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Spratley v. Commonwealth

Supreme Court of Virginia

December 12, 2019



         Present: All the Justices



         In this appeal, we consider whether the Court of Appeals of Virginia ("Court of Appeals") erred when it determined that the evidence presented at the trial of Andrew Lamont Spratley ("Spratley") in the Circuit Court of Loudoun County ("circuit court") was sufficient to affirm his conviction for felony destruction of property.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         A. The Evidence at Trial

         A grand jury indicted Spratley for felony destruction of property of a value of $1, 000 or more, in violation of Code § 18.2-137, based on his alleged destruction of an electronic grocery store scale. Spratley pleaded not guilty and a one-day bench trial was held.

         At trial, Katey Stanbridge ("Stanbridge"), an asset protection specialist for a Wegmans grocery store in Sterling, Virginia, testified that on January 21, 2016 she observed Spratley and a female companion having "a strong discussion" on the store's camera system. When asked if Spratley and his companion were arguing, Stanbridge explained that the camera system did not record sound, but that "[h]ands were moving around" and "[i]t seemed to be a big discussion." During the discussion, Stanbridge saw Spratley "deliberate[ly]" "push over" a "scale," causing it to "hit the floor" and "shatter[]" into "multiple pieces." The scale was unrepairable due to a "software issue."

         According to Stanbridge, prior to breaking, the scale "was working correctly" and customers were using it to "print off labels." The broken scale, a "KH-100 Bizerba," was "no longer being manufactured." As a result, Wegmans "had to replace it with a newer model, a Mettler Toledo," which cost $4, 090. Stanbridge explained that another Wegmans employee, Vince Fragassi, ordered the Mettler Toledo using "STARS," an "internal program" that Wegmans uses for "all of its ordering." After an order is placed in STARS, Wegmans' "supplier in New York" "sends [] the merchandise." Stanbridge stated that Fragassi orders "all of our scales" and "would know if Bizerbas are available or not." In the STARS request for the Mettler Toledo, which was admitted into evidence over Spratley's objection, Fragassi wrote "[n]o Bizerba scales available to replace the scale that was damaged."

         Stanbridge further testified that the Mettler Toledo "work[s] the exact same way," has "the same design and layout," and "[p]erforms the same functions" as the Bizerba. She added that the Mettler Toledo is "just a different model." When asked if the Mettler Toledo "essentially did replace [the Bizerba] exactly, just a different name plate," Stanbridge answered "correct."

         When the Commonwealth rested, Spratley moved to strike the evidence, arguing that the Commonwealth failed to establish the value of the Bizerba was $1, 000 or more, as required for a felony conviction under Code § 18.2-137. Spratley claimed that the Commonwealth was required to prove the "fair market value" of the Bizerba at the time of its destruction. Because the Commonwealth did not present "evidence of how old the scale was," "how much it [had] depreciated," and the original purchase price, Spratley maintained that the Commonwealth had failed to meet the statutory threshold for a felony conviction and asked the court to "proceed as a misdemeanor."

         The Commonwealth responded that if Spratley was charged with grand larceny, it would be required to prove the fair market value of the Bizerba. However, the Commonwealth asserted that under Code § 18.2-137, it could prove "the amount of loss caused by [the] destruction" of property by establishing its "fair market replacement value." The Commonwealth acknowledged that the "value of the [Bizerba] scale may very well have been under the $4, 0[9]0 that the new [Mettler Toledo] cost," but contended that "[w]hat matters is how much [the Bizerba] costs to replace." Claiming that its evidence established that the cost of the Mettler Toledo was more than the $1, 000 threshold, and that the Mettler Toledo was "the exact same scale" as the Bizerba "other than the name on it," the Commonwealth argued that it presented "more than enough evidence [] to overcome the motion to strike."

         Spratley countered that while Code § 18.2-137 permitted the Commonwealth to prove the value of destroyed property by establishing its "fair market replacement value," the Mettler Toledo was "not a replacement." Spratley asserted that the Mettler Toledo was "a different scale" and no evidence showed it was "not an upgrade." Spratley also argued that the Commonwealth "did not produce evidence that there was no [Bizerba] KH-100 available." Rather, the "evidence before the court" established that "Wegmans went to [] their one supplier," and that "one supplier did not have a Bizerba KH-100."

         The circuit court denied the motion to strike. The circuit court explained that "the evidence here is there is no fair market replacement value for the Bizerba scale because it's not available. It doesn't exist." Consequently, Wegmans "paid the replacement value for a different make, model with the same functionality as the Bizerba scale that looked the same, had the same design layout, and worked the same way." Based on this evidence, the court determined that whether a scale of the "same make and model [w]as ...

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