Virginia Supreme Court Decision Ensures Equitable Access to Courts

Hanover County residents’ challenge of Wegmans’ distribution center can go forward

Takoma Park, MD (February 6) In a victory for environmental justice and underserved communities harmed by local zoning decisions, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the residents impacted by the construction and operation of a massive Wegmans distribution center can have their day in court, Waterkeepers Chesapeake Acting Executive Director Robin Broder announced today.

The Supreme Court ruled in Morgan et al. v. Board of Supervisors of Hanover County that the homeowners had a sufficient factual basis for standing to bring a challenge to zoning decisions that can have significant implications for communities and the environment in court. 

Hanover County residents brought a challenge to local zoning decisions related to the siting of the 1.7 million square foot Wegmans distribution center on a 217-acre property that includes forested wetlands, located in the historic Brown Grove community. They argued that they would be directly impacted by, among other things, increased traffic, noise, and light pollution stemming from the construction and operation of the new facility. The Circuit Court had dismissed their claims finding that, despite their proximity to the facility, they had not alleged a harm particularized to them as opposed to a harm felt by the general public. The Circuit Court had also found that claimed harms were too speculative with respect to certain of the claims brought. The Virginia Supreme Court found that the homeowners had asserted a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the Hanover County Board’s 2020 decision and specific, detailed harm to the homeowners. 

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court of Virginia unanimously vindicated our legal standing and opened the doors of the courthouse to my family and my fellow plaintiffs. It is surprising that Hanover County, while purporting to serve its citizens, would also seek to deny its residents access to make our case and be heard,” said Rod Morgan, lawsuit plaintiff. “Our lawsuit was filed in 2020 and has never been addressed. I am confident that once heard by an impartial court, the Wegmans property rezoning will be set aside.”

“The Supreme Court of Virginia has unanimously decided that 5 individuals who live near the massive 24 hour, 7 days a week, 365 days per year operation have asserted sufficient unique harm to themselves caused by the alleged invalid approval of the Board of Supervisors. The Court completely rejected all arguments by the Board and by Wegmans that the nearby homeowners should be denied access to justice in the courts and instead ruled that the homeowners have a right to try their case. The doors to the courthouse have been opened by the decision of the Supreme Court,” said Brian Buniva, of B. L. Buniva Strategic Advisor and attorney for plaintiffs.

The siting of the facility raised environmental justice concerns, because the Brown Grove community has historically been divided by the construction of I-95 and various industrial and commercial development that has resulted in the displacement and dismemberment of an historic Black community. Such developments have contributed to disproportionate harms often felt by these communities, including increased air pollution and health impacts. The construction also involved destruction of wetlands, raising environmental concerns. This court decision is significant to all Commonwealth communities that are fighting harmful zoning decisions and are pushing back against further environmental injustices by giving residents harmed by zoning decisions access to courts.

“We are very pleased that the Supreme Court of Virginia has recognized our standing, our legal right to object in the courts, to Hanover County’s zoning decision to support Wegmans’ 1.7 million square foot distribution center. This monstrosity is under construction and is already creating excessive noise, dust, and bright light, and will bring considerable traffic, all impeding the enjoyment, safety and value of our home and our historic rural community,” said Kathy Woodcock, Brown Grove resident and lawsuit plaintiff. “We greatly appreciate the support of all those who have and will be impacted, and those who have joined us in our efforts to right this injustice.”

“We are very pleased with the ruling from the Supreme Court of Virginia,” said Steven Fischbach, Director of Litigation for the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC). VPLC submitted an amicus brief on behalf of itself and four environmental organizations in support of the appeal filed by neighbors of the Wegmans Distribution Center. Fischbach further remarked, “The Court recognized that Virginians who live in communities directly impacted by decisions of local zoning authorities will not lose their day in court to challenge zoning decisions that result in ‘particularized harms’ such as increased traffic, noise, flooding, and light pollution. The decision is particularly important for low-income communities across Virginia that often disproportionately suffer from these and other kinds of ‘particularized harms.’”

Media contacts:
Brian Buniva, Esq.,, 804-873-0610
Rod Morgan, Protect Hanover,, 804-349-5409
Chris French, Protect Hanover,, 804-466-2099

VA Supreme Court Wegmans zoning decision press release