I try to stay in my lane of summarizing and commenting on Virginia Court of Appeals’ opinions, leaving the commentary on the Mighty Seven to my colleague Steve Emmert. But today’s opinion in Galiotos v. Galiotos has such a gem of legal wisdom that I could not resist. I will leave the summary of the tale of woe — two brothers who were co-executors of their mother’s substantial estate who simply could not agree about, well, anything — to the aforementioned sage of Virginia Beach. Instead I will simply offer this slim quotation from the Court’s opinion under the astute pen of Justice Goodwin as one for every attorney to file away and use the next time someone says “just what is abuse of discretion?”
When we say that a circuit court has discretion, we mean that “the [circuit] court has a range of choice, and that its decision will not be disturbed as long as it stays within that range and is not influenced by any mistake of law.” Landrum v. Chippenham and Johnston-Willis Hosps., Inc., 282 Va. 346, 352 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). There are three principal ways in which a circuit court can abuse its discretion: when a relevant factor that should have been given significant weight is not considered; when an irrelevant or improper factor is considered and given significant weight; and when all proper factors, and no improper ones, are considered, but the court, in weighing those factors, commits a clear error of judgment. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “Thus, only when reasonable jurists could not differ can we say an abuse of discretion has occurred.” Sauder v. Ferguson, 289 Va. 449, 459 (2015) (internal quotation marks omitted).
WOW! That’s about as succinct and yet all encompassing definition of abuse of discretion that one could hope for. Thank you Justice Goodwyn!