BLOGS: Western District of Virginia Law Blog

Jason grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, clerked for Judge Samuel G. Wilson in Roanoke, Virginia, and practices law in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Monday, September 19, 2016, 3:46 PM

Roanoke Is Back On The Map

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Politico Magazine has published a very good story about the rebirth of Roanoke's downtown and its transformation from a railroad ghost town to a vibrant, outdoorsy, high-tech city.

I have commented before about how the changing economy in cities like Charlottesville and Roanoke would change the legal community as well as the reputation and docket in the Western District of Virginia.  Just as UVa has played a large role in Charlottesville's "innovation" economy, Roanoke's economic growth is fueled in large part by nearby Virginia Tech and its investment in the new medical school and neuroscience institute.  This technology driven growth means that the Western District of Virginia will continue to see more complex business litigation and intellectual property related disputes.

On a personal note, this sentence in the article's lede took me by surprise: "A decade ago, the U.S. Census counted 15 people living in Roanoke's downtown."  It seems I was one of those 15 people.  Actually, it was more than a decade ago, while clerking for Judge Wilson, I lived in a small apartment a couple blocks away from the federal courthouse, close to Center on the Square.  Back then, most people thought I was crazy to live downtown, but now I look like a trendsetter!  

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 10:40 PM

Conversation on the Impact Economy at Live Arts on May 25

Authored by: Jason Hicks
For all my Central Virginia friends, you are invited to a discussion about the "Impact Economy" and a follow-on happy hour on May 25 at the Live Arts Center. This topic seems ideally suited for the Charlottesville community.  Click here to register for this free event.

Join Us!
Purpose + Profit: An Impact Conversation
The Impact Economy is a new market force underpinned by public and private companies, entrepreneurs and investors striving to achieve a deep connection between profit and purpose. Impact is often called “the intersection of doing good and doing well.” With an increasing number of participants, the idea of "Impact" as an economic force has hit the mainstream.  Charlottesville, with its deep sense of history, its firm eye toward the future, and its tremendous sense of community, is the perfect place for the Impact Economy to take hold.

So whether you're an entrepreneur or an academic, an investor or a student, or just interested in learning more about Impact in Charlottesville (and what we can do with it), join us for good coffee, a great conversation, and a follow-on happy hour!
DATE: Wednesday, May 25, 2016

TIME:  3:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
WHERE:  Live Arts
Third Floor Lounge
123 East Water Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Phone: 434.977.4177
Register Here
QUESTIONS:  Please contact Amanda Ames at

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Thursday, March 24, 2016, 10:57 AM

Lawsuits Continue Against Central Virginia Regional Jail

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Two federal lawsuits are proceeding against the Central Virginia Regional Jail for civil rights violations of inmates.  One case is brought by the mother of an inmate who died in CVRJ custody allegedly due to lack of medical care.  Thornhill v. Aylor, et al., Case No. 3:15-cv-00024, (WD.Va.) The other case is brought by a former inmate who claims she had medication withheld while at jail that resulted in a psychotic break and hospitalization at Western State Hospital in Staunton.  Jenkins v. Aylor, et al., Case No. 3:15-cv-00046 (W.D.Va.).  Both cases are pending before Judge Conrad in the Charlottesville Division of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia.  The jail, located in the Town of Orange, serves the surrounding counties of Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, Madison and Orange.

In February 2016, Judge Conrad granted in part and denied in part the defendants' motions to dismiss the Thornhill case.  The Court dismissed the class action claim after finding there was insufficient "commonality" among the proposed class members.  The Court dismissed the individual claims against some of the defendants, but allowed others to go forward after finding that there was "sufficient factual allegations to support the claim that there was an official policy of deliberate indifference at CVRJ, specifically based on [the Superintendent's] inactions as its policy maker."  The Court determined that arguments as to sovereign immunity and qualified immunity would be heard at a later stage of the litigation.

Similarly, in the Jenkins case, the plaintiff brought the suit as a class action, but the defendants have filed motions to dismiss the class action claim and portions of other claims.  Those motions were heard by the Court on March 23, 2016.  An interesting issue that was argued at the hearing was whether the Central Virginia Regional Jail Authority is entitled to sovereign immunity.  Defense attorney argued that the five counties that comprise the authority each have sovereign immunity and would retain sovereign immunity if they operated their own separate jails; therefore, there should be immunity for the regional jail authority.  Plaintiff's counsel, however, argued that the authority itself does not meet the all of the standards for sovereign immunity, even thought its constituent members would have immunity.  The Court reserved judgment and will issue rulings on the motions at a later date.

You can read more about the lawsuits here and here.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 11:36 AM

Virginia GOP Settles Copyright Lawsuit Brought By On-Line Publisher

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Valerie Garner, publisher of the Roanoke Free Press website, has settled her copyright lawsuit against the Virginia Republican Party related to the unauthorized use of a photograph she took of Delegate Sam Rasoul.  This photograph was the subject of prior litigation between Garner and a political blogger who used the same photograph on his website.  In 2015, Judge Conrad issued an opinion denying the blogger's motion to dismiss based on the fair use doctrine.  The case settled shortly thereafter.  In the most recent case against the Virginia Republican Party, Garner alleged that the GOP use the same photograph in a campaign mailer, without her permission.  The GOP had filed a partial motion for summary judgment arguing that Garner was not entitled to statutory damages or attorney fees under the Copyright Act.  While that summary judgment motion was pending, the parties settled the case, for $9,000 and a promise not to use the photograph again, according to news reports.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016, 11:42 AM

New Website for Womble Carlyle's Charlottesville Office

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Womble Carlyle's Charlottesville Office has a new website.  We're still trying to find the perfect photograph to represent Charlottesville's spirit.  Something that captures both Charlottesville's rich history and bright future; its pastoral landscapes and burgeoning economic development; its small town feel and world-class research and development.  The current picture is the view outside our offices on the Downtown Mall.

Womble Carlyle and Charlottesville are a good fit for many reasons.  One of which is our focus on the Impact Economy -- the concept of doing good while doing well.  This new market force is underpinned by public institutions and private companies, entrepreneurs and investors, who combine the desire to achieve financial success with social responsibility.  Womble Carlyle is the first law firm in the country to launch an integrated, full-service Impact Economy practice that covers virtually all Impact sectors, including housing, environment, education, economic development, healthcare and energy.

The concept of an Impact Economy is readily apparent in Charlottesville's innovation community.  The National Venture Capital Association recently ranked Charlottesville as the fastest-growing venture capital market in the United States.  Academic research at the University of Virginia is the driving force behind much of this growth.  Sean Carr, Executive Director of the Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UVa explained that "this latest news about growth in funding opportunities in our area provides some early evidence that Charlottesville has the potential to be one of the nation's best environments for starting and developing high-impact and high-growth ventures."

By their very nature, many of these start-ups begin as a good idea to addresses a need or social problem.  That idea, often created within an academic environment, is then developed and spun off into a money making venture.  The academic or social goal that served as a genesis for the new company need not be abandoned.  To the contrary, profit and social responsibility can work together.  This is a perfect example of the Impact Economy at work.

Womble Carlyle's Impact Team strives to provide strategic and advisory services to our clients in addition to legal services.  We believe that impact-focused businesses can be most effective when they engage trusted advisors to help them creatively respond to the unique challenges presented by the business of addressing and solving social problems.  You can read more about Impact issues here and learn more about Womble Carlyle's Charlottesville office here.

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Friday, February 5, 2016, 1:12 PM

Malicious Prosecution Case to Continue Against Patrick Henry Community College Athletic Director

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Historic Henry County Courthouse
An affair between a college coach and a basketball player, a disputed confrontation between parents and a college administrator, accusations of assault and kidnapping, fifteen days in jail, claims of false arrest and malicious prosecution, and a mystery video tape: this case sounds more like a soap opera than a federal lawsuit.

A new opinion from Judge Kiser involving salacious accusations against the Patrick Henry Community College women's basketball team and athletic director is anything but boring.  See Robinson v. Davis, Case No. 4:15-cv-00040 (Dec. 30, 2015).

The plaintiffs are the parents of a former female student and basketball player at Patrick Henry Community College.  During the 2012 season, the plaintiffs learned that the coach of the women's basketball team was having an affair with another one of the players.  As a result, they removed their daughter from the team and confronted the Athletic Director in a meeting at his office.  The complaint alleges that the AD became upset, belligerent and verbally aggressive towards the parents--yelling at them to get out of his office and threatening to call the police.  

The parents claim they did nothing to physically threaten the AD or basketball coach, but apparently the AD has a different version of the facts because he swore out a warrant against the father for felony abduction, kidnapping and assault, and against the mother for assault.  The parents were arrested after their return to their Virginia Beach home.  The father was held in jail for fifteen days before being released and the charges against him dropped by the prosecutor.  The mother, who was also incarcerated for a time, was found not guilty of the assault charge.

The parents then filed a malicious prosecution and false arrest lawsuit against the Athletic Director and the sheriff's deputy who agreed to file the charges despite, according to the parents, a video tape of the incident "showing no criminal actions."  The case was transferred from Virginia Beach to Henry County, where it was then removed to the Western District of Virginia after the parent's filed an amended complaint adding federal question claims under Section 1983.

The case then came before Judge Kiser on a motion to dismiss.  The Court denied the motion as to the malicious prosecution and false imprisonment claims because, taking the facts alleged in the complaint to be true, there was no probable cause for the arrests.  The Court could not infer, as defendants' requested, that there was more to the altercation than alleged in the complaint because all facts and inferences must be view in the light most favorable to plaintiff on a motion to dismiss.  

Similarly, the Court declined to consider the video of the incident -- which defendants claim shows that the parents became irate, blocked the AD in his office and had to be dragged away by their daughter.  Although the video was referenced in the complaint, the Court determined that its contents should not be considered on a motion to dismiss because the complaint itself did not rely on what was in the video.  (The video will however be considered on any summary judgment motion).

The Court, however, granted the motion to dismiss with respect to the Section 1983 claim against the Athletic Director because his actions were not "under color of state law."  Although he was a state employee, nothing suggested that his alleged conduct (trumping up charges against the parents) was made possible because he was a state employee.  The Court explained:

To put it another way, anyone can lie to the police  Because the [Athletic Director's] actions were no more than what any private citizen could do, there is not a sufficient nexus between [his] actions and the state to convert this private tort into a federal wrong.

The case will now proceed in federal court in Danville, unless somehow the 1983 claim against the sheriff's deputy is dismissed, in which case the case may be remanded back to state court.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 12:57 PM

Charlottesville as a "Hotbed for Innovation": Fastest Growing Area in US for Venture Capital Funding

Authored by: Jason Hicks
Where a court is located often determines the type of cases that it hears.  For example, the "Rocket Docket" of the Eastern District of Virginia hears a large number of patent and technology-related cases both because of the speed at which it dispenses justice and also the many technology companies in Northern Virginia--not to mention that the Patent and Trademark Office is a few blocks away from the Alexandria courthouse.

The Western District of Virginia, however, is not traditionally known for its patent docket or technology-related cases.  When I clerked for Judge Wilson in Roanoke, one of the biggest cases the court heard that year was a RICO conspiracy involving (alleged) moonshiners in Franklin County.  Growing up in nearby Lynchburg, I often heard Franklin County referred to as the "moonshine capital of world."  While the homemade distillation of spirits certainly involves some measure of technology, that RICO trial was certainly not a technology-based case.  At the time, it was not surprising that the court heard more moonshining cases than patent cases.

All of that may be about to change, however, given the recent growth of tech start-ups in the region.  This growth is largely fueled by the universities--the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and James Madison University--located in Charlottesville, Blacksburg and Harrisonburg.

According to an article in today's Daily Progress, the Charlottesville area is the fastest growing area in the country for venture capital investment since 2010.  The largest investments were in technology companies, many of which got their start from academic research associated with UVa.  The article explains:

The Center for Innovative Technology also was involved with most of the companies receiving venture capital funding.  The center works to promote the technology industry around the state, and since 2004 it has invested seed money in numerous technology and life-science companies around the state, including local biotechnology and semiconductor companies.
As the market in Charlottesville has grown, [the center's investment director] said, word is spreading that it's a good place for tech startups -- it has a high concentration of talented people, a nice location and access to a major university...

The number of local companies receiving venture capital funding has increased 55 percent annually since 2010, and the amount of investment dollars pumped into the Charlottesville market has increased by $157 million.

This type of growth--fueled by the confluence of nearby universities, public-private partnerships, low taxes and livable communities--reminds me of the success of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.  Womble Carlyle's early commitment to technology led us to open an office in RTP in the 1990s.  As a law firm, we have seen first hand how a technology driven economy can transform a region, including its courts and legal market.  Let's hope the same thing (without the traffic, of course) is happening here in Charlottesville.

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