Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Stowe Cady Hill Solar (Cady Hill) applied to the Vermont Public Utility Commission for a certificate of public good to construct a group net-metered solar array in the Town of Stowe. The Commission dismissed Cady Hill’s application after finding that the application was incomplete because two adjoining landowners were not given notice that the application had been filed contemporaneous with that filing. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that Cady Hill’s application met the completeness requirement as that requirement has been applied in the Commission’s prior decisions and, therefore, the application should not have been dismissed. View "In re Petition of Stowe Cady Hill Solar, LLC" on Justia Law

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Husband was raised in India and attended high school and college there. In 2009, he moved to Montreal, Canada to pursue a master’s degree in food science and engineering from McGill University. In 2011, Keurig Green Mountain, Inc. (employer) hired husband to be a research scientist, and brought him to Vermont on a temporary H-1B employment visa. In 2012, husband met wife, who was then residing in India. The couple married in India a short time later. Soon after the wedding, wife moved with husband to Vermont on a 4-H spouse-dependent visa; she has lived in Vermont ever since. In December 2015, while Wife was on a trip to India, husband filed for a no-fault divorce in Vermont. Upon her return, in March 2016, wife filed a complaint against husband for separate statutory spousal maintenance. The two proceedings were consolidated. Wife appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss husband’s divorce complaint under the theory that husband’s nonimmigration visa status prevented him from being a Vermont domiciliary. In addition, wife argues that husband’s complaint should be dismissed because Indian law governed the dissolution of the parties’ marriage. The Vermont Supreme Court held that husband’s nonimmigration visa status is not an impediment to his establishing Vermont residency for purposes of filing a divorce action, and that the trial court properly denied wife’s motion to dismiss. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Maghu v. Singh" on Justia Law

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Senior mortgagee Provident Funding Associates, L.P. appealed the trial court’s order dismissing junior mortgagee E-Loans, Inc. as a defendant from the senior's fourth foreclosure action against mortgagors Arnold and Peggy Campney. The trial court determined that E-Loans was entitled to dismissal as an equitable remedy because Provident had imposed unnecessary costs on E-Loans by repeatedly filing foreclosure actions against defendants and failing to prosecute them to completion. The court’s order had the effect of reordering the priority of mortgages, making Provident's interest second in priority to that of E-Loans. The issue raised to the Vermont Supreme Court in this matter was whether the trial court appropriately invoked equitable authority to dismiss E-Loans as a defendant as a penalty for Provident's conduct in the prior foreclosure actions. The Supreme Court found the trial court was "justifiably frustrated" with Provident's litigation behavior: this was the fourth foreclosure action Provident had filed against defendants in less than four years. The second and third actions were dismissed due to Provident's documented failure to follow procedural rules and court orders. E-Loans suffered the inconvenience and expense of having to hire an attorney to respond to each new action. The Court concluded, however, the record here did not show that E-Loans would be prejudiced by sanctions short of dismissal. "[Provident's] litigation behavior could have been sanctioned, and the harm to junior mortgagee redressed, with a less extreme sanction such as attorney’s fees." The Court therefore reversed and remanded for the trial court to consider monetary sanctions (such as attorney's fees) as an alternative sanction. View "Provident Funding Associates, L.P. v. Campney" on Justia Law

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Taxpayer TransCanada Hydro appealed a superior court decision that valued flow easements that taxpayer owned over land in the Town of Newbury at $1,532,211 for property tax purposes. Taxpayer owned and operated the Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River in Hartford, Vermont, downstream from Newbury, and the flow easements gave taxpayer the right to flood land abutting the river in Newbury. Taxpayer argued the valuation was unsupported by the admissible evidence and the court’s reasoning. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s valuation, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. v. Town of Newbury" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Division approved a conditional use permit for Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC’s proposed community therapeutic residence in Thetford. A group of neighbors appealed the decision, arguing the Environmental Division improperly concluded that Confluence’s therapeutic community residence (the Project) was a health care facility, and thus was an allowed conditional use under the Thetford zoning ordinance. Neighbors also argued the Project’s residential use required separate permitting and that it impermissibly established a nonconforming use. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC Conditional Use Permit" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Ltd. (Allco) appealed the denial of its motion to intervene, and its renewed motion to intervene, in a certificate-of-public-good (CPG) proceeding for a solar electric generation facility. The applicant, GMPSolar–Richmond, LLC (GMPSR), was an affiliate of Green Mountain Power Corp. (GMP), an electricity utility, owned by GMP and an investor. Allco was developing a number of solar electric generation facilities in Vermont. A hearing officer denied Allco’s request for intervention as of right and permissive intervention; the Public Service Board (PSB) also denied the motion for reconsideration. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Allco argued PSB used the wrong framework in reviewing its request and incorrectly applied the intervention criteria. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the PSB. View "In re Petition of GMPSolar-Richmond, LLC" on Justia Law

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Acting pro se, Mother appealed a trial court’s denial of her motion to modify parental rights and responsibilities for son L.C. Through their actions, father and stepmother deprived mother of any contact with L.C. for many years and “destroyed the child’s formerly good relationship with mother.” The trial court found father and stepmother solely responsible for the trauma caused by this alienation; despite this egregious behavior, the trial court declined to modify parental rights and responsibilities for the child. The Vermont Supreme Court upheld this decision on appeal, “not because the father and stepmother are correct in their accusations, or to reward or endorse the course of conduct in which they have engaged, but because the trial court’s judgment regarding the best-interest criteria was factually based and legally correct.” The Supreme Court emphasized that mother was not without recourse should father and stepmother continue to interfere with her attempts at reunification or should they defy the trial court’s orders. In the pendency of a 2015 appeal, father and stepmother continued to wage war against mother. In October 2015, mother filed the emergency motion to modify at issue here, arguing father continued to deliberately and repeatedly undermine and defy the court’s orders. The trial court agreed. At a September 2016 hearing, the court concluded that father’s serious and blatant violations of its prior order constituted a real, substantial, and unanticipated change of circumstances. The court explained, it had expressly prohibited the parties from publishing L.C.’s medical records to any third person, yet stepmother had provided L.C.’s private medical information (a trauma therapy report) to the media, which father had at least “tacitly condoned.” Father’s attorney also submitted this same report as an exhibit to a motion to stay father’s deposition in a separate civil suit that mother had filed. The court observed that father did not repudiate his attorney’s actions or attempt to rescind this filing. Regarding mother’s emergency motion, although the trial court found that mother had shown a real, substantial, and unanticipated change in circumstances, it concluded that transferring custody to mother at this juncture was not in L.C.’s best interests. Mother argued the court’s findings did not support its conclusion, particularly given its determination that father and stepmother were not credible witnesses. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court acted within its discretion in assessing L.C.’s best interests and therefore affirmed its decision. The Court emphasized that the trial court set a clear benchmark for father and stepmother’s behavior, and any further attempts at alienation may well affect the best-interest analysis and warrant a change in custody. View "Knutsen v. Cegalis (2017 VT 62)" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether a family court could, after concluding that a custodial parent’s relocation constitutes an unanticipated change in circumstances, maintain physical rights and responsibilities with that parent but then decline to modify parent-child contact, effectively barring the custodial parent from moving because it determined that the move was not in the child’s best interests. Custodial mother appealed the family court’s denial of her motion to modify parent-child contact to facilitate her relocation with the child. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the family court applied the wrong framework in evaluating mother’s motion, and reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Quinones v. Bouffard" on Justia Law

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In May 2008, the Town of Granville established an Ancient Roads Committee and Process for identifying “ancient roads,” all roads that were at one time established as public highways and had not been officially discontinued. In August 2009, the Committee recommended that certain roads, including Sabin Homestead Road, be added to the Town Highway Map. Sabin Homestead Road crosses defendant Joseph Loprete’s land for about 100 feet. In December 2009, after notice to defendant and several public hearings, the selectboard adopted the Committee’s revised recommendation to add Sabin Homestead Road back to the Town Highway Map. The road appeared on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s official Town Highway Map. In late 2012, defendant blocked Sabin Homestead Road by putting a large storage container in the right-of-way. He refused to move the container, even after the selectboard asked him to do so. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action asking the court to declare Sabin Homestead Road an existing town highway and public road that was properly established in 1850 following the statutory procedures required at that time. The Town moved for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts established that in 1850 the selectboard took official action to lay out the road and that they created and recorded a survey. The trial court denied summary judgment based on the Town’s failure to demonstrate that it met the third requirement: that in connection with the creation of the road, the town had filed a certificate of opening. The parties subsequently agreed that the court could decide this question based on undisputed facts and they filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The parties agreed that no certificate of opening could be found. Defendant argued that this disposed of the case. However, the court concluded that the Town’s circumstantial evidence, along with the explanations provided by the Town’s affiants for the inability to locate an actual certificate of opening in the town records, supported a finding that a certificate of opening was in fact created and recorded, but had since been lost or destroyed. It thus determined that the road had been properly created and granted summary judgment to the Town. Defendant argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the Town was required, and failed, to produce sufficient evidence that the Town certified the road as open for public travel in 1850. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden of proof, and it was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. View "Town of Granville v. Loprete" on Justia Law