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O'Malley v. Commonwealth

Court of Appeals of Virginia

May 3, 2016

JOHN DIXON O'MALLEY
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA

FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND Walter W. Stout, III, Judge Designate

Larry A. Pochucha (Bowen, Champlin, Foreman & Rockecharlie, PLLC, on brief), for appellant.

Rosemary V. Bourne, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Humphreys, Chafin and Senior Judge Clements Argued at Richmond, Virginia

OPINION

JEAN HARRISON CLEMENTS JUDGE

By summons issued pursuant to Code § 3.2-6540, John Dixon O'Malley (appellant) was ordered to respond to an allegation that he was the owner of a dangerous dog. At a jury trial, the Commonwealth presented evidence that appellant's dog attacked and injured the dog of Randall Powell. At the conclusion of the proceeding, the jury found appellant's dog to be a dangerous dog as set forth in Code § 3.2-6540. On appeal of this finding, appellant contends the trial court erred: 1) in denying his motion to dismiss the proceeding because § 10-1 of the Code of the City of Richmond defines a "dangerous dog" to be a dog which has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury upon a person or companion animal "other than a dog"; 2) in refusing jury instructions he proposed; 3) in refusing to declare that the proceeding was civil in nature; 4) in refusing to admit § 10-1 of the Richmond Code into evidence; and, 5) in denying the motion to set aside the verdict based upon insufficient evidence. We conclude that this Court does not have jurisdiction over this appeal. Accordingly, we do not reach the merits of this case, and we transfer it to the Supreme Court of Virginia pursuant to Code § 8.01-677.1.[1]

In Settle v. Commonwealth, 55 Va.App. 212, 685 S.E.2d 182 (2009) (Settle I), the defendant appealed to this Court from a lower court's decision regarding forfeiture of the defendant's dogs pursuant to former Code § 3.1-796.115.[2] At that time, Code § 3.1-796.115(A) and (B) provided procedures for a court hearing following the initial seizure of an animal that was allegedly abandoned, mistreated, or not provided with adequate care. Regarding that hearing and appeal therefrom, Code § 3.1-796.115(C) provided: "The procedure for appeal and trial shall be the same as provided by law for misdemeanors. Trial by jury shall be as provided in Article 4 (§ 19.2-260 et seq.) of Chapter 15 of Title 19.2. The Commonwealth shall be required to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt."[3] Pursuant to Code § 3.1-796.115, a finding by the court that forfeiture of the dog was appropriate did not result in a criminal conviction for the dog's owner, only a civil forfeiture of the animal. See Settle I, 55 Va.App. at 219, 685 S.E.2d at 185. This Court noted:

Code § 3.1-796.115 does not define a crime or prescribe a penalty therefore. Code § 3.1-796.115 merely sets out the administrative process by which an animal warden or officer may seize an animal alleged to have been abused or neglected and provide for its care until the propriety of the seizure is resolved. The statute is civil in nature.

Id. at 221, 685 S.E.2d at 186.

Addressing this Court's jurisdiction to consider the appeal of the forfeiture, we recognized:

It is well established that the "Court of Appeals of Virginia is a court of limited jurisdiction. Unless a statute confers jurisdiction in this Court, we are without power to review an appeal." Canova Elec. Contracting, Inc. v. LMI Ins. Co., 22 Va.App. 595, 599, 471 S.E.2d 827, 829 (1996) (citation omitted).
"Code § 17.1-406(A) provides that '[a]ny aggrieved party may present a petition for appeal to the Court of Appeals from . . . any final conviction in a circuit court of . . . a crime.' The statutory language is restrictive, limiting the Court of Appeals' appellate jurisdiction to appeals from final criminal convictions and from action on motions filed and disposed of while the trial court retains jurisdiction over the case." Commonwealth v. Southerly, 262 Va. 294, 299, 551 S.E.2d 650, 653 (2001).

Id. at 217-18, 685 S.E.2d at 184-85. We concluded that the underlying action for forfeiture of the dogs and ensuing appeal were civil in nature. Id. at 221, 685 S.E.2d at 186.

Pertaining to the General Assembly's adoption of the language in Code § 3.1-796.115(C) regarding the "procedure for appeal and trial" and the burden of proof at the hearing, we relied upon the Virginia Supreme Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Rafferty, 241 Va. 319, 321-22, 402 S.E.2d 17, 18-19 (1991), which concerned the appropriate appellate jurisdiction in a case involving unreasonable refusal of a blood or breath test. Settle I, 55 Va.App. at 186-87, 685 S.E.2d at 221-22. At the time of the Rafferty decision, the governing unreasonable refusal statute contained language nearly identical to that in Code ยง 3.1-796.115(C) regarding procedure at trial and on appeal and the applicable burden ...


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