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Va. Cir.: Judgment final as to co-defendant who didn’t appeal

One of two defendants appealing a $24,000 judgment against them cannot add the other defendant to the appeal. General district court judgments are final as to parties who note no appeal.

Background

In 2016, Denise Johnson rear-ended Defendant Milford Smith, pushing his car into Plaintiff Lauren Beatty’s car. After Beatty filed suit, the general district court rendered judgment against Smith and Johnson for $24,000. Smith timely appealed and posted the necessary bond. Johnson did not note an appeal or post bond.

Smith moves to correct the caption of this case and include Johnson as a defendant. He argues that, as this is a single claim of personal injury, all defendants are required as parties. Beatty says the judgment against Johnson is final, as she did not note an appeal.

No “piggy-back” on co-defendant’s appeal

Robinson Family LLC v. Allen, 295 Va. 130 (2018), resolved this argument in holding that there can be no “piggy-back” appeal.

Johnson argues that requiring each defendant to post a bond would involve unnecessary expense. But where, as here and most appealed cases, the defendants have liability insurance, no cash or property is posted. If it is true, as Johnson’s counsel suggests, that some general district court clerks will not allow more than one notice of appeal in a case, the remedy would be prompt application to the circuit court for a writ of mandamus in light of Robinson Family.

Johnson further argues that not allowing her to be a party to the case could require her to pay the entire judgment if Beatty suffers a non-suit, but that is the nature of joint and several liability. Johnson can always seek contribution from Smith. And the court has no reason to believe that Beatty would attempt to recover doubly.

A defendant can have sound reasons not to appeal, such as avoiding further litigation anxiety or the possibility of an increased ad damnum. Robinson Family says that a party who does not note an appeal from a general district court decision will leave the district court’s judgment intact and subject to res judicata. Thus, the general district court judgment against Johnson is final.

Beatty v. Smith, Case No. CL18-3877, Aug. 22, 2018. Norfolk Cir. (Martin). VLW No. 018-8-076, 3 pp.