Earlier this week Matt Kaplan prevailed in an appeal on behalf of his client in the Virginia Court of Appeals. The decision in the case reversed a trial court judgment and clarified an important issue regarding the jurisdiction of Virginia state courts. As one respected appellate practitioner noted in a blog post about this case, “[t]he reversal is remarkable when you learn that it comes from a jury verdict confirmed by the trial court, ‘the most favorable position known to law’ as the appellate courts frequently remind us.”
The lawsuit that gave rise to the appeal–styled Ruderman v. Pritchard–arose from a dispute over the ownership of valuable cats bred to be shown at cat shows. Plaintiff Pritchard sued Defendant Ruderman, Mr. Kaplan’s client, in Virginia’s lowest court, the General District Court, for possession of certain cats and for money damages. Pritchard won a partial victory in that court but was not satisfied. She appealed to the next level court, the Circuit Court. But on appeal she amended her claim to seek more than the $25,000 statutory limit on damages claims in the General District Court. Ultimately Pritchard won some, but not all of her claims at a jury trial in the Circuit Court. But Mr. Kaplan, on behalf of his client, argued that it was unfair and unlawful to allow a plaintiff who had voluntarily chosen to file her claim in the General District Court, with its $25,000 damages cap, to reject the General District Court judgment and then seek more than $25,000 in a higher court. In a published opinion by Chief Judge Decker, the Court of Appeals agreed.
The appellate process in Virginia was reformed in 2022 to permit appeals from Circuit Courts to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Under the prior system such appeals could usually only be brought from the Circuit Court to the Virginia Supreme Court, which had the power to refuse to even hear an appeal, a power it often exercised. As a result, most litigants who lost their case because of mistakes made in the Circuit Court were effectively out of luck. The current system is much fairer than the one it replaced.
Matthew B. Kaplan is the Kaplan Law Firm’s principal attorney. On a sad note, Mr. Kaplan’s client, Dr. Jill Ruderman, passed away before her appeal was decided.