THE CIRCUIT COURT OF LOUDOUN COUNTY Jeanette A. Irby, Judge
Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Powell, McClanahan, Kelsey, and
McCullough, JJ., and Russell, S.J.
CHARLES S. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUSTICE
an appeal by an attorney from an award of sanctions against
him arising out of his efforts to collect fees and costs from
a client. We affirm the award.
November of 2008, Eileen Flynn (the "client")
entered into a written "representation agreement"
with Plofchan & Associates, later known as Westlake Legal
Group, a law firm practicing in Loudoun County (the
"attorney"), for legal services to be rendered to
her in a domestic relations case. The agreement provided for
hourly fee rates for services by lawyers and legal assistants
and for the client's responsibility for costs and
expenses. It also provided that in the event the firm should
be required to institute legal proceedings against the client
for sums due under the agreement, the firm would be its own
attorney and the client would be responsible for its fees in
collection proceedings at a $400 hourly rate.
appeal arises out of an additional provision of the agreement
wherein the client agreed that in the event she did not pay
any bill from the attorney within 45 days of the billing, her
entire account would be due and accrue interest at an annual
rate of 18%. Thomas K. Plofchan, Jr. or Kathryn G. Plofchan
were appointed her attorney-in-fact to confess judgment
against her in any Virginia circuit court for the entire
unpaid balance due under the agreement. The
confessed-judgment clause contained the warning required by
Code § 8.01-433.1.
April 30, 2014, the attorney, then using the name Westlake
Legal Group, billed the client for $8, 910.07. On June 5,
2014, the attorney billed the client for an additional $550.
Both bills were addressed to the client at an address in
Purcellville, Virginia. On the next day, June 6, 2014, Thomas
K. Plofchan, Jr., as attorney in fact for the client, filed a
confession of judgment against her in the clerk's office
of the Circuit Court of Loudoun County in the amount of $9,
460.07, with interest at 18% from April 30, 2014. The
confessed judgment showed the client's address as
"21804 Cresent [sic] Park Square, Broadlands, VA
20148." The clerk entered an order of judgment and
issued a certified copy of the order for service by the
sheriff on the client in compliance with the provisions of
Code § 8.01-438. On June 10, 2014, the sheriff returned
the papers to the clerk marked "not found." The
return contained the notation "misspelled street
address." It is undisputed that no copy of the judgment
was ever served on the client.
March 18, 2015, the attorney filed a garnishment suggestion
against the client, this time giving her address as
"2221 Hunters Run Dr., Reston, VA
20191." The suggestion claimed a
debt of $11, 997.97 and identified the garnishee as the
client's employer in Ashburn, Virginia. The clerk issued
a garnishment summons that was served upon both the client
and her employer.
client obtained new counsel and moved the court to enter an
order declaring the confessed judgment void nunc pro
tunc because of failure to serve it on her as required
by Code § 8.01-438. The attorney moved to suffer a
voluntary nonsuit. The client moved the court for an award of
monetary sanctions in the form of recovery of her new
counsel's fees. At a hearing on September 4, 2015, the
court entered four orders: (1) granting the nonsuit, (2)
quashing the confessed judgment nunc pro tunc, (3)
ordering payment to the client of all sums held by the clerk
by reason of the garnishment, and (4) pursuant to Code §
8.01-271.1, awarding sanctions in the amount of $1, 805 to be
paid by the attorney to the client as reasonable expenses she
incurred by reason of the garnishment proceedings. We awarded
the attorney an appeal of the order granting sanctions.
question of law is presented by an assertion that a court
improperly asserted jurisdiction. We review such questions de
novo. Glasser & Glasser, PLC v. Jack Bays, Inc.,
285 Va. 358, 369, 741 S.E.2d 599, 604 (2013). On appellate
review of the imposition of sanctions imposed under Code
§ 8.01-271.1, we apply an abuse of discretion standard
based upon objective reasonableness. Shebelskie v.
Brown, 287 Va. 18, 26, 752 S.E.2d 877, 881 (2014).
attorney presented six assignments of error. We awarded this
appeal as to the first five and refused the sixth. Our
holding on the first assignment of error is dispositive of
the appeal for the reasons expressed below.
attorney's first assignment of error is that the circuit
court erred in asserting jurisdiction after it had
"already entered an order dismissing the confessed
judgment action . . .which rendered the garnishment action
moot." The attorney argues on
appeal that his voluntary nonsuit had the effect of depriving
the court of jurisdiction: "Because the underlying
judgment has been dismissed, the circuit court lost
jurisdiction to ...