Wetlands America Trust, Inc. v. White Cloud Nine Ventures, L.P.

782 S.E.2d 131 (2016)

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Wetlands America Trust, Inc. v. White Cloud Nine Ventures, L.P.

Virginia Supreme Court
782 S.E.2d 131 (2016)

Facts

Wetlands America Trust, Inc. (WAT) (plaintiff), a conservation group, held a conservation easement on a property in Virginia acquired by White Cloud Nine Ventures, L.P. (White Cloud) (defendant). The easement included restrictive covenants stating that no buildings other than farm buildings were to be constructed on the property. The easement also stated that its purpose was to maintain the property in perpetuity for conservation purposes and permitted agricultural pursuits. White Cloud planned to lease the property to Chrysalis Vineyards, LLC (Chrysalis), a winery operating on an adjacent property. White Cloud also planned to construct a creamery and bakery on the property and to make and sell products that used wheat and milk from Chrysalis’s property. The building would be also be open to the public for tasting Chrysalis’s wines. WAT sued White Cloud, asking for a declaratory judgment ruling that White Cloud’s construction would violate the conservation easement. The trial judge ruled in favor of White Cloud. WAT appealed. WAT argued that the Virginia Conservation Easement Act (VCEA), enacted in 1988 to recognize conservation easements, abrogated the common-law principle that ambiguities in easements should be construed against the party seeking to enforce the easements. The Virginia State Constitution stated that it was the state’s policy to protect its atmosphere, lands, and waters from destruction and authorized the legislature to protect natural resources from impairment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (McClanahan, J.)

Dissent (Roush, J.)

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