Articles Posted in Virginia Supreme Court

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Employee filed a complaint against Corporation seeking damages for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and wrongful termination. Previous to the suit, Corporation offered Employee a severance package that Employee rejected because it would have taken away any rights to a claim for a change in control. A jury found for Employee on all counts except for wrongful termination. The trial court awarded damages and attorney's fees to Employee. The Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, holding the circuit court did not err when it (1) refused to hold, as a matter of law, that Employee failed to present sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a change in control occurred; (2) instructed the jury to construe any ambiguities in the contracts against the drafter; (3) submitted Employee's alternative theory of mandatory severance benefits to the jury; (4) submitted Employee's claim for unjust enrichment to the jury; (5) admitted the testimony of Employee's damages expert; and (6) awarded Employee attorneys' fees and expenses for breach of the severance agreement. However, the trial court erred in determining that the severance agreement entitled Employee to recover his legal fees for claims that were not related to breach of the severance agreement. View "Online Res. Corp. v. Lawlor" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted on and convicted of one count of capital murder in the commission of, or subsequent to, rape or attempted rape, and one count of capital murder in the commission of abduction with the intent to defile. The sentencing court imposed two sentences of death. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the circuit court did not commit prejudicial error in (a) limiting questioning during voir dire, (b) excluding evidence during the penalty phase of trial, and (c) instructing the jury; (2) the evidence was sufficient to prove the elements of the offenses charged and the aggravating factors required for imposition of a sentence of death; (3) the imposition of the death penalty was constitutional and met the relevant statutory factors; and (4) the sentences of death were not imposed under mistake and were not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. View "Lawlor v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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Child was conceived in vitro using Father's sperm and Mother's egg. After Child was born, Father voluntarily signed an acknowledgment of paternity jointly with Mother pursuant to Va. Code 20-49.1(B)(2). The couple later separated, and Father filed a petition to determine parentage and establish custody and visitation, arguing that the acknowledgment of paternity created a final and binding parent-child legal status between Father and Child. Mother filed pleas in bar asserting that Father was barred from being Child's legal parent because he and Mother were never married and Child was conceived through assisted conception. The circuit court sustained the pleas in bar and dismissed the remainder of Father's petition seeking custody and visitation. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the assisted conception statute does not operate to divest individuals of the ability to establish parentage solely due to marital status under the circumstances presented in this case; (2) the assisted conception statute does not violate equal protection but, if not harmonized with another statute to allow unmarried fathers parentage of their children, would violate constitutional rights to due process; and (3) acknowledgments of paternity executed pursuant to section 20-49.1(B)(2) are enforceable. View "L.F. v. Breit" on Justia Law

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Steven Funkhouser's three-year-old twins were playing in their parents' 2001 Ford Windstar when a fire erupted in the passenger compartment of the van. One of the twins died as a result of third-degree burns she received. Funkhouser, as administrator of his daughter's estate, brought a products liability action against For Motor Company and Obaugh Ford (collectively, Ford). Funkhouser sought to introduce evidence of seven other Ford Windstar fires that occurred prior to the Funkhouser fire that were parked and not in operation. The court excluded the evidence and ruled that Funkhouser's expert witnesses could not rely on the excluded evidence. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) because none of the seven prior fires were the same or substantially similar to the Funkhouser fire, the evidence was properly excluded for failing the substantial similarity test; and (2) an expert cannot offer opinion testimony based on evidence that fails the substantial similarity test, and accordingly, the trial court did not err in precluding Funkhouser's experts from relying on the evidence of the seven other Windstar fires as a basis for their opinions. View "Funkhouser v. Ford Motor Co." on Justia Law

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James Lokey passed away due to complications related to mesothelioma. Lokey had served as a state trooper, where his duties included observing vehicle inspections wherein mechanics used compressed air to blow out brake debris to allow for visual inspection of the brakes. Walter Boomer, the administrator of Lokey's estate, filed wrongful death actions against Honeywell International, Inc., the successor-in-interest to Bendix, and Ford Motor Company, alleging that Lokey's mesothelioma was a result of exposure to asbestos in dust from Bendix brakes installed in Ford and other vehicles. After a jury trial, the trial court found in favor of the estate as to negligence and awarded damages in the amount of $282,685. Ford and Honeywell appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to causation; and (2) there was sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Defendants' failure to warn was the proximate cause of Lokey's mesothelioma. View "Ford Motor Co. v. Boomer" on Justia Law

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Rubert Minton suffered injuries as a result of developing mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos while working on Exxon Mobile Corporation (Exxon) ships during his employment at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (Shipyard). Minton filed suit against Exxon under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA) for failure to warn Minton of, and protect him from, the dangers associated with asbestos. The jury found in favor of Minton and awarded him compensatory damages, medical expenses, and punitive damages. Exxon appealed. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding (1) the circuit court erred in refusing to admit relevant evidence regarding the Shipyard's knowledge of the danger of asbestos exposure and its ability to remedy the danger; and (2) the award of $12,500,000 in punitive damages was inappropriately granted because punitive damages are a remedy prohibited by the terms of LHWCA. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton" on Justia Law

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Three fitness clubs filed declaratory judgment actions challenging the lease of public property by the City of Charlottesville to the Piedmont Family YMCA and a use agreement governing the leased property entered into between the City, Albemarle County, and the YMCA. The circuit courts of the City and County sustained the County Board of Supervisors' and City Council's demurrers to the actions. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the circuit courts and dismissed the declaratory judgment actions, holding that the circuit courts did not have authority to exercise jurisdiction because none of the claims asserted in the declaratory judgment actions presented a justiciable controversy. View "Charlottesville Fitness Club Operators Ass'n v. Albemarle County Bd. of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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William Sprouse, an employee of Allied Concrete Company, was driving a loaded concrete truck when he lost control of his vehicle, causing it to tip over and to land on the vehicle occupied by Isaiah Lester and his wife, Jessica. Jessica died from her injuries. Lester, as administrator and beneficiary of Jessica's estate, filed a complaint against Allied Concrete and Sprouse, seeking compensatory damages for the wrongful death of Jessica. Lester also filed a separate complaint against Allied Concrete and Sprouse, seeking compensatory damages for his personal injuries. These actions were consolidated. The jury awarded Lester $6,227,000 on the wrongful death action and $2,350,000 on his personal injury action. Subsequently, the trial court sanctioned Lester and Murray for destroying evidence and providing false information related to Lester's Facebook account. The court also ordered remittitur of $4,127,000 of Lester's wrongful death award. Allied Concrete and Lester appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the trial court (1) did not err in refusing to grant Allied Concrete's motions for a retrial and a mistrial; but (2) erred in granting the remittitur. View "Allied Concrete Co. v. Lester" on Justia Law

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Nurse was fired by Doctor, her supervisor, after she refused his sexual advances. Nurse sued Doctor and her Employer, asserting claims for gender discrimination against Employer and wrongful discharge against Doctor and Employer. Defendants moved to dismiss. The U.S. district court granted the motion as to Doctor, concluding that wrongful discharge claims by an employee are cognizable only against the employer and not against supervisors or co-employees in their individual capacity. On appeal, the U.S. court of appeals certified to the Virginia Supreme Court the question of whether Nurse's wrongful discharge claim was cognizable against Doctor. The Supreme Court concluded that Virginia recognizes a common law tort claim of wrongful discharge in violation of established public policy against an individual who was not the plaintiff's actual employer but who was the actor in violation of public policy, as a supervisor or manager, and who participated in the wrongful firing of the plaintiff. View "VanBuren v. Grubb" on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals arose from a final determination of the State Corporation Commission in a mandated biennial review of the rates, terms, and conditions for the provision of generation, distribution and transmission services of an electric utility. As pertinent here, commencing in 2011, the Virginia Electric Utility Regulation Act required the Commission to conduct biennial reviews of an electric utility's performance during the two successive twelve-month periods immediately prior to such reviews pursuant to Va. Code Ann. 56-585.1(A). At issue in this appeal was whether in the 2011 biennial review of the performance of Virginia Electric and Power Company in the 2009-2010 test period the Commission erred in determining that the utility's authorized fair rate of return on common equity of 10.9 percent would apply to the entire 2011-2012 test period in the next biennial review in 2013. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Commission's construction of Code 56-585.1 was based upon the proper application of legal principles, and the Commission did not abuse the discretion afforded to it under that statute. View "Va. Elec. & Power Co. v. State Corp. Comm'n" on Justia Law