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RAGAN v. WOODCROFT VILLAGE APARTMENTS


RAGAN v. WOODCROFT
VILLAGE APARTMENTS


February 27, 1998
Record No. 970905

JANICE E. RAGAN

v.

WOODCROFT VILLAGE APARTMENTS

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND

Randall G. Johnson, Judge
Present: All the Justices


The dispositive issue before us is whether an appeal lies to a
circuit court from a general district court’s denial of a motion
for a new trial in an unlawful detainer proceeding.

In 1996, Janice E. Ragan leased an apartment in the City of
Richmond from Woodcroft Village Apartments (Woodcroft). When
Ragan failed to pay her rent due on July 1, 1996, Woodcroft sent
her a written notice, pursuant to Code ? 55-225, to pay the rent
and related charges within five days or surrender possession of
the premises. On July 16, 1996, when Ragan still had not paid the
amount due, Woodcroft instituted an unlawful detainer proceeding
against her in the General District Court for the City of
Richmond, seeking accrued rent, costs, fees, and possession of
the leased premises.

Ten days later, prior to the return date on the unlawful
detainer summons, Ragan paid Woodcroft the sum of $247.50, the
entire amount due under the lease. Woodcroft accepted Ragan’s
payment with reservation, in order to preserve its right to seek
possession of the leased premises. See Code ? 55-248.34.

When the parties appeared in the general district court on the
unlawful detainer summons, Woodcroft agreed that Ragan had paid
all amounts outstanding under the lease. The general district
court entered judgment awarding Woodcroft possession of the
leased premises. Ragan did not appeal from this judgment.

Ragan filed a motion in the general district court requesting
a new trial on the unlawful detainer summons. She asserted that
the unlawful detainer proceeding was barred by Code ? 55-243[1] because she had paid the amount
due Woodcroft and had not previously been served with an unlawful
detainer summons by Woodcroft in the twelve-month period before
the present unlawful detainer proceeding was instituted. The
court denied the motion on the ground that Ragan had failed to
assert this right at the hearing prior to the entry of final
judgment. Ragan filed a notice of appeal to the circuit court
from the denial of her motion requesting a new trial.

The circuit court assumed, without deciding, that it had
jurisdiction to hear Ragan’s appeal from the general district
court’s denial of her motion requesting a new trial. The circuit
court then held that the general district court did not abuse its
discretion in denying the motion. Ragan appealed to this Court
from the circuit court’s judgment.

In an assignment of cross-error, Woodcroft argues that the
circuit court lacked jurisdiction to consider Ragan’s appeal from
the general district court’s denial of her motion requesting a
new trial. Woodcroft asserts that, in electing not to appeal the
adverse judgment in the unlawful detainer proceeding, Ragan had
no further right to be heard in the circuit court. Woodcroft
contends that neither Code ? 8.01-129 nor Code ? 16.1-106
permits an appeal from the denial of a motion for a new trial in
an unlawful detainer action.

In response, Ragan observes that Code ? 16.1-106 provides, in
part, for an appeal from "any order entered or judgment
rendered in a court not of record in a civil case in which the
amount in controversy is of greater value than fifty
dollars." She contends that the general district court’s
order denying her motion for a new trial is an "order"
within the meaning of this statutory language. We disagree with
Ragan.

In resolving this issue, we consider the provisions of both
Code ?? 8.01-129 and 16.1-106 in the context of the statutory
framework of the appeal process. We accord each statute, insofar
as possible, a meaning that does not conflict with any other
statute. See First Va. Bank v. O’Leary, 251 Va.
308, 312, 467 S.E.2d 775, 777 (1996); Board of Supervisors v.
Marshall
, 215 Va. 756, 761, 214 S.E.2d 146, 150 (1975).

Under fundamental rules of statutory construction, each
statute must be examined in its entirety, rather than by
isolating particular words or phrases. Buonocore v. C&P
Tel. Co.
, 254 Va. 469, 472-73, 492 S.E.2d 439, 441 (1997); First
Va. Bank
, 251 Va. at 312, 467 S.E.2d at 777; Commonwealth
Natural Resources, Inc. v. Commonwealth
, 219 Va. 529, 536,
248 S.E.2d 791, 795 (1978). The legislature’s intent must be
determined from the words used, unless a literal construction
would yield an absurd result. Abbott v. Willey, 253 Va.
88, 91, 479 S.E.2d 528, 530 (1997); Barr v. Town & Country
Properties, Inc.
, 240 Va. 292, 295, 396 S.E.2d 672, 674
(1990). Thus, when the language employed in a statute is clear
and unambiguous, the courts are bound by the plain meaning of
that language. Wall v. Fairfax County Sch. Bd., 252 Va.
156, 159, 475 S.E.2d 803, 805 (1996); Carr v. Forst, 249
Va. 66, 69-70, 453 S.E.2d 274, 276 (1995).

The language of both statutes at issue is clear and
unambiguous. Code ? 8.01-129 states, in relevant part, that
"[a]n appeal shall lie from the judgment of a general
district court, [in an unlawful detainer proceeding], to the
circuit court in the same manner and with like effect and upon
like security as appeals taken under the provisions of ?
16.1-106 et seq." Code ? 8.01-129 then states the
requirements for perfecting such an appeal and provides any party
a right to a jury trial in the circuit court. These provisions
are inapplicable to the present case, however, because Ragan did
not appeal from the judgment of the general district court
awarding Woodcroft possession of the leased premises, but
appealed only from the general district court’s denial of her
motion for a new trial. Therefore, we must consider the broader
appeal provisions of Code ? 16.1-106 to determine whether Ragan
had a right of appeal from the denial of that motion for a new
trial.

Code ? 16.1-106, which provides for appeals from general
district courts in civil cases, states in relevant part:

From any order entered or judgment rendered in a court not of
record in a civil case in which the matter in controversy is of
greater value than fifty dollars . . . or when the case involves
the constitutionality or validity of a statute of the
Commonwealth, or of an ordinance or bylaw of a municipal
corporation, or of the enforcement of rights and privileges
conferred by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (? 2.1-340
et seq.), or of a protective order pursuant to ? 19.2-152.10,
there shall be an appeal of right, if taken within ten days after
such order or judgment, to a court of record.[2]

This statute gives the parties a trial de novo
in the circuit court. See Code ?? 16.1-113 and -114.1.
The purpose of this two-tier trial system is to allow a party
aggrieved by a final judgment of the general district court to
have the case tried again by the circuit court as if the case
originally had been instituted there. See Nationwide
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tuttle
, 208 Va. 28, 32-33, 155 S.E.2d 358,
361 (1967). Such an appeal is in effect a statutory grant of a
new trial, in which the perfected appeal annuls the judgment of
the district court as completely as if there had been no previous
trial. See Gaskill v. Commonwealth, 206 Va. 486,
490, 144 S.E.2d 293, 296 (1965). If the judgment of the general
district court is reversed, the circuit court is required to
enter an order or judgment "as ought to have been made or
given by the judge of the court from which the appeal was
taken." Code ? 16.1-113.

This appeal process, by definition, excludes a trial de
novo of a motion for a new trial because such a motion
does not involve an adjudication of a case as if it originally
had been instituted in the circuit court. See Tuttle,
208 Va. at 32-33, 155 S.E.2d at 361. We also note that, when the
General Assembly intended to provide in Code ? 16.1-106 for an
appeal other than from a final order, it did so expressly, in
language allowing an appeal from a protective order pursuant to
Code ? 19.2-152.10.[3]
Thus, we conclude that, when Code ? 16.1-106 refers to an appeal
from "any order entered or judgment rendered in a court not
of record in a civil case in which the matter in controversy is
of greater value than fifty dollars," this language provides
for an appeal only from final orders or judgments.
The decision denying Ragan’s motion for a new trial was not a
final order or judgment because it did not dispose of the merits
of the unlawful detainer summons. A final order or judgment is
one that disposes of the whole subject of the case and gives all
relief contemplated. Burns v. Equitable Assocs., 220 Va.
1020, 1028, 265 S.E.2d 737, 742 (1980); Daniels v. Truck &
Equip. Corp.
, 205 Va. 579, 585, 139 S.E.2d 31, 35 (1964). As
stated above, the final judgment in the unlawful detainer
proceeding was the judgment awarding Woodcroft possession of the
leased premises.
Since the order denying Ragan’s motion for a new trial was not a
final order or judgment, Ragan’s argument would require us to
interpret the phrase "any order entered or judgment
rendered" as allowing an appeal from any order whatsoever.
Such an interpretation would allow the appeal of countless
interlocutory matters, including orders granting continuances,
orders setting trial dates, orders determining venue, and orders
providing for bills of particulars or the production of
documents. Manifestly, the legislature did not intend such a
result. Therefore, we hold that since Ragan did not appeal from a
final order or judgment of the general district court, the
circuit court lacked jurisdiction to hear her appeal.
For these reasons, we will reverse and vacate the circuit court’s
judgment and reinstate the general district court’s order denying
Ragan’s motion for a new trial in the unlawful detainer
proceeding.
Reversed and final judgment.

CHIEF JUSTICE CARRICO, with whom JUSTICE COMPTON joins,
dissenting.

I cannot agree with the majority that there is no appeal from an
order of a district court denying a motion for a new trial in an
unlawful detainer case. Under Code ? 16.1-97.1, a litigant in a
district court has a statutory right to move for a new trial.
Under Code ? 16.1-106, there shall be an appeal of right to a
circuit court from any order entered or judgment rendered in a
court not of record in a civil case in which the matter in
controversy is of greater value than fifty dollars. And under
Code ? 8.01-129, an appeal shall lie from the judgment of a
general district court in an unlawful detainer case to a circuit
court in the same manner and with like effect and upon like
security as an appeal taken pursuant to the provisions of Code ?
16.1-106.
Nothing in any of these Code sections precludes an appeal from an
order denying a motion for a new trial in an unlawful detainer
case. Indeed, Code ? 16.1-106 provides that there shall be an
appeal of right from any order entered or judgment
rendered in a court not of record in a civil case in which the
matter in controversy is of greater value than fifty dollars.
This language is certainly broad enough to include an order
denying a motion for a new trial in an unlawful detainer case.
And I have no trouble in finding that a matter in controversy is
of greater value than fifty dollars when, as here, the matter
involves the right of possession to a subsidized apartment
renting for $154.00 per month.
Nor do I have the concern expressed by the majority that to adopt
my view would allow the appeal of countless interlocutory
matters, including orders granting continuances, orders setting
trial dates, orders determining venue, and orders providing for
bills of particulars or the production of documents. Since such
orders relate to matters of procedure, they are not of the
dispositive nature of an order denying a motion for a new trial
and not final in any sense of the word. Hence, they would not be
appealable. On the other hand, motions for new trials generally
relate to matters of substance, and orders denying such motions
possess the attributes of final orders in the sense that they
fully dispose of such substantive matters on the merits.
Accordingly, I would hold that the trial court had jurisdiction
to hear Janice E. Ragan’s appeal from the order of the general
district court denying her motion for a new trial, and I would
reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand the case for
further proceedings consistent with the views expressed in Hubbard
v. Henrico Ltd. Partnership
, 255 Va. ___, 494 S.E.2d ___
(this day decided).

[1] Code ? 55-243 provides, in
relevant part:

If any party having right or claim to such lands shall, . . .
before the first court return date in an action of unlawful
detainer seeking possession of a residential dwelling based upon
a default in rent, pay or tender to the party entitled to such
rent, or to his attorney in the cause, or pay into court, all the
rent and arrears, along with any reasonable attorney’s fees and
late charges contracted for in a written rental agreement,
interest and costs, all further proceedings in the ejectment or
unlawful detainer shall cease. . . .

In cases of unlawful detainer, the tenant may invoke the
rights granted by this section no more than one time during any
twelve-month period of continuous residency in the rental
dwelling unit.

[2] This language reflects a 1997
amendment in which the only substantive change is the addition
allowing for an appeal from a protective order awarded under Code
? 19.2-152.10. That language is not at issue in this appeal.

[3]
Because Ragan asserts a right of appeal solely under the language
in Code ? 16.1-106 allowing an appeal from "any order
entered or judgment rendered in a court not of record in a civil
case in which the matter in controversy is of greater value than
fifty dollars," we do not address the requirements for an
appeal under the balance of the statute.

FOOTNOTES:

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