How did this judgment get paid?

The answer brings us to our real estate transaction. More than a year after the judgment was entered against her, and after the wheels were in motion on her appeal, Sheehy went to sell some real estate. In Virginia, a judgment creates a lien on the judgment debtor's real estate.  For a sale to close, the judgment must be paid off.

That happened here. After being contacted by the buyer's attorney, Williams' attorney received a check for the exact amount of the judgment. That check came not from Sheehy, but from the buyer's attorney.

Herein lies the issue: Although the check didn't come from Sheehy, Williams' attorney claims it had Sheehy's initials on it, indicating that Sheehy knew the judgment was being paid off and consented to it. Sheehy's counsel, on the other hand, maintains the check was issued by the buyers and not "by [Sheehy] or on her behalf."  At oral argument, however, Sheehy's counsel was unable to say, in response to a question from the bench, whether Sheehy authorized the payment to be made.  He had nothing to do with the real estate closing.

Where does that leave things?

How can the Court resolve Williams' motion to dismiss without any trial court record about what happened during the real estate closing, which happened more than a year after final judgment?  The answer is that it can direct the trial court to make one. Under Rule 1:1B(b) of the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Court can temporarily remand a case "to the circuit court for the purpose of making findings of fact regarding factual issues relevant to" a motion to dismiss an appeal. That is what the Court does here. It remands the case and directs the trial court to make factual findings on eight questions relevant to its consideration of whether Sheehy's appeals are barred by the voluntary payment doctrine.

In the past, I've posted about "25 Surefire Ways to Torpedo Your Virginia Supreme Court Appeal."  I must admit, violating the voluntary payment doctrine by ratifying the payment of a judgment during a real estate closing (assuming that ends up being what Sheehy did here; we'll see) wasn't one I foresaw the need to include. 

Benjamin P. Kyber
Richmond Appellate Law Attorney Serving Virginia, Henrico County.
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