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.

Friday, November 22, 2013, 10:53 AM

Banks to Settle Lawsuit Challenging Merger

As previously noted on this blog, certain shareholders of Charlottesville-based Stellar One bank had filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Virginia challenging the merger between Stellar One and Union First Bankshares of Richmond.  The Richmond Times Dispatch reports today that the banks plan to settle the lawsuit, although the amount and terms of the settlement are unclear.  The merger, which is valued at $445.1 million, is expected to close on January 1 and has received all regulatory approvals.  The surviving entity, Union First Market, would be one of the largest community banks in Virginia with $7.1 billion in assets.  Part of those assets (a very small part) is Stellar One's lien on my house.  Looks like I will have to change the payee on my mortgage payments next year.

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Summary Judgment Hearing On First Amendment Challenge To Charlottesville's Panhandling Ban

On Thursday, November 21, Judge Moon heard arguments on summary judgment motions in a case challenging Charlottesville's panhandling ban under the First Amendment.  Judge Moon had originally dismissed the case, but the Fourth Circuit reversed that decision in February.

The arguments during the summary judgment hearing focused on whether the City targeted a specific form of speech or whether the City regulated speech in a neutral way, and whether the ban was broader than reasonably necessary.  The ordinance bans panhandling within 50 feet of two vehicle crossings on the Downtown Mall.  The City justifies the ban as a content-neutral regulation that protects public safety.

The Daily Progress quotes Judge Moon as saying: "The way I see this case, frankly, is whether 50 feet, on either side is too much....  I thought the big problem would be the distraction to divers and the danger to pedestrians."

Counsel for the plaintiffs -- a group of homeless men who want to panhandle on the Downtown Mall -- argued "Panhandlers, for the most part, including my clients, sit passively with a sign along the walls of the Downtown Mall.  They don't stop people."

The attorney for the City of Charlottesville argued that the 50 foot ban was reasonable, especially given the other areas where panhandling is allowed: "What we are dealing with is 200 feet total ... on two crossings on a mall that is one-third of a mile long and 60 feet wide."

Judge Moon is not expected to rule for another two months.  Trial is scheduled in the Western District of Virginia for March 3, 2014.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013, 5:10 PM

Judge Turk Dismisses Government Contract Dispute

Judge Turk issued recently issued a ruling dismissing the sole remaining claim in a government contract dispute brought by an individual who was allegedly doing business as a subcontractor for a government contract.  Discovery, however, uncovered that the party to the contract at issue was a limited liability company under the laws of Afghanistan -- not a sole proprietorship.  Therefore, Judge Turk ruled that the breach of contract claim should have been brought on behalf of the company itself and not the individual in a d/b/a capacity. 

A parallel lawsuit brought by the company itself, however, is currently pending and presumably will be allowed to proceed.  Judge Turk declined to consolidate that action with the present action, given that the Court lacked standing.

Judge Turk had previously dismissed claims under the doctrine of quantum meruit and violation of a Federal Acquisition Regulation ("FAR") through non-payments of amounts due.  Judge Turk ruled that the quantum meruit claim was inconsistent with the alleged contract which defendants admitted existed.  Therefore, the parties liabilities should be governed by the contract and not under a theory of implied contract.  Judge Turk also held that there was no private right of action for violation of a FAR.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013, 11:54 AM

New Western District Magistrate Judge Appointed

Joel C. Hoppe has been appointed the new magistrate judge for the Western District of Virginia.  Mr. Hoppe, a Richmond native, is currently an assistant federal public defender in Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.  He is a 1998 graduate of the University of Virginia, and a 2002 graduate of the University of Richmond's T.C. Williams School of Law.  Mr. Hoppe clerked for magistrate judges in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia, worked for several years in the state Attorney General's Office before entering private practice.  Hoppe will take the bench early next year for the beginning of his initial eight year term as magistrate judge.  Although his offices will be in Harrisonburg, I assume that he will also handle the magistrate duties for cases in the Charlottesville division.  I look forward to appearing before Judge Hoppe in the near future.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013, 4:23 PM

Approval of Settlement in Housing Authority Class Action

Judge Glen Conrad has preliminarily approved a class action settlement agreement between public housing residents and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  The lawsuit alleged that residents overpaid tens of thousands of dollars for electrical utilities from June 2007 to May based on an outdated formula used to calculate energy allowances.  The amount of the settlement is  $160,000, but the Daily Progress reports that between this settlement sum and overhauled billing practices and rent credits negotiated as part of the agreement, the lawsuit will result in $500,000 for residents.

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Friday, November 1, 2013, 11:10 PM

WDVa Denies Transfer of Same-Sex Marriage Case

Judge Urbanski denied a motion to transfer venue in an action challenging Virginia's ban on same sex marriage.  The State had asked the Court to transfer the lawsuit, which is pending in the Harrisonburg Division, to Norfolk so it could be consolidated with a similar lawsuit pending there.  The Court, however, declined the motion to transfer venue, finding "meaningful differences" among the plaintiffs.  One interesting difference is that the Harrisonburg case is a class action lawsuit.  It was brought by a couple in Staunton who were denied a marriage license after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act this summer.  For more information about the case, click here.

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Notable Virginia Supreme Court Rulings

The Supreme Court of Virginia issued several notable opinions this week.

The Supreme Court reversed a Portsmouth judge's ruling striking down new tolls on the Midtown Tunnel between Norfolk and Portsmouth.  Look at a map of the area and you'll see why tunnels are so important and controversial in Hampton Roads (the geographic area).  The Elizabeth River may look small compared to Hampton Roads (the water), but its hard to get around.

The Supreme Court upheld Charlottesville's Judge Hogshire's ruling banning cameras at the sentencing hearing of George Huguely, the UVa lacrosse player convicted of murder.

The Supreme Court overturned the jury verdict in the wrongful death lawsuit against the Commonwealth regarding the April 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.  The Court held that there was no duty for state officials to warn students about the potential for criminal acts by third parties.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a ruling from Fairfax County Circuit Court dismissing a claim against real estate developers regarding telecommunications agreements entered into by the homeowners association.  Perhaps not as newsworthy as the other cases, but this ruling was important to me since I represented the appellees.

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