Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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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

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A group of residents in South Burlington, Vermont presented a petition for a district-wide vote on whether to reinstate "Rebels" as the name for the District's athletic teams after the South Burlington School District decided to change the name. The District refused to include the item in a district-wide vote and residents appealed, alleging that the District violated their rights under the Vermont Constitution and seeking an order compelling the District to include the item on the ballot. The trial court denied the District’s motion to dismiss, concluding that residents presented sufficient facts to support their request. The District then filed this interlocutory appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that neither the applicable statutes nor the Vermont Constitution compelled the District to put the petitions to a district-wide vote. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s order and remanded for entry of judgment for the District. View "Skiff, Jr. v. South Burlington School District" on Justia Law

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The Town of North Hero appealed the Property Valuation and Review (PVR) Division hearing officer’s decision to impose a $2000 discovery sanction against the Town in a property-tax-reappraisal appeal brought by the Williams Living Trust. The hearing officer imposed the sanction as a result of a claimed discovery violation by the Town concerning disclosure of an electronic Excel spreadsheet file requested by the Trust. The Trust disagreed with the reappraisal of its property and challenged it through the statutory appeals process. In the notice of appeal, the Trust requested that the Town’s listers provide the Trust with a specific Excel spreadsheet file in “native format” and “unprotected.” The Town had provided the Excel spreadsheet in PDF format, not in the electronic format later requested. The Trust sent additional email requests to the Town asking for the Excel file. The Trust ultimately moved to compel production of the file in the requested format; the Town responded it did not have the file and could not produce “what does not exist.” The PVR hearing officer issued a decision on the Trust’s motion to compel, ordering the Town to make one last effort to obtain a copy of the file requested and giving the Town ten days to comply. In compliance with the hearing officer’s order, the Town conducted another search and located the file and produced it in the format originally requested. The Trust filed a motion describing the Town’s conduct concerning the file request as “blatant misconduct during discovery” and seeking monetary sanctions of $2500 and other sanctions as the hearing officer deemed proper for the Town’s failure to produce the file earlier. The hearing officer imposed a monetary sanction against the Town of $2000 for false statements made by Town officials and the “expenses, effort, and time” the Trust spent as a result of the Town’s failure to produce the file until ordered to do so. No evidence was provided concerning how much time, effort, and expense was incurred by the Trust, and there was no way to determine how the hearing officer determined $2000 to be the appropriate sanction amount. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the sanction, finding the Town had fully complied with the order compelling discovery, making imposition of a monetary sanction against the Town an abuse of discretion. View "Williams v. Town of North Hero" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ira Martel appealed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment on his personal injury claims in favor of his employer, defendant Connor Contracting, Inc., and two co-employees, defendants Jason Clark and Stephen Connor. This case was about two separate exceptions to the exclusivity rule of workers’ compensation, the first of which applied when an employee is injured other than by accident, and the second of which applied when a person or entity could be held personally liable for an employee’s injuries. In August 2013, plaintiff was part of a four-person crew employed by Connor Contracting to perform roof repair work at the Montpelier Health Center. Defendant Jason Clark was the worksite foreperson, and defendant Stephen Connor was the treasurer of Connor Contracting and one of the company owners. While working on the project, plaintiff and the other members of the roofing crew used a personal-fall-arrest system (PFAS), which was safety equipment provided by Connor Contracting and required by the company’s safety program rules, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA). Plaintiff was completing the soffit work when he fell from the edge of the roof, hit the ground below, and was injured. He was not wearing a PFAS at the time he fell. The parties disputed whether a complete PFAS system was still at the project site on that day and available for plaintiff’s use. Connor Contracting disputes the removal of the PFAS and states that defendant Clark left two harnesses and lanyards at the project site. The Vermont Supreme Court held plaintiff’s action against Connor Contracting was barred by the exclusive remedy provision of Vermont’s Workers’ Compensation Act. Furthermore, plaintiff’s action against the individual defendants is barred because the acts that plaintiff alleges give rise to liability fell within the scope of a nondelegable corporate duty and defendants, therefore, cannot be held personally liable for plaintiff’s injuries. View "Martel v. Connor Contracting, Inc." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a Vermont Labor Relations Board decision interpreting a collective bargaining agreement between the State and the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA). The question at issue was whether a change made to the agreement’s family-leave provisions in 1999 limited an employee’s right to use more than six weeks of accrued, paid sick leave while on family leave because of the employee’s own serious illness. The Board found that, although the agreement itself was ambiguous, extrinsic evidence showed that the parties did not intend to limit the use of sick leave. The State argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the contract was not ambiguous and that the limitation on use of sick leave applies. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board. View "In re Grievance of Kobe Kelley" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Michael Messier and Kay Bushman were involved in an auto accident. Both were the drivers of their respective vehicles and were then-alleged to be Vermont residents. In 2017, shortly before the statute of limitations was to expire, Messier filed suit against Bushman and her auto insurer, Travelers, for damages he claimed to have sustained in the accident. The claim against Bushman sounded in negligence, the claim against Travelers asserted breach of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The trial court granted a motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by Bushman and a motion to dismiss filed by Travelers. Messier appeals both decisions. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the motion filed by Bushman was one that challenged the sufficiency of service of process: the trial court, without holding an evidentiary hearing, found that Messier did not send a copy of the return of service on the Commissioner to Bushman as required by 12 V.S.A. 892(a). The Supreme Court reversed as to Bushman's motion because the issues concerning what was included in the mailing and whether the affidavit contained sufficient specificity to comply with section 892(a) were contested and needed to be resolved through factual determination by the trial court. Regarding Messier's claim against Travelers, the Supreme Court found his claim was brought under the CPA, but references unfair claims settlement practices which were part of Vermont Insurance Trade Practices Acts (ITPA). The Court found Messier did not purchase anything from Travelers- his only connection was that Bushman was insured by Travelers. Thus, Messier was not a consumer with respect to Bushman's Travelers insurance policy, and therefore had to CPA claim against them. The case was remanded for further proceedings with respect to the claim against Bushman; dismissal of the claim against Travelers was affirmed. View "Messier v. Bushman" on Justia Law

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Richard Joyce appealed the decision of an appellate officer within the Office of Professional Regulation dismissing his appeal for failure to file a statement of questions for consideration on appeal and complete the record for appellate review by ordering a transcript. Joyce has been a licensed surveyor since 1969. In 2014, Joyce completed a survey of the boundary between two adjoining properties. One of the property owners filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Regulation, Board of Land Surveyors (OPR) regarding Joyce's compliance with professional surveying standards. OPR opened an investigation into the complaint and, after review ultimately dismissed the complaint. Months later, OPR sent Joyce a letter stating that "[n]ew evidence ha[d] been brought to [its] attention . . . that warrant[ed] further investigation and reconsideration." OPR did not disclose the nature or origin of the new evidence. OPR sent Joyce a letter notifying him that "[t]he State Prosecuting Attorney ha[d] filed the enclosed charges and ha[d] asked the Office of Professional Regulation to take disciplinary action against [his surveying] license." A hearing on the charges was held in June 2017; OPR fined Joyce $750 and placed a two-year condition on his surveying license, requiring that he complete additional surveying training within 180 days of the entry of the order. The order noted Joyce's right to file an appeal with an OPR appellate officer within thirty days of the entry of the order. The order also contained instructions on how to request forms for proceeding in forma pauperis, including a statement that in forma pauperis status would make Joyce eligible to receive a transcript of the June hearing without cost. In his filing, Joyce's attorney reiterated that the appeal presented two legal issues, both raised in the attorney's notice of appeal, and that a transcript was unnecessary for resolution of the appeal. Neither Joyce nor his attorney filed a statement of questions, ordered a transcript of the June 2017 hearing, or filed a brief. The Vermont Supreme Court found that because Joyce provided the appellate officer with neither a statement of questions nor a transcript, per OPR rules, the record was not complete, and the appellate officer was effectively unable to conduct a review of the proceedings below. The appellate officer correctly considered the factors relevant to the decision not to review Joyce's filings in a summary manner and to dismiss Joyce's appeal, specifically, the procedural irregularities in the appeal that essentially foreclosed appellate review. View "In re Richard H. Joyce" on Justia Law