Consumer Affairs Mediation
Mediation By Local Consumer Affairs Investigators Not Subject to General Mediation Confidentiality Provisions
In a recent opinion by the Attorney General, it was held that Sections 8.01-581.21 through 8.01-581.23 of the Code of Virginia are not applicable to the investigation and mediation activities connected with the resolution of consumer complaints pursuant to Section 15.2-963.
A question was presented to the Office of the Attorney General as to whether participation by a consumer affairs investigator as a mediator in a dispute being reviewed by a local consumer affairs office violates the mediation confidentiality provisions of Chapter 21.2 of Title 8.01, Sections 8.01-581.21 through 8.01-581.23 of the Code of Virginia.
Virginia Code Section 15.2-963 authorizes any county or city to "establish a local office of consumer affairs." The provision was enacted in 1972 and authorizes a local office of consumer affairs to serve as a central coordinating agency and clearinghouse for receiving and investigating complaints about illegal, fraudulent, deceptive or dangerous consumer practices. Section 15.2-963(2) authorizes such offices "to resolve complaints...by means of voluntary mediation or arbitration which may involve the creation of written agreements to resolve individual complaints between complainants and respondents to complaints." Section 15.2-963(4) authorizes the offices "[t]o maintain records of consumer complaints" and provides that such records remain "confidential except to the extent that disclosures of such matters may be necessary for the enforcement of laws." The Attorney General reasoned from these sections that local offices of consumer affairs possess adequate statutory authority to receive, investigate, mediate and arbitrate consumer complaints and to disclose information connected with such complaints as may be required for the enforcement of laws.
Virginia Code Sections 8.01-581.21 through 8.01-581.23 constitute the general mediation statutes. In Section 8.01-581.21 mediation is defined as a "process by which a mediator assists and facilitates two or more parties to a controversy in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of the controversy and includes all contacts between the mediator and any party or parties, until such time as a resolution is agreed to by the parties or the parties discharge the mediator." Section 8.01-581.22 describes the confidentiality of mediation communications.
An accepted principle of statutory construction provides that a specific statute is controlling over a more general statute. The Attorney General determined that in light of the specific statutory language regarding mediation of consumer complaints contained in Section 15.2-963, that statute is controlling over the more general mediation provisions of Sections 8.01-581.21 through 8.01-581.23. Thus, it is the Attorney General's opinion that Sections 8.01-581.21 - 8.01-581.23 are not applicable to the investigation and mediation activities connected with the resolution of consumer complaints pursuant to Section 15.2-963.
This page last modified: October 18, 2001