You Now Have The Right to Appeal in Virginia
By: Taylor Sanders
An appeal of right was once a privilege only afforded to all criminal and only select few civil litigants in the Commonwealth of Virginia. On January 1, 2022, however, Virginia’s law on civil appeal procedure underwent a huge change: an aggrieved party in a civil matter is now afforded an appeal of right to the Court of Appeals.
Before this year, appellate jurisdiction in Virginia was split between the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Appeals of right to the Court of Appeals, however, were only available in criminal matters and a very limited subset of civil matters. Litigants in all other civil matters had no appeal of right; instead, they could seek only an appeal by leave. An appeal by leave does not guarantee review by any higher court; that decision is in the sole discretion of the higher court and not many cases are chosen for review. So, unless a party could convince the Supreme Court that their case was of such legal importance that it ought to be heard by the highest court in the Commonwealth, the trial court’s ruling would stand with no further review.
But all that has now changed. Effective January 1, 2022, Virginia Code Section 17.1-405 expressly provides, “any aggrieved party may appeal to the Court of Appeals from…any final judgment, order, or decree of a circuit court in a civil matter.” Therefore, civil litigants are now afforded an appeal by right, meaning the reviewing court must hear their case.
Civil litigants now have two chances to appeal an unsavory decision, just like their criminal litigant counterparts. This is a huge, and positive, change for civil litigation in the Commonwealth of Virginia, adding another layer of review, and thus another layer of reliability, trustworthiness, and dependability to the Virginia’s civil court system.