THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND Melvin R. Hughes,
All the Justices
ELIZABETH A. McCLANAHAN JUSTICE
Harris Andrews challenged the termination of her employment
with the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA)
through RRHA's grievance procedure and a hearing officer
ordered her reinstatement. On RRHA's appeal, the circuit
court reversed the hearing officer's decision as
"'contradictory to law'" under Code §
2.2-3006. In the present appeal, Andrews contends Code §
15.2-1507 is controlling, and under this statute the circuit
court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear RRHA's
appeal. We conclude the circuit court did lack subject matter
jurisdiction, but based on the applicable provisions of both
Code §§ 2.2-3006 and 15.2-1507, and thus reverse
the judgment of the circuit court.
was employed by RRHA as a senior property manager of a public
housing complex in the City of Richmond. RRHA terminated
Andrews' employment based on its determination that she
had committed several violations of RRHA's Standards of
Conduct Policy No. 3.1 ("Standards of Conduct").
Andrews challenged the termination under RRHA's Grievance
Policy No. 3.2 ("Grievance Policy") by claiming
that RRHA had unfairly applied the Standards of Conduct to
her. After exhausting the internal
remedies available under the Grievance Policy, Andrews
requested a hearing before an administrative hearing officer.
Following a three-day hearing, the hearing officer issued a
decision ruling that RRHA had improperly applied its
personnel policies and procedures, and had thereby acted in
bad faith in terminating Andrews' employment. The hearing
officer thus ordered that Andrews be reinstated to her former
position with full back pay. The hearing officer then advised
at the conclusion of her decision that, under the terms of
RRHA's Grievance Policy, "[e]ither party may . . .
appeal the decision to the Circuit Court of the City of
Richmond, Virginia." See RRHA Grievance Policy,
Section VII.E. ("Challenges to the Hearing Officer's
"pursuant to Code § 2.2-3006" of
Virginia's State Grievance Procedure (Code §§
2.2-3000 through -3008) ("State Grievance
Procedure"),  appealed the
hearing officer's decision to the Circuit Court of the
City of Richmond.  As asserted in
RRHA's notice of appeal, "[r]ather than apply
RRHA's unambiguous written policies and procedures, the
hearing officer unilaterally created new policies and
procedures and/or rewrote RRHA's existing policies and
procedures and applied those newly created or rewritten
requirements. In doing so, the hearing officer's decision
exceeded her statutory authority and, therefore, was
contradictory to Virginia law." Specifically, RRHA
contended that the decision ignored Code §
15.2-1507(A)(10)(a)(6), which, RRHA argued, "limit[ed]
[the] hearing officer's authority by requiring that . . .
her decision 'be consistent with provisions of law and
written policy.'" RRHA made these same assertions in its
supporting brief filed with the circuit court and at oral
argument. RRHA therefore asked the circuit court to reverse
the hearing officer's decision.
RRHA's appeal, Andrews argued in its brief and at oral
argument that the hearing officer correctly interpreted
RRHA's personnel policies and procedures, and in
particular RRHA's Standards of Conduct; and that the
record supported the hearing officer's findings and
disposition of her grievance. Andrews, however, did not argue
that the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to
hear RRHA's appeal.
circuit court ruled in favor of RRHA and reversed the hearing
officer's decision. The court determined that it was
"vest[ed] [with] jurisdiction to 'hear the appeal on
the record'" under Code § 2.2-3006. The court
then ruled that the hearing officer erred in her
interpretation and application of RRHA's disputed
personnel policies and procedures. In doing so, the court
agreed with RRHA that the hearing officer was "required
to render a decision 'consistent with provisions of law
and written policy'" under Code §
15.2-1507(A)(10)(a)(6); and that "the hearing
officer's decision here is 'contradictory to law'
under Va. Code § 2.2-3006." Accordingly, the court
entered a final order denying the grievance.
appealed the circuit court's decision to the Court of
Appeals of Virginia challenging the merits of that decision.
The Court of Appeals concluded, however, that it lacked
subject matter jurisdiction to decide the appeal under Code
§ 17.1-405 and transferred the case to this Court under
Code § 8.01-677.1. Andrews then filed a petition for
appeal to this Court. There, Andrews raised the additional
argument in her first assignment of error that the circuit
court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider
RRHA's appeal of the hearing officer's decision. We
granted Andrews this appeal limited solely to the
Raising Subject Matter Jurisdiction
did not waive her jurisdictional challenge to the circuit
court's decision by raising it for the first time on
appeal. "Subject matter jurisdiction is the authority
granted to a court by constitution or by statute to
adjudicate a class of cases or controversies."
Earley v. Landsidle, 257 Va. 365, 371, 514 S.E.2d
153, 156 (1999) (citing Morrison v. Bestler, 239 Va.
166, 169, 387 S.E.2d 753, 755 (1990)). Under settled
principles, such jurisdiction "cannot be conferred on
the court by the litigants" and a challenge to it
"cannot be waived." Virginian-Pilot Media Cos.
v. Dow Jones & Co., 280 Va. 464, 468, 698 S.E.2d
900, 902 (2010) (citing In re: Commonwealth, 278 Va.
1, 11, 677 S.E.2d 236, 240 (2009)). Furthermore, "lack
of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, in
any manner, before any court, or by the court itself."
Nelson v. Warden of the Keen Mt. Corr. Ctr., 262 Va.
276, 281, 552 S.E.2d 73, 75 (2001) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted); see Humphreys v.
Commonwealth, 186 Va. 765, 772, 43 S.E.2d 890, 893
Standard of Review
present dispute over subject matter jurisdiction concerning
whether the circuit court had the statutory authority to
entertain RRHA's grievance appeal presents an issue of
law, which we review de novo. See Glasser & Glasser,
PLC v. Jack Bays, Inc., 285 Va. 358, 369, 741 S.E.2d
599, 604 (2013) (challenge to trial court's subject
matter jurisdiction involved an issue of law subject to de
novo review); see also REVI, LLC v. Chicago Title. Ins.
Co., 290 Va. 203, 208, 776 S.E.2d 808, 810 (2015)
(question of statutory interpretation is subject to de novo
review (citing Eberhardt v. Fairfax County Emples. Ret.
Sys. Bd. of Trs., 283 Va. 190, ...