Written by Paul A. Prados, Partner, Executive Law Partners, Fairfax, Virginia & Amelia Kozlowski, Senior Associate, Executive Law Partners, Fairfax, Virginia.
Current Virginia procedure requires parties who are dissatisfied with the outcome of their non-domestic circuit court cases to submit a petition to the Virginia Supreme Court (“Supreme Court” or “Court”). Civil non-domestic circuit court appeals (“civil appeals”) may only proceed if permitted by the Supreme Court and are not appeals as of right. Few appeal petitions are granted by the Court and as a result a vast majority of circuit court decisions are final. In 2016 only 95 out of 413 (23%) civil appeal petitions were granted by the Supreme Court.1
For years, the Virginia General Assembly has wanted to create an avenue where civil appellants are afforded appeals as of right, as opposed to appeals by permission. On March 31, 2020, such an avenue was finally signed into law when Governor Ralph Northam signed Senate Bill 1261 (“S.B. 1261”). S.B. 1261 allows civil appellants to appeal directly to the Virginia Court of Appeals (“COA”). This change significantly expands the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals.2 The legislation also increases the number of judges on the COA from eleven to seventeen to account for the increased workload. It is important for practitioners to not only understand the new appellate procedures for civil matters, but to also be aware of the unintended consequences that may arise because of these changes.