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Andre Washington v. Caroline County Department of Social Services
Case Number: 0870-19-2
Judge: MARY BENNETT MALVEAUX
Court: COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
Plaintiff's Attorney: Jennifer C. Williamson, Senior Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General; Cynthia V. Bailey, Deputy Attorney General; Kim F. Piner, Senior Assistant Attorney General/Section Chief, on brief)
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In April 2017, after receiving and investigating a complaint that appellant had physically
abused his daughter, the Caroline County Department of Social Services entered a disposition of
“Founded—Physical Abuse.” Pursuant to Code § 63.2-1526(A), appellant appealed this
disposition, which was sustained at a local conference appeal hearing. Appellant then appealed
to VDSS, which sustained the disposition on March 27, 2018.
On April 17, 2018, VDSS received correspondence from appellant in which he requested
to appeal VDSS’s decision. Appellant’s letter did not indicate that he had also sent a copy to his
counsel or had made his counsel aware of the correspondence.
On April 19, 2018, counsel for appellant filed a notice of appeal with VDSS.
On May 21, 2018, counsel for appellant filed a petition for appeal in the circuit court, a
copy of which had been mailed to VDSS.2 Along with the petition, counsel for appellant
included a cover letter to the court that stated, “Enclosed please find a Petition for Appeal
regarding the above-referenced case along with a check for the filing fee in the amount of
$84.00.” Appellant did not enclose paper copies of his petition in order for the circuit court clerk
to prepare a summons and issue process, and he did not pay the fees for service or request
On October 16, 2018, the petition for appeal was served on Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia’s
Secretary of Health and Human Resources.3 The proof of service indicates that the summons
2 While the petition lists the “Caroline Department of Social Services” as appellee, the petition’s “Certificate of Service” indicates that it was mailed to the “Appeals and Fair Hearings Unit” of VDSS.
3 Dr. Carey is a member of the Governor’s cabinet, see Code § 2.2-212, and is not a named party to this action.
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was issued on August 22, 2018. There is no indication in the record that VDSS itself was served
On October 24, 2018, VDSS, by special appearance, filed a plea in bar asserting that the
circuit court lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal. VDSS argued that the circuit court lacked
jurisdiction for two reasons: (1) appellant himself filed a notice of appeal on April 17, 2018, and
because his petition for appeal was filed more than thirty days after that notice, his petition was
untimely under Rule 2A:4(a); and (2) appellant failed to comply with Rule 2A:4(a)’s mandatory
provisions for service on VDSS.
The circuit court heard argument on VDSS’s plea in bar and then issued a letter opinion
in which it granted VDSS’s plea in bar and dismissed appellant’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
In its letter opinion, the court stated that
Rule 2A:4(a) requires that within 30 days of the filing of notice of appeal that the appellant must file a brief, pay the fees and take all steps to cause the petition to be served on the agency secretary. That clearly was not done in this case as no service was ever requested or paid to the Clerk of Court, and service was not obtained by private process service until five to six months later.
Because the requirements of Rule 2A:4 are found to be jurisdictional the [c]ourt need not determine the other issues on the case.
The circuit court subsequently issued an order reflecting this ruling. In its order, the
court found that
[appellant] failed within 30 days of filing a notice of appeal to comply with the mandatory and jurisdictional requirements of Rule 2A:4(a) of the Rules of Supreme Court of Virginia to take all steps provided in Rules 3:2, 3:3 and 3:4 of the Rules of Supreme Court of Virginia to cause a copy of the Petition for Appeal to be served on the agency secretary. Therefore, the [c]ourt is without jurisdiction and [appellant’s] Petition for Appeal is barred.
This appeal followed.
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On appeal, appellant argues that the circuit court erred in granting VDSS’s plea in bar
and in dismissing his appeal. He contends that the court acted erroneously due to its incorrect
finding that Rule 2A:4’s service provisions are jurisdictional.
We address appellant’s argument by examining the manner in which an administrative
agency’s decision can be appealed. “[Sovereign immunity] is an established principle of
sovereignty . . . that a sovereign State cannot be sued in its own courts . . . without its consent
and permission.” DiGiacinto v. Rector and Visitors of George Mason Univ., 281 Va. 127, 137
(2011) (alterations in original) (quoting Gray v. Va. Sec’y of Transp., 276 Va. 93, 101 (2008)).
“As an agency of the Commonwealth, [VDSS] enjoys the privileges of sovereign immunity.”
Va. Bd. of Med. v. Va. Physical Therapy Ass’n, 13 Va. App. 458, 464 (1991). However, the
Commonwealth may waive its sovereign immunity. Id. at 465. In doing so, “[t]he
Commonwealth also may tailor its consent to be sued by prescribing certain modes, terms, and
conditions” including limiting “the right to sue to certain specified causes, . . . and when it does
so it can be sued only in the manner and upon the terms and conditions prescribed. Compliance
with the conditions and restrictions set forth in the [relevant] statute is jurisdictional.” Id. (first
alteration in original) (quoting 72 Am. Jur. 2d States, Territories, and Dependencies § 124
(1974)). In Virginia, the Virginia Administrative Process Act (“VAPA”) governs an agency’s
actions and judicial review thereof. See Code § 2.2-4000; see also Sch. Bd. of Cty. of York v.
Nicely, 12 Va. App. 1051, 1058-59 (1991). Simply put, “the General Assembly has waived
sovereign immunity only to allow a party to obtain judicial review of [an agency’s] adoption of
rules or [an agency’s] case decisions, as such are defined in the VAPA, in the manner provided
in the VAPA.” Afzall v. Commonwealth, 273 Va. 226, 231 (2007) (quoting Va. Physical
Therapy Ass’n, 13 Va. App. at 466). Here, the Commonwealth has waived its sovereign
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immunity with respect to VDSS, an agency of the Commonwealth, and thus a party can obtain
judicial review of VDSS’s decisions; however, this review must be “in the manner provided in
the VAPA.” Id.
Such appeals brought under the VAPA are governed by Part Two A of the Rules of the
Supreme Court. See Rule 2A:1 (“These rules . . . shall apply to the review of, by way of direct
appeal from, . . . the decision of a case by an agency.”). Pursuant to Rule 2A:4(a), a party has
thirty days after the filing of a notice of appeal to file a petition for appeal with the circuit court
and take all steps provided in Rules 3:2, 3:3 and 3:4 to cause a copy of the petition for appeal to
be served on the agency secretary. The Rule does not include a provision permitting a circuit
court to extend this time limitation.4
Because VDSS has waived its sovereign immunity to be sued and has tailored its consent
to such suits by prescribing that they must be brought in the manner provided in the VAPA, we
find that compliance with this requirement as set forth in the Rule is mandatory. See Mayo v.
Dept. of Commerce, 4 Va. App. 520, 523 (1987) (holding that the provision in Rule 2A:4(a)
requiring a party to file a petition for appeal in the circuit court within thirty days after the filing
of the notice of appeal was mandatory and affirming the circuit court’s dismissal of the appeal
when the petition was untimely filed).
4 Rule 2A:4(a) states in full as follows:
Within 30 days after the filing of the notice of appeal, the appellant shall file a petition for appeal with the clerk of the circuit court named in the first notice of appeal to be filed. Such filing shall include within such 30–day period both the payment of all fees and the taking of all steps provided in Rule 3:2, 3:3 and 3:4 to cause a copy of the petition for appeal to be served (as in a civil action) on the agency secretary and on every other party. The petition may be filed electronically as provided under Rule 1:17.
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Rule 2A:4(a)’s mandatory service requirements were not met in this case. Here,
appellant timely filed a notice of appeal and petition for appeal as required by Rules 2A:2 and
2A:4(a).5 Appellant then mailed a copy of his petition for appeal to VDSS6; however, there is no
indication in the record that appellant requested formal service on VDSS within thirty days of
filing the notice of appeal as required by Rule 2A:4(a).7 In fact, at oral argument, counsel for
appellant admitted, with admirable candor, that service of process upon the agency secretary was
not requested within thirty days following the filing of his notice of appeal as required under the
Here, Rule 2A:4(a)’s mandatory service requirements were not met because appellant
failed to take steps within thirty days of filing his notice of appeal to cause a copy of his petition
for appeal to be served on the agency secretary. Because appellant failed to obtain judicial
5 For purposes of this appeal, we assume without deciding that appellant’s petition for appeal was timely filed and do not decide whether his correspondence with VDSS, in which he requested to appeal the decision prior to his counsel’s filing of a notice of appeal, initiated the period during which the petition had to be filed.
6 This Court has previously held that “the simple act of mailing to an agency a copy of a petition for appeal that has been filed with a court does not qualify as ‘process.’ . . . Process, at least for purposes of Rule 2A:4(a), must be an official notice issued by a court, not simply information being shared from another source.” Muse Constr. Grp., Inc. v. Commonwealth Bd. for Contractors, 61 Va. App. 125, 140 (2012) (en banc) (citation omitted).
7 Appellant did obtain service of process on Dr. Daniel Carey, Virginia’s Secretary of Health and Human Resources, on October 16, 2018. However, we conclude that this service did not satisfy the requirements of the curative statute, Code § 8.01-288. Code § 8.01-288 states, in pertinent part, that “process which has reached the person to whom it is directed within the time prescribed by law, if any, shall be sufficient although not served or accepted as provided in this chapter.” However, Rule 2A:4(a) requires service “on the agency secretary and on every other party.” Dr. Carey is not the agency secretary, nor is he a party to this action. Because appellant obtained service on the wrong person, Code § 8.01-288 does not cure the defective service in this case. See Muse, 61 Va. App. at 141 (noting that Code § 8.01-288 “applies in a situation where court-issued process has actually reached the agency secretary”).
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review of VDSS’s decision in the manner provided in the VAPA, the circuit court did not err in
granting VDSS’s plea in bar and dismissing the appeal.8
Outcome: For the reasons set forth above, we affirm the decision of the circuit court.