursuant to a local ordinance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the conversion of Wales Alley to a public street did not result in a cessation of the purpose for which the easement was granted, ODBC's easement over Wales Alley was not extinguished when Wales Alley became a public street. Remanded. View "Old Dominion Boat Club v. Alexandria City Council" on Justia Law

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In 1957, special commissioners, appointed in a partition suit, conveyed to Wilkinson an 18.35-acre tract adjoining Route 704 in Washington County. In 1961, the State Highway Commissioner instituted condemnation, acquiring a 3.83-acre strip of land through the tract for construction of Interstate Highway I-81, leaving a 4.88-acre parcel north of I-81 that retained frontage on Route 704 and a 9.64-acre parcel south of I-81 that became landlocked. Condemnation commissioners awarded Wilkinson $1450 for the land taken and $2450 for damages to the residue property. After the condemnation, Wilkinson gained access to the landlocked tract for farming purposes by renting a neighboring 18-acre tract now owned by the Cliftons. In 2006, Wilkinson discontinued farming and ceased to rent the Clifton property. In 2008, the Cliftons, having failed to reach an agreement with Wilkinson’s widow for a purchase of the landlocked parcel, terminated her permissive use of the access lane and blocked it. Wilkinson sought a declaratory judgment that she had an easement by necessity. The trial court ruled that she was entitled to an easement by necessity. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that the tract did not become landlocked by a conveyance from a former owner severing a former unity of title, so no implied grant of a right of ingress and egress arose. View "Clifton v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Angstadt acquired a Fredericksburg parcel, identified on the tax map as a single lot. City records indicated that in 1942 it had been listed as two separate “tax parcels.” In 2008, Angstadt obtained a survey, which drew lines that corresponded to the boundaries of the two parcels shown in 1942. Angstadt recorded the survey, but did not submit it for approval as a subdivision, and subsequently transferred the two purported lots to his company, PBU, by separate deeds. PBU conveyed one lot, containing an apartment building, to Nejati and the other, undeveloped, lot to Stageberg. The Zoning Administrator concluded that a house could not be built because the undeveloped lot did not exist as a separate lot, pursuant to Code § 15.2-2254 and the city code. After exhausting administrative remedies and reaching a settlement with the title insurance company, Stageberg filed a quiet title action against Nejati, alleging that the legal effect of the 2008 deeds from PBU was to create a tenancy in common of the undivided parcel acquired by Angstadt in 2005. The trial court held that the claimed estates in severalty were impermissible because they would circumvent the requirements for a valid subdivision and concluded that the parties were tenants in common of the whole property. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed, noting that the deeds unambiguously described the property conveyed and that the parties own the property in severality. View "Nejati v. Stageberg" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Norfolk approved the Hampton Boulevard Redevelopment Project created by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority pursuant to Code § 36-49, which authorizes such an authority to "adopt a redevelopment plan for a designated redevelopment area to address blighted areas" and Code § 36-51(A), which authorizes localities to approve redevelopment plans. The approval was based on a redevelopment study which determined that the area was blighted due to incompatible land uses, disrepair, environmental risks, demographic changes, and high crime rates. Properties were classified as good, fair, or poor; about 20 percent were classified as poor. The area was selected to assist in the expansion of Old Dominion University, immediately adjacent to the Redevelopment Project. Challenges to individual condemnations were rejected and a trial court upheld the finding of blight. In 2010 the Authority initiated condemnation of PKO’s apartment building. PKO appealed the adverse decision. The Virginia Supreme Court held that the court erred in permitting the Authority to acquire PKO's property after the effective date of the statutory limitation added by Code § 1-219.1, which provides that property taken for condemnation must itself be blighted at the time the petition for condemnation is filed. The limitation applies to all redevelopment and housing authorities operating pursuant to redevelopment plans adopted prior to January 1, 2007. It does not refer to the filing of a petition for condemnation or the institution of the acquisition of property, but instead limits the "ability of a redevelopment and housing authority ... to acquire property." View "PKO Ventures, LLC v. Norfolk Redev. & Housing Auth." on Justia Law

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The Clerk of the Circuit Court of the City of Fredericksburg, filed a putative class action in the federal district court against the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), alleging that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had failed to pay recordation taxes imposed by Code §§ 58.1-801 and -802. The federal court certified to the Virginia Supreme Court two questions: Under Virginia law, does a clerk of court possess statutory standing to initiate a lawsuit, in his official capacity, to enforce the real estate transfer tax; If a clerk of court does possess such authority, does Virginia law authorize him to do so as a class representative on behalf of all clerks of court throughout the Commonwealth? The court answered the first question “no” and did not address the second. The court characterized the clerk’s duties as ministerial and noted the statutory scheme for enforcement of the transfer tax. View "Small v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n" on Justia Law

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James and Christine Garner filed an amended complaint seeking a declaration for determination of title to a private alley running between their property and property owned by H. Curtiss Martin and Virginia Drewry (Martin). The circuit court (1) determined that the Garners held fee simple title up to the centerline of the portion of the alley abutting Martin's property; and (2) dismissed Martin's cross-claim against other abutting property owners seeking a determination as to ownership of the remaining length of the alley because there was no justiciable controversy as to the abutting owners. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) properly ruled that the Garners owned in fee simple up to the centerline of that portion of the alley abutting Martin's property; and (2) did not err in ruling there was no justiciable controversy with regard to Martin's claim of ownership of the remaining length of the alley, as Martin failed to allege that the abutting property owners had asserted an ownership interest in the alley. View "Martin v. Garner" on Justia Law

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James and Christine Garner sought side and rear yard variances in connection with a proposed single family home on their property. The City Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) voted to approve the Garners' application and grant the variances. H. Curtiss Martin and Virginia Drewry, whose property adjoined the Garners' property to the west, appealed. The circuit court upheld the decision of the BZA. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred in its judgment because the BZA's decision was contrary to law. Specifically, the Court held that none of the conditions asserted by the Garners to justify their request for a variance satisfied the requirements of section 9.18(b) of the City Charter, which enumerates the conditions and justifications the property owner must show in order for the BZA to authorize a variance. View "Martin v. City of Alexandria" on Justia Law

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The parties to this complex dispute were Plaintiffs, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia (the Diocese) and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC), and Defendants, seven local congregations, including The Falls Church (collectively, the CANA congregations), Appellant in the present case. After The Falls Church disaffiliated from TEC, Plaintiffs filed complaints asserting that all personal and real property held by the CANA congregations was actually held in trust for TEC and the Diocese. The trial court found that Plaintiffs carried their burden of proving they had contractual and propriety interests in the church property at issue and granted relief to Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) Plaintiffs had a proprietary interest in the properties, and therefore, a constructive denominational trust should be imposed in the properties; (2) the trial court correctly ordered Appellant to convey the property to Plaintiffs; and (3) the trial court erred in its disposition of personal property acquired by Appellant after the vote to disaffiliate. View "The Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S." on Justia Law

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Appellant retained Law Firm as his counsel in two cases filed against Appellant by his brother. The parties settled. Thereafter, the circuit court (1) ordered Appellant to pay $130,000 to his attorney from proceeds deposited with the circuit court pursuant to the settlement agreement; (2) denied Appellant a jury trial on the attorney's fee issue; and (3) refused to allow an appeal bond pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 8.01-676.1(C), which would have suspended execution of its award. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) had jurisdiction to resolve Law Firm's fee dispute with Appellant; (2) did not err in overruling Appellant's jury trial request; and (3) erred in refusing Appellant's request to post an appeal bond and suspend the award, but because the court's award to Law Firm was proper, the error was harmless. View "Henderson v. Ayres & Hartnett, P.C." on Justia Law