What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than 1000 or so words about some recent SCOVA appellate arcana?

(You can probably tell by now if this post is for you.)

Last week, SCOVA handed down Bonanno v. Quinn, an opinion that Justice Mims has thoughtfully crammed with nerdiana. If you’re still reading, Bonanno grew out of an adoption proceeding. Dr. Bonanno’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Michael Quinn. Elizabeth had a daughter from an earlier relationship. She and Dr. Bonanno had joint legal custody of the child; Elizabeth had physical custody and Dr. Bonanno had visitation rights.
Continue Reading Bonanno v. Quinn: SCOVA on Non-Party Appeals, Standing, Jurisdiction, & Appellate Attorney’s Fees

I’m a sucker for a good summary-judgment opinion, and the Fourth Circuit delivered last week with Sedar v. Reston Town Center Property, LLC. Sedar transparently applies the summary-judgment to a straightforward slip-and-fall fact pattern, offering real guidance to the bench and bar.

First, the facts: Sedar was walking out of a parking garage with two colleagues when she fell down a flight of stairs. She was knocked unconscious and broke her elbow. Sedar does not remember the fall, and neither of her friends saw exactly what happened–though they could describe Sedar’s general path of travel. Though their testimony differed, both colleagues placed her over loose bricks at the top of the stairs. Other friends soon arrived and took photographs and video. When Sedar came to, she noticed a scuff mark on the top of her shoe. She later hired a structural engineer. He determined that evidence showed unstable bricks and caulk, which constituted a hazard and violated the building and maintenance codes. The engineer concluded that this most likely caused Sedar to fall.

Sedar sued. After discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. They also asked the district court to exclude Sedar’s expert.

The district court granted summary judgment, holding that Sedar had produced no evidence that the defendants had actual or constructive notice of the defect. It also noted that Virginia law does not impose liability to fix sidewalk irregularities that are less than an inch or two in size. Finally, the district court concluded that even if Sedar had presented enough evidence of negligence, she’d produced no evidence that the defects caused her fall.

As it turned out, the district court was wrong on each point.


Continue Reading What’s a Scintilla? Sedar v. Reston Town Center Property, LLC

The Supreme Court of Virginia handed down a new opinion today, Albritton v. Commonwealth, that’s notable for two reasons. First, it has a good discussion of bad-brief waiver. Second, it hints that the Supreme Court would not look favorably upon the use of affidavits at summary judgment.
Continue Reading SCOVA on Bad-Brief Waiver and Affidavits at Summary Judgment

Good stuff out of the Fourth Circuit this week–the Court published an opinion addressing two delightfully nerdy topics, Rule 59 motions and the mandate rule, JTH Tax, Inc. v. Aime

Full disclosure: Before reading this opinion, I did not know that the mandate rule was a thing.

I mean, I could have derived it–it seems like a bad idea to ask a lower court to overrule a higher court’s opinion earlier in the exact same case?–but I didn’t know there was actually a rule saying that you can’t do that. Now I do. So I am literally a better lawyer than I was when I started the opinion. Read on if you are dumb like me and could use a powerup.

Continue Reading CA4 on Mandate Rule and Rule 59

Judge hammer.
Judge hammer.

So I’m a big nerd. I like trivia, and I enjoy some of the murkier procedural aspects of appellate litigation–in particular, the outer margins of appellate jurisdiction. As you’ve probably guessed, this makes me very popular at dinner parties.

In December, the Fourth Circuit handed down a nice little

it's our corporate motto.
It’s our new corporate motto.

Frequent fliers in the Supreme Court of Virginia are all too familiar with Rule 5:25, the Court’s contemporaneous-objection rule.

The rule is straightforward:

No ruling of the trial court, disciplinary board, or commission before which the
case was initially heard will be considered as a basis

The Supreme Court of Virginia livened up the lull between Christmas and New Year’s with an order vacating the preliminary injunction in Dietz Development, LLC v. Perez. Dietz has everything–First Amendment Issues, appellate procedure, and a sexy social media angle.

Background

It’s probably the latter that first got Dietz into the Washington Post. In short, Perez, a homeowner, was dissatisfied with Dietz’s work as a contractor, so she posted negative reviews on the online forums Yelp and Angie’s List. She also accused the firm of invoicing her for work that it hadn’t done, and intimated that it may have been involved in stealing her jewelery.

Dietz sued for defamation and asked for an injunction directing Perez to remove the negative postings and preventing her from making similar statements in the future.

Dietz sought a preliminary injunction. The trial court heard evidence and issued an injunction directing Perez to remove or modify certain posts.

Facepalm.

First Amendment.

This is going to get ugly.

And so it came to pass. Perez got some help from the ACLU and Public Citizen. She filed a petition for review on her behalf under Code Section 8.01-626, which basically allows immediate review of orders granting or denying an injunction. The statute says that petitions for review are directed to a single justice, but in practice they’re reviewed by panels of three justices.

Perez assembled a very persuasive petition for review, arguing principally that (1) the trial court’s ruling was a constitutionally impermissible prior restraint, and (2) equity will not enjoin a libel.

Perez filed her petition on December 26. Two days later, the Supreme Court of Virginia vacated the injunction. Think about that: two days, starting on the day after Christmas, to review the record, consider the law, and issue a ruling. As a person who’s colossally unproductive during the holidays (witness my blog output), I stand in awe.

Anyway, back to the action. Justices Lemons, Goodwyn, and Powell ruled that the circuit court’s order was defective because it did not specify the time during which the injunction would be effective, as required by Code Section 8.01-624. The Court also ruled that Dietz had an adequate remedy at law.

So what can we take away from Dietz?


Continue Reading Yelp! Dietz Development, LLC v. Perez