Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part rulings made by the State Corporation Commission during its triennial review of Appalachian Power Company's rates, terms, and conditions pursuant to Va. Code 56.585.1, holding that remand was required for further proceedings.Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Commission (1) erred in finding that it was not reasonable for Appalachian to record its costs associated with the early retirement of its coal-fired power plants as asset impairments; (2) did not err when it implemented depreciation rates from the revised 2017 Depreciation Study for the years 2018 and 2019 in the triennial review; (3) did not err by refusing to apply Va. Code 56-585.1(E) retroactively; and (4) did not err in finding Appalachian's affiliate costs under an Inter-Company Power Agreement with Ohio Valley Electric Cooperation to be reasonable. View "Appalachian Power Co. v. State Corp. Commission" on Justia Law

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Regulus, an LLC solely owned by Klug, is the holding company for all the rights, transactions, and income related to Klug’s literary works, which include several internationally-received legal fiction novels. In 2018, Klug filed a Virginia income tax return, attaching thereto a Schedule C to indicate that he derived business income in Charlottesville. The city could not locate a business license issued to Klug or to Regulus and requested information about Klug’s business and his income therefrom for the tax years 2015-2018. Klug responded that Charlottesville’s Ordinance does not apply to him because he “offer[s] no goods or services to the public[,]” has “no physical storefront or shingle[,]” “do[es] not advertise[,]” has no employees, has no inventory, and offers a “product” that is intangible intellectual property.The Virginia Supreme Court held that a freelance writer’s business does not provide a service and is not covered by the ordinance’s catchall provision. The court did not reach the question of whether the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague as applied to the freelance writer. The court affirmed the circuit court’s decision to order the city to refund Klug his tax payments but concluded that the circuit court erred by awarding costs not essential for the prosecution of the suit. View "City of Charlottesville v. Regulus Books, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the circuit court upholding the State Health Commissioner's denial of Chesapeake Regional Medical Center's (CMRC) application for a Certificate of Public Need, holding that the harmless error doctrine does not apply to an error of law in an administrative agency case under the Virginia Administrative Process Act.CMRC applied for a new open-heart surgery service and additional cardiac catheterization equipment. The Commissioner denied the application. CRMC appealed, contending that the Commissioner erred in his interpretation of the relevant administrative regulation. The circuit court affirmed, determining that the Commissioner's incorrect interpretation and application of the regulation was harmless error. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in applying the harmless error doctrine to the agency's legal error in interpreting and applying its own regulations; and (2) the lower courts erred by failing to remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. View "Chesapeake Hospital Authority v. State Health Commissioner" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court holding that the Virginia Department of Taxation's corporation income tax assessments for the years in issue were erroneous and ordering the Department to refund Lorillard Tobacco Company the amount of its overpayments on the assessments for the years in issue, holding that there was no error.Lorillard filed an application for correction of erroneous assessment of corporation income taxes challenging the denial of its refund claims for certain assessments. The circuit court held that the Department's assessments were erroneous and ordered the Department to correct the assessments by refunding Lorillard the amount of its overpayments. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err. View "Virginia Department of Taxation v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the portion of the judgment of the court of appeals applying the law of the case doctrine to this appeal of an award of workers' compensation benefits but affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals upholding the Workers Compensation Commission's award of benefits to Plaintiff, holding that the evidence supported the award.Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on the basis that, although Plaintiff had clearly suffered an injury, he failed to establish an identifiable incident or sudden precipitating event that caused the injury. The Commission reversed the Deputy Commissioner's ruling and entered an award of benefits. The court of appeals ultimately affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals erred in its application of the law of the case doctrine; and (2) the evidence supported the Commission's award of benefits to Plaintiff. View "City of Charlottesville v. Sclafani" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the State Corporation Commission finding that a pumped storage hydroelectric facility (or pumped storage) generates "renewable energy" under the former definition in Va. Code 56-576 and that the amended definition would not apply to contracts executed before the amendment's effective date, holding that there was no error.The Commission concluded that pumped storage satisfied the statutory definition of renewable energy in effect at the time that the service provider executed its contracts and declined to find that the amended definition would apply retroactively to contracts executed before the amendment's effective date. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commission did not err in its interpretation of the statute or its finding that pumped storage satisfied the former definition of renewable energy; and (2) the Commission did not err in refusing retroactively to apply the amended statutory definition of renewable energy to the service provider's contracts that were executed before the amendment took effect. View "Virginia Electric & Power Co. v. State Corporation Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Appellants' challenges to certain amendments to the Fairfax County Zoning Ordinance and the imposition of a Transient Occupancy Tax, holding that the circuit court did not err.Appellants owned or possessed homes within Fairfax County. In 2018, the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County amended the Zoning Ordinance (the STL Amendment) redefining a dwelling and adding definitions for "transient occupancy" and "short-term lodging." The Board also amended the County Code to impose a transient occupancy tax of two percent of the cost of the short-term lodging (the TOT Amendment). Appellants brought a declaratory judgment action challenging the validity of the STL Amendment and the TOT Amendment. The trial court dismissed Appellants' claims with prejudice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in dismissing Appellants' challenges to the amendments. View "Norton v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the court of appeals erred by affirming an award of permanent total disability benefits after Employee suffered an injury that was a compensable consequence of an earlier compensable injury.Merrick Vincent was injured during the course and scope of his employment and was awarded temporary total benefits. Vincent later fell down the stairs of his home and injured his left knee. A deputy commission awarded him benefits on the grounds that the knee injury was a compensable consequence of his previous injuries. Vincent then filed a change-in-condition claim seeking an award of permanent total disability benefits under Va. Code 65.2-503(C)(1). A deputy commission awarded the benefits, and the Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) section 65.2-503(C)(1) permits an award of permanent total disability only if two disabling injuries occurred "in the same accident"; and (2) because Vincent suffered his original injuries and his knee injury in different accidents, the court of appeals erred by affirming the Commission's ruling. View "Merck v. Vincent" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court determining that the Historic Alexandria Foundation lacked standing to pursue the claims asserted in this case, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's judgment.Vowell, LLC filed applications to obtain certain permits for the renovation of property located in the Old and Historic District of the City of Alexandria. The Old and Historic Alexandria District Board of Architectural Review (the BAR) approved Vowell's applications, and the City Council affirmed the BAR's decision. The Foundation appealed the City's Council decision. The circuit court dismissed the matter with prejudice, concluding that the petition did not establish that the Foundation was an aggrieved party with standing to pursue the appeal. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Foundation lacked standing because the allegations of the petition failed to establish that the Foundation suffered particularized harm that differed from that suffered by the public in general. View "Historic Alexandria Foundation v. City of Alexandria" on Justia Law

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In this complaint brought over the actions of City of Charlottesville regarding Lee Park, the Supreme Court reversed and vacated the judgment, orders, and all forms of relief granted by the circuit court to Plaintiffs, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that the City's actions were prohibited by Va. Code 15.2-1812.In 2017, the City council approved resolutions to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee (Lee Statute) in Lee Park, to rename and redesign Lee Park, and to support the renaming, redesign, and transformation of Jackson Park. The City subsequently approved a resolution to remove a statue of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson in Jackson park. Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that the City's actions violated section 15.2-1812. The circuit court subsequently entered several orders and ultimately enjoined the City from removing the statues and awarded Plaintiffs attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that section 15.2-1812 did not apply to the statues. View "City of Charlottesville v. Payne" on Justia Law