the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond Judges Petty,
Beales and AtLee Circuit Court No. CL17-283, CL17-283
Charles C. Lifland (John D. McGavin; Daniel M. Petrocelli;
Randy Oppenheimer; Anne E. Huffsmith; Bancroft, McGavin,
Horvath & Judkins, P.C.; O'Melveny & Myers, LLP,
on briefs), for appellant Tesla, Inc.
Jeffrey R. Allen, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R.
Herring, Attorney General; Eric K.G. Fiske, Special Counsel;
Christian A. Parrish, Assistant Attorney General, on briefs),
for appellant Richard D. Holcomb, Commissioner Department of
Motor Vehicles, Commonwealth of Virginia.
D. Weiss (Michael G. Charapp; Barrett C. Beaty; Charapp &
Weiss, LLP on briefs), for appellee.
Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and
Tesla, Inc. filed appeals with this Court challenging the
circuit court's order overruling their demurrers. The
appellants argue that the circuit court erred in finding the
appellee, Virginia Automobile Dealers Association (VADA), has
standing to file an appeal in the circuit court challenging a
case decision by the Commissioner. VADA filed with this Court
a motion to dismiss alleging that the order of the circuit
court overruling the demurrers was not an appealable order
and, thus, this Court lacks jurisdiction to review the order.
We conclude this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the
appeals, and we grant VADA's motion to dismiss.
requested an evidentiary hearing by the Commissioner to
determine if it qualified under Code § 46.2-1572(4) to
open a manufacturer-owned dealership in Richmond, Virginia. A
hearing officer appointed by the Commissioner granted
VADA's request to intervene in the proceeding. After a
hearing, the hearing officer recommended that Tesla's
request for a dealership in Richmond be denied. Tesla
requested review by the Commissioner. The Commissioner ruled
that Tesla qualified under Code § 46.2-1572(4) to open a
dealership. Pursuant to Code § 2.2-4026 of the Virginia
Administrative Process Act, VADA filed an appeal with the
circuit court from the Commissioner's case decision; the
appeal named the Commissioner and Tesla as appellees. The
Commissioner and Tesla filed demurrers to the action, arguing
that VADA had no standing to appeal the Commissioner's
decision. In a June 26, 2017 order, the circuit court
overruled the demurrers and ruled that VADA has standing as
an aggrieved party to appeal the Commissioner's decision.
The order also granted VADA leave to amend the petition for
appeal to include two individual dealerships as petitioners.
The circuit court did not reach the merits of VADA's
claims of error. The Commissioner and Tesla filed an appeal
of the circuit court's June 26, 2017 order pursuant to
the Virginia Administrative Process Act. See Code
Court of Appeals of Virginia is a court of limited
jurisdiction." Commonwealth v. Lancaster, 45
Va.App. 723, 730, 613 S.E.2d 828, 831 (2005) (quoting
Canova Electric Contracting v. LMI Ins., 22 Va.App.
595, 599, 471 S.E.2d 827, 829 (1996)). "As a court of
limited jurisdiction, 'we have no jurisdiction over
appeals except that granted us by statute.'"
Id. (quoting Polumbo v. Polumbo, 13 Va.App.
306, 307, 411 S.E.2d 229, 229 (1991)). Pursuant to Code
§ 17.1-405(1) and (4), the Court of Appeals has
appellate jurisdiction over "[a]ny final decision of a
circuit court on appeal from a decision of an administrative
agency . . . [and] any interlocutory decree or order . . .
adjudicating the principles of a cause." Id. at
731, 613 S.E.2d at 831. "[A] 'final order' is an
order 'that is dispositive of the entire case.'"
Id. at 731, 613 S.E.2d at 831-32 (quoting
Black's Law Dictionary 1130 (8th ed. 2004)). Our
jurisdiction to consider an interlocutory order is limited to
those orders that adjudicate the principles of the cause.
Adjudicating the principles of a cause "mean[s] that the
rules or methods by which the rights of the parties are to be
finally worked out have been so far determined that it is
only necessary to apply these rules or methods to the facts
of the case in order to ascertain the relative rights of the
parties with regard to the subject matter of the suit."
Lewis v. Lewis, 271 Va. 520, 526, 628 S.E.2d 314,
317 (2006) (quoting Lancaster v. Lancaster, 86 Va.
(11 Hans.) 201, 204-05, 9 S.E. 988, 990 (1889)). Thus, an
interlocutory order adjudicating the principles of a cause
"must address 'the chief object of the
suit.'" de Haan v. de Haan, 54 Va.App. 428,
439, 680 S.E.2d 297, 303 (2009) (alteration omitted) (quoting
Erikson v. Erikson, 19 Va.App. 389, 391, 451 S.E.2d
711, 713 (1994)).
order adjudicating the principles of the cause must address
the merits of the suit. Generally, preliminary rulings, such
as overruling demurrers and determining standing, do not
address the merits and therefore cannot be orders that
adjudicate the principles of the cause. Thrasher v.
Lustig, 204 Va. 399, 403, 131 S.E.2d 286, 289 (1963). In
Thrasher, Thrasher argued in the lower court that
Lustig was not "a real party in interest, " i.e.
did not have standing, to bring the underlying suit and that
a necessary party had not been joined. Id. at 401,
131 S.E.2d at 288. The lower court ruled Lustig did
have standing to sue and gave Lustig leave to amend the
complaint. Thrasher appealed the interlocutory order; Lustig
filed a motion to dismiss the appeal. Id. Holding
that "the interlocutory decree under review in no sense
adjudicates the principles of the cause of this suit and it
is not appealable, " the Supreme Court dismissed the
appeal. Id. at 403, 131 S.E.2d at 289. The Court
noted that "as a general rule interlocutory decrees or
orders overruling motions as to joinder of parties, or a
substitution of parties, are not appealable."
Id.; Richardson v. Bowcock, 213 Va. 141,
142, 191 S.E.2d 238, 238 (1972) ("An order overruling a
demurrer is not one which adjudicates the principles of a
cause."). The interlocutory decree regarding standing
"settled none of the allegations in the bill of
complaint." Thrasher, 204 Va. at 403, 131
S.E.2d at 289. Furthermore, "[t]he subject matter of the
suit was still in the breast of the court and appellant was
granted leave to file his answer." Id. The
Court reasoned that the lower court's preliminary order
merely determined that the case could proceed at that time
and "merely deferred action until the evidence could be
heard. . . . [A]t any stage of the cause as the ends of
justice may require" the court could reconsider its
decision. Id. at 402-03, 131 S.E.2d at
the Commissioner and Tesla agree that the circuit court's
June 26, 2017 order was not a final order, and it clearly is
not. Therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to hear
appellants' interlocutory appeals only if the circuit
court's order adjudicates the principles of the cause.
Code § 17.1-405(4). The merits of VADA's
administrative appeal center on its contention that the
Commissioner committed error by finding Tesla qualifies for a
dealership pursuant to Code § 46.2-1572(4). The circuit
court's June 26, 2017 order addressed VADA's right to
proceed with an appeal of the Commissioner's decision and
to amend its petition for appeal; it clearly did not address,
let alone adjudicate, VADA's assertion that the
Commissioner erred. The circuit court's decision that the
VADA has standing merely determines that the case may proceed
at this time. The subject matter of VADA's administrative
appeal is still in the breast of the circuit court, and the
court "as the ends of justice may require" may
reconsider its decision. See Thrasher, 204 Va. At
403, 131 S.E.2d at 289. Because the order clearly does not
address the merits of the administrative appeal, it does not
adjudicate the principles of the cause. See id.
however, urge this Court to deny VADA's motion to dismiss
these appeals, to reverse the circuit court's overruling
of their demurrers, and to dismiss VADA's appeal of the
Commissioner's decision. They argue that if VADA is not
an aggrieved party then sovereign immunity prevents VADA from
challenging the Commissioner's decision. While the legal
principle is correct, the argument is circular because the
argument prevails only if we reverse on the merits the
circuit court's order. However, this is precisely what
this Court does not have jurisdiction to do because here the
circuit court's interlocutory order regarding standing
did not adjudicate the principles of the cause. Thus, even if
we agreed with appellants that the circuit court erred in
concluding VADA is an aggrieved party for purposes of the
Virginia Administrative Process Act, we simply have no
statutory jurisdiction to review the trial court's order
at this point in the litigation. Lancaster, 86 Va.
(11 Hans.) at 203-04, 9 S.E. at 989 ("It thus plainly
appears that the first, and perhaps, the only question we
have to decide, is whether an appeal lies from such a decree.
For unless this inquiry can be determined affirmatively, the
court has no election, although, if it were permitted to
examine the bill, it might be of opinion the bill was
multifarious, or demurrable for misjoinder of parties, or
that it should have been dismissed for want of jurisdiction,
but must dismiss the appeal.").
circuit court's order overruling the demurrers filed by
the Commissioner and Tesla and granting leave for the
Virginia Automobile Dealers Association to amend its petition
for appeal did not adjudicate the principles of the cause; it
was thus not an appealable interlocutory order, and ...