MILLER & RHOADS BUILDING, L.L.C.
CITY OF RICHMOND
THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND Melvin R. Hughes,
All the Justices
E. POWELL JUSTICE.
& Rhoads Building, L.L.C. ("MRB") appeals the
decision of the trial court ruling that the City of
Richmond's (the "City") Tax Abatement for
Rehabilitated Real Estate Program (the "Partial
Exemption"), Richmond City Code §§ 98-149 to
-159,  does not apply to special
March 17, 2006, MRB acquired the vacant Miller & Rhoads
Building (the "building"). The building is located
in a special service and assessment district of the City.
Thus, in addition to being subject to the city-wide real
estate tax, see Richmond City Code § 98-121,
the building is also subject to an annual special district
tax, see Richmond City Code § 98- 842. Both
taxes are calculated as a percentage of the property's
"assessed evaluation." Richmond City Code
§§ 98-121, -842.
planned to rehabilitate the building and develop the property
to include a hotel, residential condominiums, retail space
and parking. MRB sought to recoup some of the costs of
rehabilitation by seeking a partial exemption from real
estate taxes for the property under the Partial Exemption.
Although the City determined that MRB's planned
rehabilitation of the building satisfied the basic
requirements to qualify for the Partial Exemption, it only
applied the Partial Exemption to the base real estate tax;
the City refused to apply the partial exemption to the
special district tax.
paid the special district taxes under protest and brought an
action to correct what it claimed were erroneous assessments.
According to MRB, the City failed to properly calculate and
apply the Partial Exemption. In its prayer for relief, MRB
sought a refund of "any amounts of real property tax
erroneously charged and paid that are attributable to the
erroneous final value."
to trial, the parties stipulated that "[t]he only issue
in disagreement is whether the [Partial Exemption] set forth
in [Richmond] City Code §§ 98-149, 98-152 and
98-155 also applies to the City's computation of the
special district tax as set forth in [Richmond] City Code
§§ 98-816 and 98-842." After hearing argument
on the matter, the trial court determined that the Partial
Exemption did not apply to the special district tax. In a
letter decision dated June 12, 2015, the trial court
explained that, "according to the statutory origin for
the imposition of the Special District Tax, its beginning
method of calculation and its purposes, and use, [the Special
District T]ax is not a real estate tax within the meaning and
for the use of the [Partial Exemption]." On August 12,
2015, the trial court issued a final order that incorporated
its letter opinion.
appeal, MRB argues that the trial court erred in ruling that
the special district tax "is not a real estate tax
within the meaning and for the use of" the Partial
Exemption. In response, the City concedes that the special
district tax is, in fact, a real estate tax, but claims that
the special district tax is a different type of real estate
tax that is not subject to the Partial Exemption. We agree
with the City.
the special district tax is subject to the partial exemption
is a question of statutory interpretation, which this court
reviews de novo. CVAS 2, LLC v. City of
Fredericksburg, 289 Va. 100, 108, 766 S.E.2d 912, 914
(2015); see also Renkey v. County Bd. of Arlington,
272 Va. 369, 373, 634 S.E.2d 352, 355 (2006) (holding that
municipal ordinances are interpreted in the same manner as
statutes). "In interpreting [a] statute, 'courts
apply the plain meaning . . . unless the terms are ambiguous
or applying the plain language would lead to an absurd
result.'" Baker v. Commonwealth, 284 Va.
572, 576, 733 S.E.2d 642, 644 (2012) (quoting Boynton v.
Kilgore, 271 Va. 220, 227, 623 S.E.2d 922, 926 (2006)).
Court has repeatedly admonished that, where, as here, a
statute is clear and unambiguous, "[t]he question . . .
is not what the legislature intended to enact, but what is
the meaning of that which it did enact. We must determine the
legislative intent by what the statute says and not by what
we think it should have said." Carter v. Nelms,
204 Va. 338, 346, 131 S.E.2d 401, 406-07 (1963). Thus, the
paramount principle of statutory interpretation is "to
interpret the statute as written." City of Lynchburg
v. Suttenfield, 177 Va. 212, 221, 13 S.E.2d 323, 326
present case, however, the trial court based its decision,
not on the plain language of the Richmond City Code, but
instead on "the statutory origin, " the
"beginning method of calculation, " the
"purposes" and the use of the special district tax.
While consideration of these factors may be necessary in
certain circumstances, such as when a literal reading of the
statute would lead to absurd results, see Tvardek v.
Powhatan Vill. Homeowners Ass'n, 291 Va. 269,
285-86, 784 S.E.2d 280, 285-86 (2016), it has no place in the
present case. Accordingly, the trial court erred in its
"[a]ppellate courts do 'not review lower courts'
opinions, but their judgments.'" Evans v.
Commonwealth, 290 Va. 277, 288 n.12, 776 S.E.2d 760, 766
n. 12 (2015) (quoting Jennings v. Stephens, 574
U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 793, 799 (2015)). "In instances where
a trial court's decision is correct, but its reasoning is
incorrect, and the record supports the correct reason, we
uphold the judgment pursuant to the right result for the
wrong reason doctrine." Haynes v. Haggerty, 291
Va. 301, 305, 784 S.E.2d 293, 294 (2016).
Under the right result for the wrong reason doctrine,
"it is the settled rule that how[ever] erroneous . . .
may be the reasons of the court for its judgment upon the
face of the judgment itself, if the judgment be right, it
will not be disturbed on account of the reasons."
Perry v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 572, 579, 701 S.E.2d
431, 435 (2010) (quoting Schultz v. Schultz, 51 Va.
(10 Gratt.) 358, 384 (1853)).
Court may uphold a judgment even when the correct reasoning
is not mentioned by a party in trial argument or by the trial
court in its decision, as long as the record contains
sufficient information to support the proper reason."
Haynes, 291 Va. at 305, 784 S.E.2d at 294. Moreover,
the right for the wrong reason doctrine is especially
applicable where, as here, the question is one of pure
statutory interpretation and the parties were on notice that
the statutes or statutory scheme was at issue. See Rives
v. Commonwealth, 284 Va. 1, 3, 726 S.E.2d 248, 250
(2012) (applying the right result for the wrong reason
doctrine to a case where the only issue was one of pure
present case, both parties and the trial court focused
primarily on the Partial Exemption and the special district
tax, without giving proper consideration to the overarching
statutory scheme. This Court has long recognized that
"statutes are not to be considered as isolated fragments
of law, but as a whole, or as parts of a great connected,
homogeneous system, or a single and complete statutory
arrangement." Prillaman v. Commonwealth, 199
Va. 401, 405, 100 S.E.2d 4, 7 (1957). Thus, in addition to
those sections of the Richmond City Code that expressly enact
the special district taxes and the Partial Exemption, it is
also necessary to consider those sections that provide the
overall framework for the levy and collection of special
district taxes. In the present case, that framework is
provided by Richmond City Code § 98-816.
City Code § 98-816 states:
All assessments levied under [Article XIV] shall be added to
the general real estate levy for the property and shall be
subject to the following sections of [Chapter 98] governing
the levy and collection of real estate taxes and the
penalties applicable thereto: sections 98-123, 98-124, 98-127
of particular note that, in establishing the framework for
levying and collecting special district taxes, the Richmond
City Council cites only four specific sections of Article III
of the Richmond City Code to which the special district taxes
under Article XIV are "subject to." "In
interpreting statutory language, we have consistently applied
the time-honored principle expressio unius est exclusio
alterius, " because this maxim "recognizes the
competence of the legislature to choose its words with
care." Virginia Department of Health v. NRV Real
Estate, LLC, 278 Va. 181, 187-88, 677 S.E.2d 276, 279
(2009). Under this maxim, "[w]hen a legislative
enactment limits the manner in which something may be done,
the enactment also evinces the intent that it shall not be
done another way." Grigg v. Commonwealth, 224
Va. 356, 364, 297 S.E.2d 799, 803 (1982). Stated another way,
"the mention of specific items in a statute implies that
all items omitted were not intended to be included."
NRV Real Estate, 278 Va. at 188, 677 S.E.2d at 279.
this maxim is not applicable in every situation, this Court
has recognized that "'[n]o maxim of the law is of
more general or uniform application, and it is never more
applicable than in the construction and interpretation of
statutes.'" Whitehead v. Cape Henry
Syndicate, 105 Va. 463, 471, 54 S.E. 306, 308 (1906)
(quoting Broom's Legal Maxims, pp. 663, 607). See
also Tate v. Ogg, 170 Va. 95, 103, 195 S.E. 496, 499
(1938) (recognizing that this maxim "is especially
applicable in the construction and interpretation of
statutes."). Accordingly, this Court has regularly
relied on the maxim when interpreting statutes that include
enumerated provisions. See Fisher v. Tails, Inc.,
289 Va. 69, 75, 767 S.E.2d 710, 714 (2015); NRV Real
Estate, 278 Va. at 187-88, 677 S.E.2d at 279;
Couplin v. Payne, 270 Va. 129, 136, 613 S.E.2d 592,
595 (2005); Jackson v. Fidelity & Deposit Co.,
269 Va. 303, 313, 608 S.E.2d 901, 906 (2005); Blake
Constr. Co. v. Upper Occoquan Sewage Auth., 266 Va. 564,
577, 587 S.E.2d 711, 718 (2003); Smith Mountain Lake
Yacht Club v. Ramaker, 261 Va. 240, 246, 542 S.E.2d 392,
395 (2001); Government Emples. Ins. Co. v. Hall, 260
Va. 349, 355, 533 S.E.2d 615, 617 (2000); Commonwealth v.
Brown, 259 Va. 697, 704-05, 529 S.E.2d 96, 100 (2000);
Board of Supervisors v. Wilson, 250 Va. 482, 485,