Rutter v. Oakwood Living Centers of Virginia

In the last batch of SCV opinions, we got a special treat: another foray into the Lovecraftian depths of appellate jurisdiction, Rutter v. Oakwood Living Centers of Virginia, Inc.

I would have written something earlier, but I’ve had a busy few weeks–two arguments in Richmond, and the birth of our daughter, Catherine Roberts.

Obligatory baby picture after the jump.

Anywho, back to the madness. Here is how Chief Justice Kinser begins her summary of Rutter‘s holding:

In exercising jurisdiction to determine our own jurisdiction and thereby analyzing the merits of the issue presented on appeal, we conclude that Code Section 8.01-335(B) does not allow the prospective discontinuance or dismissal of an action.

Don’t stare at that sentence too long. You will go insane. Instead, let’s take this one a step at a time:

Rutter brought a wrongful death suit against four defendants: Oakwood, an assisted living facility; one of its contractors, Prism, and two of Prism’s officers, Dixon and Knowlton.

In 2000, Prism filed for bankruptcy. Dixon and Prism filed a notice of bankruptcy, alerting the circuit court that the suit against them was automatically stayed. Reasonable enough.

In response, the circuit court entered an order removing the case from its docket, and purporting to discontinue it if, after three years, there had been no further proceeding under Code Section 8.01-335(B).

In other words, it attempted to enter a self-executing order prospectively discontinuing a case for lack of activity.

Which, you know, sounds like one of those weird things a court shouldn’t be able to do. For ease of reference, we’ll call this ruling the “2000 Order.”Continue Reading Rutter v. Oakwood Living Facilities: SCV Exercises Jurisdiction to Determine Lack of Jurisdiction, After Ruling on the Merits