Com. v. Woodward, 940140

Decision Date13 January 1995
Docket NumberNo. 940140,940140
Citation249 Va. 21,452 S.E.2d 656
CourtVirginia Supreme Court
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Virginia, v. James M. WOODWARD. Record

W. Mark Dunn, Asst. Atty. Gen. (James S. Gilmore, III, Atty. Gen., Gregory E. Lucyk, Sr. Asst. Atty. Gen., on brief), for appellant.

Roger A. Ritchie, Harrisonburg (Roger A. Ritchie & Partners, on brief), for appellee.


COMPTON, Justice.

The question for decision in this appeal is whether a prisoner performing inmate labor on a road crew is an "employee" of the Commonwealth of Virginia within the meaning of the Virginia Workers' Compensation Act (the Act).

Appellee James M. Woodward, a convicted felon and an inmate in a State Correctional Unit in Clarke County operated by the Virginia Department of Corrections, sustained a work-related injury in September 1990 in Warren County. The injury occurred while the convict was trimming a tree beside a secondary highway as part of a ten-man "gun gang," pursuant to an agreement between the Department of Corrections and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

Subsequently, the convict applied to the Workers' Compensation Commission for benefits under the Act, alleging he suffered a compensable injury. Following a hearing, a deputy commissioner decided that the claimant was entitled to benefits as an "employee" of the Commonwealth. Upon review, the full Commission held that the claimant was not an employee of the Commonwealth when he was injured. Thus, the Commission reversed and vacated the deputy's award.

The claimant appealed, and a panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that claimant was an employee of the Commonwealth at the time of the injury, reversed the Commission, and remanded the case. Woodward v. Commonwealth 17 Va.App. 526, 438 S.E.2d 777 (1993). We accepted jurisdiction and awarded the Commonwealth this appeal because the decision of the Court of Appeals involves a matter of significant precedential value. Code § 17-116.07(B).

At the outset, we will dispose of a procedural issue. The Attorney General, on behalf of the Commonwealth, has attached a 44-page "Addendum" to the appellant's opening brief. This addendum contains Department of Corrections' rules on the subjects of "Good Conduct Allowance," "Institutional Classification Management," and "Inmate Discipline." None of these documents was submitted in any of the proceedings below. Granting the claimant's motion to strike the addendum, we will disregard it.

Equating the rules set forth in the addendum to the "law of this Commonwealth" and relying on Code § 8.01-386 (in any civil action, court shall take judicial notice of the law), the Attorney General argues that we must take notice of the rules. We do not agree. Even assuming the rules have the force of law, an issue we do not decide, an appellate court may not take judicial notice of such documents when they were not relied upon before the court or commission below. See Stevens v. Mirakian, 177 Va. 123, 129, 12 S.E.2d 780, 782 (1941).

The relevant facts are undisputed. At the time of his injury, the claimant was incarcerated for a 1989 felony conviction and was in custody of the Department of Corrections, assigned to a correctional unit. Prior to incarceration, the claimant worked as a tree trimmer. He was given other duties while a prisoner, but asked to be assigned to a "gun gang" that worked on state roads. The Department of Corrections granted this request, pursuant to its program to give prisoners the opportunity to request the kind of work suitable to their skills.

When injured, claimant was not on a work release program under Code § 53.1-60; he was working pursuant to a statutorily authorized arrangement between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Transportation. Code § 53.1-56 provides that persons in the custody of the Department of Corrections shall, so far as practicable, be employed in the construction and maintenance of the State's system of highways. The statute also provides that the transportation department may make requisition upon the corrections department for the number of prisoners necessary to perform road construction and maintenance. When a road crew was assembled at a work site, a representative of the Department of Transportation supervised the work and an armed correctional officer was in charge of security.

Code § 53.1-57 provides that the transportation department shall pay monthly to the corrections department an amount agreed upon by the two agencies for the hours prisoners are so employed. At the time of this incident, the rate of payment was $2.00 per hour for each person in the road gang.

Code § 53.1-43 authorizes the establishment of a system of pay incentives for prisoners. Pursuant to an Inmate Pay System adopted by the Department of Corrections, prisoners working on road crews were paid individually a token sum for work performed, which sum was credited to the inmate's personal account at the correctional facility. The claimant was paid at the rate of 27 cents per hour. The record shows that the "going rate" for tree trimmers in the private sector ranged from $10.50 to $14.00 per hour. At the time of the accident, inmates from the correctional facility were being used to do the work in lieu of private contractors retained by the Department of Transportation.

The Court of Appeals ruled the claimant "worked pursuant to an agreement that contained all of the elements of a contract." Woodward, 17 Va.App. at 529, 438 S.E.2d at 779. The court said the two state agencies "unequivocally offered" the claimant "a paid position trimming trees;" he "verbally accepted the offer;" the agencies "acknowledged his acceptance by putting him to work on a road gang;" and there was "sufficient consideration" because if he "chose to work, he was paid 27 cents an hour" but if "he did not work, he was not paid." Id. The court held that because prisoners in Virginia "are not legally incompetent to enter into contracts," citing Dunn v. Terry, 216 Va. 234, 239, 217 S.E.2d 849, 854 (1975), and because the inmate's "contractual employment is not specifically excluded" under the Act, the...

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7 cases
  • Williams v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • 14 Enero 2020
    ...take judicial notice that the address was in the City of Norfolk when no map was referenced in the trial court); Commonwealth v. Woodward, 249 Va. 21, 23, 452 S.E.2d 656 (1995) (holding that appellate judicial notice was not appropriate in that case); Keesee v. Commonwealth, 216 Va. 174, 17......
  • Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO v. State
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • 23 Junio 1998
    ...v. Uselton, 774 S.W.2d 925 (Tenn.1989); Kofoed v. Industrial Commission of Utah, 872 P.2d 484 (Utah Ct.App.1994); Commonwealth v. Woodward, 249 Va. 21, 452 S.E.2d 656 (1995); Kopacka v. Department of Industry, Labor & Human Relations, 49 Wis.2d 255, 181 N.W.2d 487 One of the cases considere......
  • Williams v. Commonwealth, Record No. 141046.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 16 Abril 2015
    ...declined to take judicial notice of certain documents when they were not relied upon in the trial court. See Commonwealth v. Woodward, 249 Va. 21, 23, 452 S.E.2d 656, 657 (1995). The fact that the 800 block of Fremont Street is in the City of Norfolk is not a matter of common knowledge susc......
  • Johnson v. Commonwealth
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • 7 Julio 2015
    ...iscircumscribed by what the trial court relied upon when it took judicial notice of such document. See Commonwealth v. Woodward, 249 Va. 21, 23, 452 S.E.2d 656, 657 (1995) (striking a 44-page addendum attached by the Commonwealth to its brief in a Workers' Compensation Act appeal, and expla......
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