CORPORATION v. MOTOR VEHICLE DEALER BOARD
SEPTEMBER 1, 1998
Record No. 2785-97-4
GENERAL TRADING CORPORATION
MOTOR VEHICLE DEALER BOARD
OPINION BY JUDGE ROSEMARIE ANNUNZIATA
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF FAIRFAX COUNTY
Arthur B. Vieregg, Judge
Present: Judges Willis, Annunziata and Overton
Argued at Richmond, Virginia
Joel S. Aronson (Harold G. Belkowitz; Ober, Kaler, Grimes
& Shriver, on brief), for appellant.
Eric K.G. Fiske, Assistant Attorney General (Mark L. Earley,
Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.
General Trading Corporation ("General Trading")
appeals the circuit court’s decision upholding the Motor Vehicle
Dealer Board’s ("the Board") decision denying General
Trading’s claim for compensation from the Virginia Motor Vehicle
Dealer Board Transaction Recovery Fund ("the Fund").
Finding no error, we affirm.
On February 9, 1993, General Trading, an automobile
wholesaler, sold an automobile to Darrell Ley, Charlie Suqua, and
Sunnyside Auto Sales for $1,925. On February 1, 1995, General
Trading sold two automobiles to Tom Lawson and Coeburn Auto Mart
for a total of $7,460. In both transactions, the purchasers paid
by check, and the checks were returned for insufficient funds.
On February 24, 1997, General Trading obtained a judgment
against Darrell Ley for $1,925 and a judgment against Tom Lawson
for $7,460. On April 16, 1997, General Trading filed with the
Board separate Judgment Claim Requests for each claim. In these
Judgment Claim Requests, General Trading sought compensation from
the Fund for the judgments it had obtained.
The Board denied both of General Trading’s claims on the basis
that General Trading was not eligible for compensation under Code
Sect. 46.2?1527.3. General Trading appealed the Board’s
decisions to the Circuit Court of Fairfax County. After hearing
oral argument, the circuit court affirmed the Board’s decisions,
reasoning that Code Sect. 46.2?1527.3 "does not protect the
seller, but, rather, only the purchasers."
General Trading contends the Board erred in interpreting Code
Sect. 46.2?1527.3 to limit recovery to persons who buy or
acquire possession of motor vehicles, and to deny recovery to
wholesale sellers of motor vehicles. "[W]hen, as here, the
question [presented] involves a statutory interpretation issue,
‘little deference is required to be accorded the agency decision’
because the issue falls outside the agency’s specialized
competence." Sims Wholesale Co. v. Brown?Forman Corp.,
251 Va. 398, 404, 468 S.E.2d 905, 908 (1996) (quoting Johnston?Willis,
Ltd. v. Kenley, 6 Va. App. 231, 246, 369 S.E.2d 1, 9 (1988)).
"In sum, pure statutory interpretation is the prerogative of
the judiciary." Id. (citing Hampton Roads
Sanitation Dist. Comm’n v. City of Chesapeake, 218 Va. 696,
702, 240 S.E.2d 819, 823 (1978)).
"’When the wording of a statute is clear and unambiguous,
its plain meaning is to be accepted without resort to rules of
interpretation.’" Kossman v. Commonwealth, Dept. of Motor
Vehicles, 24 Va. App. 762, 766, 485 S.E.2d 643, 645 (1997)
(quoting Commonwealth, Dep’t of Mines, Minerals & Energy
v. May Bros., 11 Va. App. 115, 118, 396 S.E.2d 695, 696
(1990)). Code Sect. 46.2?1527.3 provides as follows:
Whenever any person is awarded a final judgment in a court of
competent jurisdiction in the Commonwealth for (i) any loss or
damage in connection with the purchase of a motor vehicle by
reason of any fraud practiced on him or fraudulent representation
made to him by a licensed or registered motor vehicle dealer or
one of a dealer’s salespersons acting for the dealer or within
the scope of his employment, or (ii) any loss or damage by reason
of the violation by a dealer or salesperson of any of the
provisions of this chapter in connection with the purchase of a
motor vehicle, on or after January 1, 1989, the judgment creditor
may file a verified claim with the Board, requesting payment from
the Fund of the amount unpaid on the judgment. The claim shall be
filed with the Board no sooner than thirty days and no later than
twelve months after the judgment becomes final.
On or after the effective date of this act, the Board shall
only consider for payment claims submitted by retail purchasers
of motor vehicles, and for purchases of motor vehicles by
licensed or registered motor vehicle dealers who contribute to
To bring itself within the ambit of the protections of the
statute, General Trading argues that the word
"purchases," as used in the phrase "the Board
shall only consider for payment claims
submitted . . . for purchases of motor vehicles by
licensed or registered motor vehicle dealers who contribute to
the Fund," authorizes recovery by either the buyer or the
seller and that we should hold that a "purchase"
involves both parties. We reject this analysis in light of the
well?settled principles applicable in determining the
legislature’s intent in enacting law.
"’It is our duty to take the words which the legislature
has seen fit to employ and give to them their usual and ordinary
signification, and having thus ascertained the legislative
intent, to give effect to it . . . .’" Commonwealth
v. Sanderson, 170 Va. 33, 38?39, 195 S.E. 516, 519 (1938)
(quoting Saville v. Virginia Railway & Power Co., 114
Va. 444, 453, 76 S.E. 954, 957 (1913)). In the absence of any
specific indication to the contrary, words used in a statute will
be given their common, ordinary, and accepted meaning. Woolfolk
v. Commonwealth, 18 Va. App. 840, 847, 447 S.E.2d 530, 533
(1994) (citing Huffman v. Kite, 198 Va. 196, 199, 93
S.E.2d 328, 331 (1956)).
The statute allows recovery only for claims submitted for
"purchases of motor vehicles by licensed or registered motor
vehicle dealers who contribute to the Fund." The ordinary
definition of "purchase" is "the acquiring of
title to or property in anything for a price." Webster’s
Third New International Dictionary 1845 (1981). Giving the
term "purchase" its usual and ordinary meaning, we hold
that the legislature intended to limit the protections of the
statute to those who acquire the property in question by
purchase. This holding is consistent with the Supreme Court’s
explanation of the General Assembly’s intent in enacting the
statute: "to afford uniform protection to those who purchase
vehicles at wholesale auctions, for the ultimate benefit of
consumers who would purchase the vehicles at retail." Fredericksburg
Auto Auction, Inc. v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 242 Va.
42, 46, 406 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1991) (emphasis added).
General Trading argues in the alternative that the word
"purchase" as used in Code Sect. 46.2?1527.3 is
ambiguous, requiring this Court to apply the rules of statutory
construction to determine its meaning. "Language is
ambiguous if it admits of being understood in more than one way
or refers to two or more things simultaneously." Brown v.
Lukhard, 229 Va. 316, 321, 330 S.E.2d 84, 87 (1985) (citing Lincoln
Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. Commonwealth Corrugated Container Corp.,
229 Va. 132, 136?37, 327 S.E.2d 98, 101 (1985)). We reject this
argument because we find that the plain meaning of the statute is
capable of only one interpretation.
Given our interpretation of the plain meaning of Code Sect.
46.2?1527.3, General Trading is ineligible to recover; General
Trading was the seller rather than the purchaser in the
transactions at issue here. The agency and circuit court properly
denied compensation from the Fund.
The issue before the Court in Fredericksburg Auto Auction,
242 Va. at 45, 406 S.E.2d at 25, was a due process challenge to
the 1988 amendments to the statute. The Supreme Court of Virginia
reviewed the purposes of the statutory scheme as a necessary part
of its reasoning that the statute was rationally related to its
legitimate legislative objectives. Id. at 47, 406 S.E.2d
at 26. We find that the amendments to the statute following the
Supreme Court’s decision in Fredericksburg Auto Auction
did not alter the statutory purpose; if anything, the amendments
strengthened the purposes articulated by the Supreme Court. See
1995 Va. Acts, ch. 767, 816; 1994 Va. Acts, ch. 478; 1991 Va.
Acts, ch. 654.