Dwyer v. Town of Culpeper: Final Orders and Virginia Condemnation Law

Eminent domain cases in Virginia involve, often, a two-stage process by which to finally resolve the acquisition of private property for public use. At the end of trial, a condemnation jury (or commission) issues a report finding the amount of “just compensation” to be paid for the private property taken. The first stage addresses the confirmation, alteration, or modification of the report by the trial court under Virginia Code § 25.1-239. The second stage deals with the “the rights and claims of the persons entitled to” the proceeds of the condemnation award (including any dispute as to whom the funds belong as with, for example, lien holders) under Virginia Code §§ 25.1-240 and 25.1-241.

In Dwyer v. Town of Culpeper, Record No. 180178 (March 28, 2019), the Supreme Court of Virginia addressed whether a landowner timely filed his appeal from a condemnation proceeding in the context of the two-stage process. A jury awarded the landowner, Richard Dwyer, $762,240 in “just compensation” for 5.4 acres that the Town of Culpeper acquired through eminent domain to build a road. Dwyer contended that the property was worth $4.5 million and argued that the higher value was warranted based upon his plans to use the property in connection with his development of a large apartment complex.

The circuit court entered an order confirming the jury’s award of just compensation, stage one, but expressly reserved jurisdiction to address the second stage, which determines to whom the proceeds are to be paid. The issue concerned whether the specific reservation of jurisdiction to address the “second stage” matters extended the time period in which to note an appeal (and rendering the initial order confirming the report non-final for purposes of calculating when an appeal must be filed).

The Supreme Court recognized the “unique framework by which courts conduct condemnation proceedings.”  Unlike traditional civil cases in which courts may retain jurisdiction to address various litigation matters, Virginia Code § 25.1-239(A) provides that “[t]he order confirming, altering or modifying the report of just compensation shall be final.”  Specifically, the Supreme Court noted that “a confirmation order entered pursuant to [] § 25.1-239, is separate and distinct from the distribution order. By statute, they can be appealed separately with neither impacting the other.” Because the landowner did not appeal from the Section 239 order within thirty days, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for failure to comply with the 30-day time requirement of Rule 5:9(a) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Jeff Geiger leads Sands Anderson’s Eminent Domain Law Team. If you have any questions about this post or any other condemnation issues, please reach out to Jeff or any member of the Eminent Domain Law Team.    

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