The Supreme Court of Virginia granted ten new appeals over the past week, kicking off a busy session week. On Friday, the court will hand down opinions in the cases argued in the March session, plus those passed over last time. The most notable carry-over case is Muhammad v. Commonwealth, the sniper appeal that will be the first significant test of Virginia’s anti-terrorism statute.

The new writs cover a diverse spectrum of practice areas. There are two zoning cases, including one that involves the outdoor advertising company, Lamar Company, LLC. Given the preference in most local governments against continuation of billboards, weighed against the high profitability of that advertising medium, the outcome of that case may a have significant economic and aesthetic effect throughout the Commonwealth.

There is one criminal case, Williams v. Commonwealth, in which the defendant contends that he was sentenced to a term of incarceration that exceeds the maximum punishment allowed by law. The Supreme Court routinely rejects appeals by defendants who are sentenced outside guideline ranges, but within the statutory maximums for a given offense. This appeal evidently challenges a different kind of sentencing anomaly.

There is one case involving the infrequently cited Payment of Wage Act (Code § 40.1-29) in the context of a contract dispute involving an employer and employee. The principal issue focuses on the question of whether the act preempts common law claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit, and fraud. Thulin v. Alkas Insurance Agency.

RDA, Inc. v. Gonzales
will be of interest to those following the proliferation of mandatory arbitration provisions in many contracts. Here, Gonzales bought a car and signed a contract containing such a provision. She also signed a financing agreement, which did not contain an arbitration provision. The trial court held that the latter agreement superseded the former, and declined to enforce the arbitration provision.

The court agreed to hear a case involving cross-appeals in the context of a personal injury suit where the trial court struck the plaintiff’s evidence after a jury reported that it was deadlocked. The assignments of cross-error relate to an earlier trial, which apparently resulted in a mistrial. The court will thus decide whether the case should be remanded for a third attempt at resolution by a jury. The case is Roberts v. David R. McGeorge Car Company.

In Butler v. Southern States Cooperative, the court agreed to hear an appeal by a woman whose claims, including one for sexual assault, were barred by the Workers’ Compensation Act. The appellant asks the court to apply the statutory exceptions found in Code § 65.2-301(B) and (C) to permit the claims to proceed to trial.

The court also granted writs in two estate cases, and in one case where the trial court barred the plaintiff’s claims based on the “Heart Balm Statute,” (§8.01-220), classifying her action as one for alienation of affection instead of medical malpractice.

Decisions on these cases are quite a ways off; the appeals will be briefed over the course of the spring, and probably calendared for oral argument late in 2005 or early in 2006.