A judge on Thursday ruled that Albemarle County is within its rights to dissolve the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad.
Judge Cheryl Higgins made the call in a ruling on a demurrer filed by an attorney for SVRS, stating that the nature of the relationship between the county and the organization does authorize the county to dissolve the entire entity.
While she did not back the decision up by citing a similar case, Higgins said the relationship between the county and the rescue squad is different than the relationship between the county and other nonprofits.
The ruling quashed an argument by SVRS attorney Michael Gardner, who argued in an October 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.”
In the same filing, Gardner said the county could take away SVRS’s ability to provide medical services, but not its existence as a private nonstock corporation.
The Board of Supervisors dissolved the squad’s operations in April 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.
Gardner was responding to a county petition for a permanent injunction against the squad transferring its assets to another nonprofit.
The county’s response to Gardner said that if it had control over SVRS’s authorization to provide emergency medical services, and a number of other parts of the organization, including leadership of the organization, policies to which the organization was subject and the process by which funding was made available from the county, it is “no large step to conclude” that the county’s “statutory authority to dissolve the organization means its action affected the life of the organization as a whole.”
The county said the “dangerous precedent” argument “fails to acknowledge the special relationship between the locality … and its volunteer agencies, such as SVRS.”
There would be “true dangers” if SVRS was still able to hold itself out to the public under its incorporated name, the county argued.
“The public would no doubt be confused about whether and in what capacity the Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad could help them in an emergency, could accept their money to further public safety in their community, and could function as an entity,” the county stated.
Gardner responded that SVRS’s corporate purpose is, in part, “to promote the moral, social and general welfare of its members and the community,” and that SVRS can still operate “in a manner consistent with its corporate purpose.”
He said that the rescue squad’s corporate name “can be easily changed.”
The county made multiple references to an “implied contract” between SVRS and Albemarle, and Higgins on Thursday asked the county to file more details about the contract.