Justia Virginia Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court finding in favor of Landlord against all of defendants except two on Landlord's suit against two tenants and seven other parties for fraudulent and voluntary conveyances and against a single defendant for conversion, holding that the trial court misapplied Virginia law and made factually insupportable findings.In its letter opinion, the trial court made each of the defendants which the court had found liable jointly and severally liable with in personam judgments for the unpaid rent, Landlord's attorney fees, and sanctions. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the trial court's in personal, joint and several judgments in this case must be reversed as legally erroneous and factually insupportable; and (2) the trial court erred in finding the single defendant liable for conversion. View "Grayson v. Westwood Buildings L.P." 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 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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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiff's complaint in this fraudulent conveyance suit, holding that the circuit court erred in shifting only the burden of production, and not the burden of persuasion, to Defendants after Plaintiff established a presumption of fraudulent conveyance.Plaintiff filed this suit seeking to void a purported fraudulent conveyance of a certain residence. The circuit court found that Plaintiff's evidence was sufficient to establish a presumption that the conveyance was fraudulent but eventually dismissed Plaintiff's complaint. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the circuit court erred in ruling that after a plaintiff in a fraudulent conveyance case proves a badge of fraud, which creates the presumption of a fraudulent conveyance, the plaintiff still retains the burden of persuasion to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, a fraudulent conveyance. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court erred when it (1) did not shift to Defendants the burden of persuasion along with the burden of production, and (2) did not apply a standard of proof that required strong and clear evidence in determining the sufficiency of Defendants' evidence offered to rebut the presumption of a fraudulent conveyance. View "White v. Llewellyn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Appellant's complaint seeking to quiet title to certain property, holding that a deed restriction for the use of a particular church was not an unreasonable restraint on alienation.In 1875, Edna and Levi Lynn executed a deed granting one acre of land to the Woodbine Baptist Church. Woodbine used the land until 2006, when its trustees gifted it to a Virginia corporation. The corporation received a loan in 2007, and the bank's title search of the property did not disclose the 1875 deed. When the corporation defaulted on the loan, Canova Land and Investment Company acquired title to the property at a foreclosure sell but did not take possession of the property. Canova later brought suit to quiet title to the property, arguing that a reverter clause in the 1875 deed, providing that if the property was not used for purposes expressed in the deed it should revert to the grantors or their heirs, should be voided as an unreasonable restraint on alienation. The circuit court dismissed the complaint, upholding the 1875 deed as valid. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the reverter was a restraint on use and not unreasonable. View "Canova Land & Investment Co. v. Lynn" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that the cluster development plans submitted by two developers were not subject to planning commission review under Va. Code 15.2-2232, holding that the circuit court erred.Two real estate developers proposed to build conventional subdivisions and then reconfigured their previously approved subdivisions into cluster developments. The county planning department advised the developers that they would need to undergo another comprehensive plan compliance review in accordance with section 15.2-2232 because their new plans significantly deviated from the previously approved plans. The developers sought writs of mandamus requiring the county to approve the plans and writs of prohibition preventing the county from ordering a comprehensive plan review. The circuit court ruled in favor of the developers and entered an order directing the county to approver the cluster development concept plans. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the approvals of prior subdivision plans did not foreclose the requirement of a section 15.2-2232 review by the planning commission of different plans later submitted. View "Stafford County v. D.R. Horton, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing Plaintiffs' three separate complaints against the County of Northampton (the County) and the Town of Cape Charles (the Town) with prejudice, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion in excluding one of Plaintiffs' witnesses as an expert.In their complaint, Plaintiffs alleged that their real property had been overvalued in recent tax assessments. The County and Town each filed a motion in limine and motion to dismiss arguing that Plaintiffs' two experts should be excluded because Plaintiffs had not complied with the court's uniform pretrial scheduling order. The court granted the motion to exclude both witnesses as experts and dismissed the case with prejudice. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding one of Plaintiffs' intended expert witnesses from testifying at trial. View "Galloway v. County of Northampton" on Justia Law

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In this appeal brought by the landowner in a condemnation proceeding the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in all respects, holding that the circuit court did not err.After a trial, the circuit court entered a final order confirming the award entered by the Commissioner of Highways of $107,131 for the take and setting aside the award for damages to the residue. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court (1) did not abuse its discretion in refusing to admit ten-year-old site plans into evidence; and (2) did not err in deciding to strike the testimony of the owner of the property concerning damage to the residue of the property. As to Appellant's remaining assignment of error, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of invited error foreclosed relief on the claim that the trial court "put the parties on terms." View "Palmyra Associates, LLC v. Commissioner of Highways" on Justia Law

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In this inverse condemnation action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting Defendants' demurrers and dismissing the case, holding that the circuit court properly granted the demurrers.Plaintiffs, who leased oyster grounds from the Commonwealth for the purpose of raising oysters in the Nansemond River, filed an inverse condemnation claim against the City of Suffolk and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District alleging that discharge from a sewer system operated by Defendants polluted the river's waters, thereby preventing Plaintiffs from properly managing their oyster ground leases. The circuit court granted Defendants' demurrers and dismissed the case. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the limited nature of the property interest conferred by a lease of state-owned bottomlands for the purpose of raising oysters forecloses recovery in an inverse condemnation action; and (2) prior takings cases involving different property interests did not control the Court's disposition of Plaintiffs' takings claim here. View "Johnson v. City of Suffolk" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining Defendant's demurrer to Plaintiffs' suit, holding that "fair market value" on a specified date, without more specificity, was not a sufficiently certain price term to allow a court to compel specific performance of a contract regarding the purchase of real estate.The decedent executed a will wherein she devised property to Plaintiffs, her three daughters. In the same will, the decedent granted her son, Defendant, an option to purchase the property from his sisters. The decedent then executed a codicil to her will revising the purchase price for the option to "an amount equal to the fair market value at the time of my death." In their complaint, Plaintiffs sought specific performance of a contract for the purchase of real estate. The circuit court dismissed the case with prejudice, holding that there was no enforceable contract because the will and codicil did not determine the purchase price and did not provide a method of determining the purchase price. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the term "fair market value," as set forth in the codicil, did not provide a price for the property, nor did it provide a mode for ascertaining the price with sufficient certainty. View "Wilburn v. Mangano" on Justia Law