A Recent Development in Virginia’s Law of Necessary Parties: Is Your Boundary Dispute or Riparian Rights Case Impacted?

March 02, 2022 in Land Use & Zoning

By: Scott A. Krystiniak, Esq.

When you own land, many different conflicts with your neighbors can arise—even under the most “neighborly” of circumstances. 

Boundary line disputes and riparian rights issues persist as two of the the most prevalent conflicts that come up, especially in the Coastal Virginia region.  These matters are complex and resolving them can be quite challenging.  Often, hiring an attorney, and/or a land surveyor may be prudent and, even still, lawsuits may be unavoidable.

Making these conflicts even more complex, a recent development in Virginia law raises the importance of considering whether a dispute with your neighbor might also involve other neighboring landowners or community members even if your particular conflict seems only to involve just one neighbor.  For example, if you and your neighbor are in litigation involving your respective riparian rights to the adjacent subaqueous bottomlands, then the nature of this kind of litigation might also require the participation of other parties that maintain easement rights to you or your neighbor’s riparian areas. 

A recent case decided by the Supreme Court of Virginia involved a somewhat analogous scenario.  Essentially, the Court was asked whether all “necessary” and “indispensable” parties had an “opportunity to be heard” in prior litigation involving two neighboring landowners.  This issue of “joinder” is a nuanced, fact-intensive legal question that is sometimes difficult to predict.  Virginia’s highest court noted that “[i]t will not always be necessary to include the holders of an easement whenever there is litigation involving land that is subject to an easement” but nonetheless held on this particular occasion that those maintaining only easement rights to one of the landowner’s properties were necessary and indispensable parties based on the specific deeded easement language in the relevant land records.  As a result, several issues could require re-adjudication, which could effectively “undo” much of the parties’ prior litigation.

This recent development sheds new light on both future and current boundary dispute and riparian rights cases.  Thus, careful review by an experienced attorney that is also knowledgeable about these most recent updates in Virginia law could be critical. 

And, of course, we’re here to help!  Contact the lawyers at Wolcott Rivers Gates to assist you with your boundary dispute or riparian rights case.

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