A recent Supreme Court of Virginia opinion could affect an ongoing legal dispute between the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
Last month, the Supreme Court of Virginia issued an opinion that said the Prince William County Board of Supervisors does not have the power to dissolve the corporate status of the Dumfries-Triangle Rescue Squad, but said that it can end a contract with DTRS for emergency medical services.
In the opinion, Justice Cleo E. Powell said the Prince William Circuit Court erred in concluding that a county’s board of supervisors could dissolve the corporate status of a rescue squad registered with the State Corporation Commission as a Virginia nonstock corporation.
Albemarle County had made a similar argument as to why its Board of Supervisors could dissolve the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad, which an Albemarle Circuit Court judge ruled it could do. Both parties agreed to ask the court to stay proceedings until an opinion was issued in the Prince William case.
In 2018, Prince William said its Board of Supervisors had the authority to dissolve DTRS’s corporate status under a state code section that allows dissolution of an EMS agency by a local governing body when the agency “has failed, for three months successively, to have or keep in good and serviceable condition emergency medical services vehicles and equipment and other proper implements, or when the governing body of the county, city, or town for any reason deems it advisable.”
“… A local governing body, like the board, may only dissolve an emergency medical services agency if it was ‘established pursuant to’ that section,” Powell wrote in the order. “DTRS was not ‘established pursuant to’ Code § 32.1-111.4:7. Rather, pursuant to its Articles of Incorporation, it was established under Title 13.1 as a private, nonstock corporation.”
She went on to say that it could not have been established pursuant to that section in the state code, because DTRS has existed as a corporation registered with the State Corporation Commission since 1959, “well prior to the enactment of Code § 32.1-111.4:7.”
DTRS is not the type of entity that is subject to dissolution under that state code section, she wrote.
“DTRS was not just an emergency medical services agency,” Powell said in the opinion. “Under its Articles of Incorporation, in addition to providing emergency medical services, it was established to also ‘teach methods of safety.’”
Because the rescue squad’s relationship with the board was limited to the provision of emergency medical services to Prince William County, that was the only aspect of its operations that the board could dissolve, she wrote.
“Therefore, the board had no express authority to dissolve DTRS’s corporate status,” Powell said in the opinion.
The opinion did state that the section of the state code does allow the Prince William Board of Supervisors “to freely dissolve its contractual relationship with DTRS regarding emergency medical services.”
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors voted to dissolve SVRS’s operations in April 2019 and asked the Albemarle County Fire Rescue Division to take over remaining shifts in the area, after the squad struggled to find enough volunteers to staff its operations.
An Albemarle Circuit Court judge ruled on a demurrer filed by an attorney for SVRS in December, stating that the nature of the relationship between the county and the organization does authorize the county to dissolve the entire entity.
Earlier this year, the attorneys for the Albemarle Board of Supervisors and the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad in a joint motion asked for the stay in proceedings pending the Supreme Court of Virginia’s opinion, saying that the issues in that case are similar to some of the issues in the Scottsville case, and that the state Supreme Court’s opinion is “likely to be determinative of significant and potentially dispositive issues in this case.”
“The resources of the parties, as well as the court, would therefore be best preserved by a stay of these proceedings until the Supreme Court of Virginia issues an opinion in Dumfries,” the joint motion said.
Albemarle attorneys argued that the Board of Supervisors could dissolve the SVRS pursuant to the same section of state code that Prince William County cited in its case.
According to its articles of incorporation, SVRS was registered with the SCC in 1974 as a Virginia non-stock corporation under “Chapter 2 of Title 13.1” of the state code, and the purposes listed in its articles of incorporation include “to teach methods of safety and first aid to the general public and in the schools in the Town of Scottsville and vicinity,” among other things.
An attorney for the rescue squad argued in an October 2019 demurrer that if the county was allowed to dissolve the squad, “it would set a dangerous precedent which imbues local governments to dissolve private corporations at-will to serve the government’s needs.”
The effect of the Prince William County decision on the Scottsville case remains to be seen. No hearing dates are currently set in the local case.