As of July 1, 2013, Virginia’s rules of civil procedure will be changed in a number of key respects. The recent amendments enacted by the General Assembly alter the currently existing rules concerning venue, service of process, and summary judgment, and provide important new protections for defendants in civil cases brought before Virginia state courts.
The statutes affected by these amendments include Va. Code § 8.01-262, which was amended to restrict permissible venue in civil cases. This change will have the most affect for corporate defendants, as it imposes new limits on which courts a plaintiff can choose to bring suit in. Under the law as it is currently in effect, plaintiffs bringing suits against corporate defendants have a broad number of courts to choose from, as they may file their claim any county or city “wherein the defendant regularly conducts substantial business activity,” regardless of where the events underlying the lawsuit actually took place. Under the amendment passed by the General Assembly, however, venue will now be limited to counties or cities in which, in addition to the defendant’s business presence, “there exists any practical nexus to the forum including, but not limited to, the location of fact witnesses, plaintiffs, or other evidence to the action[.]” In other words, a plaintiff’s chosen court must now have some sort of tangible connection to the plaintiff’s lawsuit in order for the case to be brought there.
Also amended was Va. Code § 8.01-275.1, which is the Virginia statute governing time limits for service of process in civil actions. Currently, plaintiffs that file suit in Commonwealth courts have 12 months from the date of filing their complaint in which to provide the defendant(s) with notice of the action. As of July 1st, this time period will now be reduced to 6 months, limiting the period of time after filing suit in which a plaintiff can delay before actively commencing court proceedings.
Finally, and perhaps of most interest to Virginian litigants, an important change has been made with regards to Virginia’s summary judgment procedures. Under the current version of Va. Code § 8.01-420, an award of summary judgment has been a relatively rare form of relief in Virginia state courts. In contrast, summary judgment is much more common in proceedings before federal courts, owing in large part to the federal court’s rules of civil procedures, which permit a litigant to support such a motion through the submission of affidavits. The Virginia statute does not allow affidavits to be submitted as evidence at the summary judgment stage of proceedings, which often means that factual issues in a case can only be resolved at trial. Under the amended summary judgment statute, however, a motion for summary judgment may now be based upon “depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions in the proceedings, or affidavits by a person with direct knowledge of the facts stated.” This change may result in motions for summary judgment becoming a much more frequent occurrence in Virginia courts, and allow for a larger number of meritless lawsuits being disposed of prior to trial.