SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The The Virginia Supreme Court ruled against a Suffolk Aquarius Who claimed the Hampton Roads Sanitation District and the city of Suffolk dumped raw sewage into the Nansemond River and damaged its oyster beds.
Court ruled oyster man Robert Johnson is not eligible for compensation because his oyster leases do not have the same ownership rights as other properties.
It’s clear that the Nansemond River has health issues: the Virginia Department of Health website shows large numbers of condemned and condemned clam areas due to bacterial pollution – like Johnson’s.
Now that the state Supreme Court has ruled that Johnson has leased the state riverbed, he cannot come back and seek damages for circumstances including closings.
Johnson’s attorney is renowned domain expert Joe Waldo.
“The bottom line is it’s a sad day for Virginia because the Supreme Court has said HRSD and Suffolk can continue to pollute our Virginia waterways,” he said.
The court found that oyster people like Johnson “run the risk that the water around the leased property is not clean enough”.
“They say the oysters are no longer protected if they are damaged by raw sewage,” he said.
The court went even further: Suffolk and HRSD can do anything with Johnson’s oyster property except steal or destroy the oysters.
“It’s like HRSD and Suffolk took raw sewage and put it in the oyster. It’s the same effect. That is why the oyster people filed the complaint, ”said Waldo.
Lawyer David Arnold represents the city of Suffolk.
“The city is pleased that the courts approved their position and upheld a longstanding precedent based not on a ‘pollution law’ but on a careful analysis of the property rights associated with it,” said Arnold.
This means that Suffolk and HRSD oyster men owe nothing and should expect nothing.
“The Code of Virginia says that all of these leases give you all rights to private property,” Johnson said.
“This is the Supreme Court logic that we say is wrong, and that is wrong because oyster-man oysters are defined as property under Virginia law,” Waldo added.
HRSD’s attorney, Chris Pomeroy, emailed us.
“While our client appreciates the Supreme Court decision in his favor, I know the dedicated team at HRSD will work tirelessly to keep Hampton Roads clean,” said Pomeroy.
Johnson has no belief that will happen.
“I haven’t seen it in 40 years, and I don’t have another 40 years, so I don’t expect to see it.”
Waldo puts it this way: “History tells us that even the Supreme Court doesn’t always get it right. This is one of those cases where history will say, “The Supreme Court didn’t get it right.”
Waldo believes the only way to get what he thinks wrong is right is to do it through legislation in the General Assembly.