Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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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

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During road-construction operations, a truck owned or operated by Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD, which was participating in the construction activity, struck and killed a flagger for Green Mountain Flaggers. The truck hit the flagger when the driver began backing it up in the southbound breakdown lane on Route 7 in Middlebury, Vermont. In response to the accident, the Commissioner of Labor investigated and ultimately cited Eustis for two alleged violations of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601: a failure to ensure that the vehicle’s backup alarm was audible above the surrounding noise level; and a failure to assure the safety devices were in a safe condition at the beginning of each shift. The Commissioner assessed $11,340 in fines ($5670 for each violation). Eustis appealed the civil division’s affirmance of the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Act (VOSHA) review board’s determination that Eustis failed to meet VOSHA’s motor-vehicle requirements and the resulting assessment of a fine for the violations. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the evidence and findings did not support the board’s conclusion that Eustis was on notice of the violation and accordingly reverse and strike the citation alleging a violation of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601(b)(14) and associated penalty. View "Commissioner of Labor v. Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Garrett Cornelius filed suit alleging invasion of privacy by newspaper, the Chronicle, after newspaper published two articles containing information about him. In a series of orders, the trial court granted newspaper’s motions to strike the claims under the anti-SLAPP statute and awarded newspaper a small fraction of the attorney’s fees it sought. Plaintiff appealed the orders striking his claims, and the newspaper appealed the amount of attorney’s fees. Consolidating the cases for review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the claims were properly stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute, but the court erred in limiting the attorney’s fees award. View "Cornelius v. The Chronicle, Inc." on Justia Law

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Trustee Annette Besaw held a security interest in fifty shares of stock of the Champlain Bridge Marina, Inc. She acquired the interest previously held by Ernest Giroux upon his death, in her capacity as trustee of his living trust. Champlain Bridge Marina was a family business in Addison, Vermont. Ernest (defendant Bryan Giroux’s grandfather) and Raymond Giroux (defendant’s father) started it in 1987. In the beginning, grandfather and father each owned fifty of the Marina’s 100 shares. On December 30, 1998, grandfather sold his fifty shares to father in exchange for the promissory note in which father promised to pay grandfather $272,000 plus interest. The associated January 1, 1999 security agreement gave grandfather a security interest in the fifty shares of Marina stock to secure payment on the note. Trustee appealed the superior court’s ruling on summary judgment that her suit to recover collateral under a security agreement was time-barred. The central issue in this case was when the trustee’s right to sue accrued, starting the statute-of-limitations clock. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded trustee’s right to sue under the security agreement accrued in 2013 when the borrower failed to pay the balance due on the note within forty-five days of trustee’s notice of default and borrower’s right to cure. Accordingly, the suit was not time-barred; the Court reversed and remanded. View "Besaw v. Giroux" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Swanton Wind LLC appealed three determinations by the Public Utility Commission. In September 2016, petitioner requested the Public Utility Commission to grant a certificate of public good (CPG), authorizing petitioner to build a twenty-megawatt wind-powered electric-generation facility in Swanton, Vermont. Petitioner paid a $100,000 fee as part of its CPG petition, which was required by 30 V.S.A. 248b. During the next nine months, petitioner and the other parties to the proceeding engaged in substantial activity, and participating in prehearing conferences with the Commission. In early June 2017, the parties submitted filings with proposed schedules for how the proceeding should continue. As part of those filings, the Department of Public Service argued the petition and evidence were insufficient, concerned that petitioner’s filings lacked a final system-impact study. In a June 22, 2017 order, the Commission agreed, finding that it needed a final system-impact study prior to the technical hearings in order to evaluate the petition. Petitioner moved for reconsideration, which was denied. Petitioner then requested to withdraw its petition pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1), and it requested that the Commission return the $100,000 fee it paid pursuant to 30 V.S.A. 248b. In response, several parties argued that the Commission should require petitioner to pay attorney’s fees. In a January 3, 2018 order, the Commission denied petitioner’s request to return the 248b fee, saying it lacked jurisdiction to do so. It granted voluntary dismissal without prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2), rather than Rule 41(a)(1). It did not award attorney’s fees, as the parties requested, because it found no exceptional circumstances to justify an award. No party appealed that finding. However, the Commission did order that the parties could request attorney’s fees and costs for this proceeding if petitioner chose to refile the petition in the future. Petitioner appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the Commission erred in concluding it lacked jurisdiction to refund the 248b fee, and erred in concluding it could reopen findings from a final order in a previous proceeding. The Court reversed and remanded the Commission’s order regarding the 248b, and struck the Commission’s order regarding attorney’s fees. View "In re Petition of Swanton Wind LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed a trial court’s order granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment on their negligence claims. Plaintiffs were Jordan Preavy’s mother, Tracy Stopford, in her individual capacity and as administrator of his estate, and his father, Sean Preavy. They alleged their son tcommitted suicide as a result of being assaulted by some of his teammates on the Milton High School football team, which, according to plaintiffs, the school negligently failed to prevent. On appeal, plaintiffs argued the court did not properly apply the summary judgment standard nor the appropriate duty of care and that it erred when it concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove that the assault was foreseeable and that it was the proximate cause of Jordan’s suicide. Further, plaintiffs argued the court improperly imposed a monetary sanction on their attorney after finding that he engaged in a prohibited ex parte communication with defendants’ expert witness. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stopford v. Milton Town School District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Donald and Preston Sweet, who are father and son, sued defendants Roy and Catherine St. Pierre in June 2014 alleging that defendants failed to pay them wages for their work improving a stand of maple trees on defendants’ land for maple sugaring. Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiffs’ claim for unpaid wages under the Prompt Pay Act (PPA). Plaintiffs argued the trial court erred in concluding that no contract existed between the parties as required to support a PPA claim. Defendants cross-appealed, arguing the court should have awarded them attorney’s fees because they were the substantially prevailing party and erroneously excluded evidence relevant to their assault claim. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on the merits, but reversed and remanded for it to award reasonable attorney’s fees to defendants. View "Sweet v. St. Pierre" on Justia Law