Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Mother appealed a superior court decision terminating her parental rights to her five-year-old son C.L. C.L. separately appealed the court’s decision denying his post-judgment motions to vacate the termination order pursuant to 33 V.S.A. 5113(b) and Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), to allow his attorney to withdraw, and to order contact with mother. The Vermont Supreme Court consolidated the appeals for review. With regard to Mother’s appeal, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion and affirmed the superior court’s decision. With regard to C.L.’s appeal, the Court found the issue was moot: C.L. argued the superior court should have granted his motion, and that he was prejudiced by its failure to do so because another non-conflicted attorney might have discovered missing evidence or pursued an ineffective-assistance claim, which his trial attorney could not effectively do. But after C.L. filed his appeal, the Defender General appointed a replacement attorney to represent him pursuant to 13 V.S.A. 5274. C.L. therefore secured the relief he was seeking. “Assuming a meritorious Rule 60 claim exists, his new attorney may pursue such claim as long as the family court retains jurisdiction over the matter.” The Court found C.L.’s argument that the family court “abandoned” its discretion when it denied his post-termination motion for contact with Mother, lacked merit. View "In re C.L." on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, a mother challenged decisions by the family division of the superior court denying her motions for an extension of time to file a notice of appeal and to vacate the order terminating her parental rights to K.S., and concluding that K.S. was not an Indian child for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act. In March 2018, a relative reported that mother had “tossed” K.S. onto a bed during a family argument and that father had used excessive physical discipline on K.S.’s older brother. K.S. was later found to have a buckle fracture on her wrist, which her parents were unable to explain. The Department for Children and Families (DCF) sought and obtained emergency custody of K.S. and her brother, and filed petitions alleging that they were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Mother and father later stipulated to the merits of the CHINS petitions. At the October hearing, mother testified that she understood that she was permanently giving up her parental rights, that her decision was voluntary, and that she believed the decision was in K.S.’s best interests. The court accepted the parties’ stipulations and granted the termination petitions. In December 2019, mother hired a new attorney, who filed a motion for relief from the termination order pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Mother alleged that the attorney who represented her at the relinquishment hearing had rendered ineffective assistance, that the underlying facts did not support termination of mother’s parental rights, and that her relinquishment was involuntary because she did not understand the proceedings. The family division denied the motion, finding that mother’s relinquishment was knowing and voluntary and not the result of coercion by DCF or the foster parents. The court further concluded that it was not required to conduct a separate "best interests" analysis when mother voluntarily relinquished her rights, and she failed to establish that her counsel’s performance was ineffective. Mother untimely filed her notice of appeal, and while a decision on the untimely notice was pending, she filed a second motion to vacate the termination order, adding the argument that the court failed to give notice to the Cherokee tribes or to apply the substantive provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the termination orders. View "In re K.S." on Justia Law

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Island Industrial, LLC, appealed a trial court decision granting the Town of Grand Isle’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. In 2004, in connection with the development of a subdivision known as Island Industrial Park, Island Industrial constructed a private road called Island Circle. In 2014, Island Industrial petitioned the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. At a September 2016 meeting, the selectboard, as recommended by the road commissioner, unanimously approved a motion to accept Island Circle as a public road after a two-year period to ensure the pavement would hold up during frost and thaw periods. At the end of the two-year period, Island Industrial executed an irrevocable offer of dedication, in which it agreed to execute and deliver deeds conveying Island Circle to the Town. In 2018, Island Industrial received an email from the Town, explaining that a special meeting was being held two days later to discuss the Town’s acceptance of Island Circle as a public road. The selectboard held two special meetings to discuss rescinding its 2016 motion to accept Island Circle as a public road. Following an executive session, the selectboard rescinded the 2016 motion and provided three reasons for its decision: (1) Island Circle would only provide benefits to the Town in the future but not at this time; (2) the road would be expensive to maintain; and (3) safety concerns. A few days later, Island Industrial received a letter from the selectboard reaffirming that the Town rescinded the 2016 motion. Island Industrial appealed the selectboard’s decision rescinding the 2016 motion pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75, and asked the superior court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. Appealing the denial of mandamus relief, Island Industrial argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court erred in considering the Town’s motion for judgment on the pleadings when Island Industrial spent time and resources responding to the Town’s previously filed summary-judgment motion. Alternatively, Island Industrial argued that the Town was not entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the allegations in the complaint, if proven, demonstrated that Island Industrial was entitled to mandamus relief. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle" on Justia Law

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Defendants own a building on a lot at 17 Main Street in Bristol, Vermont. They have fenced in a small parcel behind their building, which they use to store materials in service of their building. Plaintiff claims to own a driveway that runs to the rear of defendants’ building, which defendants use for deliveries, as well as a parking lot behind defendants’ building where the small fenced-in parcel is located. Plaintiff initially sued defendants in 2014, claiming title to the “driveway along the side of defendants’ commercial building” and the small parcel. Defendants counterclaimed, arguing that they had “a right to use the driveway and land behind their building for parking, access, delivery, storage, and other related commercial purposes” by virtue of a prescriptive easement for the driveway and through adverse possession with respect to the small parcel. In May 2018, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue here. He claimed to own the property south of defendants’ property line, and he argued that defendants were trespassing by storing items on his land. Plaintiff asserted that defendants knew that he wanted the items removed and, by refusing to do so, they were depriving him of the possession and use of his property. Plaintiff also asserted that defendants benefited from his ownership and maintenance of the driveway and they were required by 19 V.S.A. 2702 to contribute rateably to his maintenance costs. Finally, plaintiff sought punitive damages based on his allegation that defendants were acting in bad faith. When the trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, plaintiff appealed, raising numerous arguments. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of plaintiff's claim for contribution under 19 V.S.A. 2702, and affirmed the remainder of the trial court's decision. View "Moyers v. Poon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cameron Crogan was seriously injured when he rode his motorbike into a cable strung across a beach access road at the lakeside residential development where he lived with his family. As a result, his mother filed a negligence action against several entities related to the development, including the homeowners’ association and a separately formed beach association, as well as certain individuals in both their individual and representative capacities. The civil division granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment primarily on the grounds that, given the undisputed facts of this case, Vermont’s Recreational Use Statute protected them from liability, and the individual defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care in connection with the accident that led to this lawsuit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the individual defendants were entitled to summary judgment, but reversed the trial court’s determination that the Recreational Use Statute was applicable in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings concerning plaintiff’s claims against the non-individual defendants. View "Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioners T.O. and L.O. were the grandparents of S.O., a child adjudicated as a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Petitioners appealed an order of the Human Services Board concluding that the Board lacked jurisdiction to determine whether DCF failed to comply with certain provisions of state and federal law concerning the care of children by relatives. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s judgment. View "In re Appeal of T.O. & L.O." on Justia Law

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Donald Zucker appealed a summary-judgment decision awarding attorney’s fees to Gregory Wark, because Zucker refused to mediate a dispute arising out of a real estate purchase and sale agreement. On appeal, Zucker argued he was not required to mediate because the purchase and sale agreement was not an enforceable contract. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment, and vacated the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Zucker v. Wark" on Justia Law

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Neighbors appealed three Vermont Environmental Division rulings related to their appeal of the Agency of Natural Resources’ (ANR) decision to authorize Snowstone, LLC, to discharge stormwater at a proposed project site pursuant to a multi-sector general permit (MSGP). The court dismissed for lack of statutory standing most of neighbors’ questions on appeal and dismissed the remaining questions as not properly before the court. In addition, the court concluded that neighbors’ motion for a limited site visit was moot, given its dismissal of neighbors’ appeal. Finally, the court granted landowners Justin and Maureen Savage’s motion to intervene in the proceedings. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that neighbors had standing to appeal the ANR’s authorization to act under a MSGP, and that their motion for a limited site visit was not moot. Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded the court acted within its discretion to allow landowners to intervene. Accordingly, dismissal of neighbors’ appeal was reversed, as was the dismissal of the motion for a site visit, and the court’s decision to grant landowners intervention was affirmed. View "In re Snowstone Stormwater Discharge Authorization (Harrington et al., Appellants)" on Justia Law

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Claimant Sadeta Zebic appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision not to certify a question for review to the superior court, arguing that the Commissioner had no discretion not to certify her proposed question. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded it did not have jurisdiction to hear this appeal because claimant previously appealed to the superior court, and the statutory scheme provided that a workers’ compensation claimant could appeal either to the superior court or directly to the Supreme Court. View "Zebic v. Rhino Foods, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether emails on a university’s server, sent between a professor and third-party entities, concerning the work of those entities, qualified as “public records” subject to public inspection. U.S. Right to Know (USRTK) appealed a superior court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the University of Vermont (UVM) after the court held that the emails USRTK requested from UVM were not public records. After review, the Supreme Court agreed that the emails at issue were not public records and accordingly affirmed. View "U.S. Right to Know v. University of Vermont" on Justia Law