Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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 reversed the circuit court's judgment finding that a Buell Classifier was ordinary building material and, as such, was subject to Virginia's statute of repose, holding that the Buell Classifier at issue was equipment within the meaning of Va. Code 8.01-250.Luck Stone Corporation owned and operated a stone quarry. A part of its operation was system for the production of manufactured sand. In 2007, Luck Stone replaced earlier equipment with two Buell Classifiers and other components of the sand manufacturing system with products manufactured by BFK, Inc. Daniel Potter, who was employed by Luck Stone as a driver, was killed during the course and scope of his employment. Plaintiff, Daniel's father, brought an action under the Virginia Wrongful death Act, Va. Code 8.01-50, against BFK. BFK filed a plea in bar, arguing that Plaintiff's action was barred under the statute of repose because the Buell Classifier did not qualify as equipment or machinery. The circuit court sustained the plea in bar and dismissed the action against BFK. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Buell Classifier was equipment within the meaning of section 8.01-250, and therefore, the circuit court erred in sustaining BFK's plea in bar based on its conclusion that the Buell Classifier qualified as ordinary building materials. View "Potter v. BFK, Inc." 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 vacated the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the Workers' Compensation Commission finding that Claimant suffered a compensable injury to her right shoulder, holding that the court of appeals erred in applying the legal standard for determining whether Claimant suffered a compensable "injury by accident" to her shoulder.Claimant, a math teacher, slipped on a puddle on her classroom floor and fell on her right side. Claimant filed claims for an award of benefits by the Commission, claiming that the fall injured her right shoulder. The Commission ruled that Claimant established a compensable injury by accident to her shoulder. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the court of appeals erred in applying the standard for determining whether Claimant had suffered an injury by accident to her shoulder. View "Alexandria City Public Schools v. Handel" on Justia Law

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In this action in which Plaintiff alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation against the Commonwealth's attorney, the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's ruling that the conduct alleged was insufficient to state a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress but reversed the circuit court's ruling that Defendant was absolutely immune from Plaintiff's defamation claim.After she was fired, Plaintiff, a former administrative assistant in the Commonwealth's attorney's office, filed this complaint against Chadwick Seth Baker, the Commonwealth's attorney for Dickenson County, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress and defamation. Baker filed a demurrer and motion to dismiss. The circuit court sustained Baker's demurrer, ruling that termination of at-will employment did not give rise to a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and that Baker enjoyed absolute immunity regarding the defamation claim. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) absolute immunity does not apply to a Commonwealth's attorney's allegedly defamatory statements about why he made the decision to fire an employee; and (2) Plaintiff did not adequately plead a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. View "Viers v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the workers' compensation commission's award based on Va. Code 65.2-503 for Michael Richardson's loss of use before hip replacement surgery, holding that the court of appeals did not err in holding that, pursuant to the statute, loss of use is calculated before any surgery that improves functionality by use of a prosthetic device.Richardson sustained a work-related hip injury that would have deprived him of seventy-four percent of the normal use of his left leg if it remained untreated. Richardson's employer, however, paid for a total hip replacement that left Richardson with an eleven percent permanent loss of the use of his leg. Richardson filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits based on a seventy-four percent loss of use of his left leg. The Commission awarded Richardson permanent partial disability benefits reflecting a seventy-four percent loss-of-use rating. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that loss of use under section 65.2-503 is calculated before any surgery that improves functionality by use of a prosthetic device. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the court of appeals' interpretation of the statute was reasonable. View "Loudoun County v. Richardson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the determination of the Workers' Compensation Commission that Carnell Carrington was not entitled to temporary benefits for a total disability caused by kidney failure unrelated to his employment, holding that the court of appeals did not err.At the time he began working for his employer in 1992, Carrington had a preexisting kidney job. In 2006, Carrignton received a kidney transplant but returned to work without restrictions. In 2014, Carrington's kidney condition deteriorated severely, rendering him totally disabled from performing any work. The Commission concluded that Carrington was not entitled to continuing temporary total-disability benefits because neither his preexisting kidney disease nor his kidney failure had any connection to his employment. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the two-causes rule articulated in Bergmann v. L & W Drywall, 222 Va. 30 (1981), did not apply to the facts of this case. View "Carrington v. Aquatic Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission not to award Appellant benefits after he was injured while renovating a historic school building, holding that Appellant did not meet his burden of proving his statutory-employer claim for workers’ compensation benefits.Appellant sought benefits against a church and its historical society, alleging that these entities were his statutory employers. The Commission denied benefits, holding that none of the defendants were Appellant’s direct employer and that the church and the historical society were not Appellant’s statutory employers. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission applied the correct legal standard and acted within its fact-finding discretion in concluding that Appellant had failed to prove that the church or the historical society were his statutory employers. View "Jeffreys v. Uninsured Employer's Fund" on Justia Law

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The circuit court did not err when it ruled that Plaintiff, a retired firefighter, was not a disabled person entitled to receive health insurance benefits under the Virginia Line of Duty Death and Disability Act, Va. Code 9.1-400 et seq.Plaintiff was diagnosed with throat cancer after he retired from the fire department but did not experience any health problems while he worked as a firefighter. The circuit court concluded (1) under the plain reading of the Act, Plaintiff’s duties as a firefighter ceased as of his retirement; and (2) because Plaintiff became disabled after he retired, his claim for insurance coverage under the Act was not viable. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff was not a “disabled person” under the Act because his incapacity did not prevent the “further performance” of his duties as a firefighter. Therefore, Plaintiff was not entitled to continued health insurance coverage under the Act. View "Jones v. Von Moll" on Justia Law

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In this appeal from a state employee grievance proceeding, a hearing officer’s decision upholding the termination of Nathan Osborn, a special agent with the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), was not contrary to law.ABC terminated Osburn’s employment after receiving a complaint that Osburn rummaged, without permission, through the business records of a business owner who had applied for a retail alcohol license. A hearing officer upheld Osburn’s termination, concluding that the warrantless search was not permissible, resulting in a violation of the applicant’s constitutional rights. The circuit court upheld the hearing officer’s determination. The court of appeals affirmed the circuit court’s determination that Osborn violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Osburn’s warrantless inspection of the office of the applicant’s business was not permissible under the highly regulated industry exception to the warrant requirement and that the business owner did not consent to Osburn’s warrantless search of the office. View "Osburn v. Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control" on Justia Law