Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Juvenile G.B., born in June 2017, appealed a trial court’s order denying his petition to terminate mother’s parental rights and directing the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to prepare a new disposition plan for mother. The Vermont Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of a final judgment. In October 2017, the court held a merits hearing in G.B.’s case. The court found that G.B. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) based on parents’ mental-health issues, substance abuse, failure to consistently engage in parent-child contact, and father’s criminal history. Father did not appear at the hearing; mother was briefly present. The court considered the best-interests factors as to each parent, then granted the petition to terminate father’s rights, concluding that he had not developed a relationship with G.B. and would not be able to assume parental duties within a reasonable period of time. As to mother, the court acknowledged that mother’s relapse resulted in her not being able to play a constructive role in G.B.’s life for seventeen months. The court concluded, however, that mother was ready, willing, and able to resume a constructive role in G.B.’s life and that she “should be given the opportunity over the next six months to reunify with G.B.” Therefore, the court denied the petition to terminate mother’s rights. The court explained that the case was “still at disposition” and directed DCF to prepare a new disposition plan in light of the court’s decision. G.B. appealed the denial to terminate mother’s rights. To the Supreme Court, G.B. argued the trial court failed to view the question of whether mother would be able to parent within a reasonable period of time from the perspective of the juvenile. The Supreme Court determined the order G.B. sought to appeal in this case—the denial of the petition to terminate mother’s rights—was not final because it was neither a final judgment nor a disposition order. The order denying termination of mother’s rights did not finally resolve the status of mother’s parental rights and therefore was not a final judgment. View "In re G.B., Juvenile" on Justia Law

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Mother and her four minor children were undocumented immigrants from Angola living in Vermont. Mother is married to the children’s father. At one time, father indicated that he would join the family in North America but he had not. Mother alleged that father had not contacted or supported the family since 2013. She also testified that there was no place for the children in Angola. In February 2018, mother sought relief under 15 V.S.A. 291, seeking award of sole legal and physical parental-rights-and-responsibilities (PRR) based on father’s abandonment of the family. Mother also asked the court to make special findings that would allow the children to apply for “special immigrant juvenile” (SIJ) status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Father was served by publication in Angola. The trial court concluded that it was in the children’s best interests that mother have sole PRR, both legal and physical. It did not order any parent-child contact with father. The court denied mother’s request for SIJ findings, concluding it lacked authority to make SIJ findings because they were not necessary to its parental-rights-and-responsibilities (PRR) decision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that given the primacy of a child’s best interests in cases like this and the court’s broad discretion in determining those interests, the trial court did have the authority to make such findings. “It should make such findings when it is in a child’s best interests to do so and where such findings are supported by the evidence.” The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision to allow it to engage in this analysis. Because one of the juveniles would turn eighteen on July 13, 2019, the Supreme Court issued the mandate immediately and directed the court to issue its findings forthwith. View "Kitoko v. Salomao" on Justia Law

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Appellant Jeffrey Severson appealed the trial court’s decision to grant appellees’ the City of Burlington (the City) and the Burlington Conservation Board (the Board) motion to dismiss pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). The Burlington Town Center Project (the Project) was a large real estate project that proposed to redevelop the downtown district of the City. The Board met several times to review various aspects of the Project’s permit application. In early October 2017, nearly ten months after the meeting, Severson emailed the Board’s chair and raised concerns over a January 9 meeting. He asserted that the meeting had violated the Open Meeting Law because it had occurred behind locked doors. Severson requested that the Board cure the violation by holding a meeting in compliance with the Open Meeting Law to conduct a review of the most current version of the Project’s plan and to ratify the other, non-Project related Board actions taken at the January 9 meeting. The Board met on November 13, during which it reviewed a memorandum prepared by the City’s legal counsel and the relevant facts of Severson’s allegations, including information on the staffing procedure of the library on nights when public meetings were scheduled there. The Board determined that no Open Meeting Law violation had occurred. Severson filed suit, and when his case was dismissed, he appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it determined he, as a member of the Board, did not have standing because he did not allege an injury that was actionable under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. The Vermont Supreme Court found that dismissal of Severson’s claim was proper, and thus affirmed. View "Severson v. City of Burlington & Burlington Conservation Board" on Justia Law

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Husband Theodore Weitz appealed an order denying his motion to reopen the case after wife Sheryl's notice of voluntary dismissal, filed pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(i). On appeal, he argued: (1) Rule 41(a)(1)(i) “is in direct conflict” with the Vermont Rules for Family Proceedings and was therefore inapplicable to the Family Division; (2) Rule 41(a)(1)(i) was not intended to apply in cases where significant resources have been expended; and (3) that it was inequitable to apply Rule 41(a)(1)(i) in this case due to alleged bad faith and bad acts by wife. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Weitz v. Weitz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elizabeth Lawson alleged she incurred damages as the result of an emergency room nurse informing a police officer that she was intoxicated, had driven to the hospital, and was intending to drive home. The trial court granted defendant Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) summary judgment based on its determination that nothing in the record supported an inference that the nurse’s disclosure of the information was for any reason other than her good-faith concern for plaintiff’s and the public’s safety. In this opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court recognized a common-law private right of action for damages based on a medical provider’s unjustified disclosure to third persons of information obtained during treatment. Like the trial court, however, the Supreme Court concluded CVMC was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, viewing the material facts most favorably to plaintiff and applying the relevant law adopted here, no reasonable factfinder could have determined the disclosure was for any purpose other than to mitigate the threat of imminent and serious harm to plaintiff and the public. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Lawson v. Central Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

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The parties divorced in November 2004. As part of the divorce, the court ordered wife to transfer funds from her retirement account to husband. In 2006, the court approved a proposed Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to effectuate the transfer of those funds. The order was never “qualified,” however, because there was no money in the retirement account that wife identified. The court approved another proposed QDRO in February 2007 specifying a different retirement account identified by wife. In August 2017, husband filed a motion to enforce, asserting that the owed funds were never transferred to him and that there were no funds in the second retirement account that wife identified. The court denied husband’s motion to enforce, finding it barred by the eight-year statute of limitations for actions on judgments. The Vermont Supreme Court did not consider husband’s attempt to effectuate a transfer of these retirement funds by QDRO to be an action on a judgment, and therefore reversed and remanded. View "Johnston v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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Husband, Mark Atherton, appealed the trial court’s order denying his motion to modify spousal maintenance payments to wife, Holly Atherton, for failure to show a real, substantial, and unanticipated change in circumstances as required by 15 V.S.A. 758. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court applied an erroneous standard when determining whether husband’s employment termination resulted in a “real, substantial, and unanticipated change in circumstances” for the purposes of modification of the spousal maintenance order. The Court remanded this case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Atherton v. Atherton" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed an order concluding that her children were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to educational neglect. In April 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that B.C., born in January 2007, Bo.B., born in May 2012, and Br.B., born in April 2013, were CHINS for lack of proper education necessary for their well-being. B.C. had been referred to an educational support team because she was not meeting certain achievement levels in her educational program. In prior years, there had been three educational neglect/truancy assessments involving B.C. In January 2018, the assistant principal reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that B.C. had missed twenty-two days and Bo.B. had missed thirty-two days of school and all absences were unexcused. By March 2018, B.C. and Bo.B. had missed thirty-eight and fifty days of school, respectively. DCF contacted mother, who asserted that the absences were occurring because she was not receiving sufficient support from the school, the children were often absent due to illness, and transportation was a barrier. When asked, mother did not appear to understand the details of Bo.B.’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). DCF set up a plan to implement services through NCSS in March, however, mother cancelled the meeting. The court found that the three children were CHINS due to the parents’ inability to provide for the children’s educational needs. The court found that the children’s absences resulted in missed educational opportunities that put them at risk of harm, especially in light of their needs. On appeal, mother argued: (1) the court erred in not requiring the State to demonstrate that the children’s absences were without justification; (2) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that missing school caused the children harm; (3) the existence of IEPs for the two young children, who were not legally required to attend school, did not support a finding of educational neglect; and (4) the court erred in admitting the school attendance records. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to B.C. and reversed and remanded the CHINS determinations as to Bo.B. and Br.B. "[T]he evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Bo.B. and Br.B. were at risk of harm for educational neglect given that they were not required to attend school and mother could discontinue the services related to their IEPs without any presumption of neglect." View "In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Matthew Ziniti sued defendant New England Central Railroad, Inc. after he was seriously injured in a train-car collision. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s partial summary judgment ruling and the ensuing jury verdict for defendant, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) granting defendant summary judgment precluding him from presenting evidence that defendant’s failure to place a crossbuck on the right side of the road at the site of the railroad crossing, or to take steps to ensure that an “advance warning” sign was present, caused or contributed to the collision; (2) denying a request for the jurors to view the crossing where the accident occurred; (3) denying his motion for a directed verdict on the railroad’s negligence on account of its violation of a safety statute relating to maintenance of the railroad’s right of way; and (4) denying his request for an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. After reviewing the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court rejected each of these arguments and, accordingly, affirmed the judgment in favor of defendant. View "Ziniti v. New England Central Railroad, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jay Bernasconi appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant City of Barre. Plaintiff fell into a hole and injured his knee while visiting family graves at Hope Cemetery, which the City owned. He contends that the City’s negligent maintenance of the Cemetery caused his injury. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff could not establish that any breach of the City’s duty of care caused his injuries, and affirmed summary judgment against him. View "Bernasconi v. City of Barre: Hope Cemetery" on Justia Law