Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Hector LeClair, plaintiff Joseph LeClair’s grandfather, was experienced in construction and has developed several properties around the Vermont. In 2011, defendant approached his son, Ricky LeClair, who also worked in construction, about replacing the roof on the building in which defendant had his office. Defendant’s son, Ricky, then approached his twenty-seven-year-old son, plaintiff, about working on defendant’s roofing project. Plaintiff had also worked in construction and was an experienced roofer, but was unemployed at the time. Plaintiff’s father told him he would make “good money” for working on defendant’s roof. Plaintiff’s father supplied the tools, equipment, and materials for the roof job. On October 7, 2011, plaintiff arrived at the property with another person to work on the roof. They had already removed the shingles from the roof, leaving only the underlayment, which on that October morning was covered with dew and early frost. Plaintiff claimed that he initially decided not to work on the roof because the frost made it slippery but changed his mind when defendant arrived at the property and ordered him to begin work. Plaintiff climbed a ladder onto the property’s roof; plaintiff fell from the second-story roof and landed on the paved driveway below, sustaining serious and permanent head and spinal injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for his injuries, and appealed when the trial court granted defendant summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the trial court erred by concluding that defendant owed him no duty and that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his complaint to add a new liability theory. Given the circumstances of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law on summary judgment, that defendant owed no duty to plaintiff. View "LeClair v. LeClair" on Justia Law

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This driver’s license suspension case stemmed from the State’s accusation that defendant had been driving under the influence (DUI) before she crashed her car and was transported to the nearest hospital, which was located in New Hampshire. The State appealed the trial court’s suppression of defendant’s refusal to provide a blood sample to the investigating Vermont state trooper must be suppressed because breath testing equipment was reasonably available. The State argued there should have been no suppression because breath testing equipment was not reasonably available. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Giguere" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s request to extend an exception to the general rule to the circumstances of this case, which wanted to impose on attorneys a duty to prospective beneficiaries of undrafted, unexecuted wills. Doing so, in the Court’s view, would undermine the duty of loyalty that an attorney owes to his or her client and invite claims premised on speculation regarding the testator’s intent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against both defendant and his law firm alleging that defendant committed legal malpractice and consumer fraud, specifically alleging defendant breached a duty of care by failing to advise mother on matters of her estate and failing to draft a codicil reflecting her intent. The court granted defendants a partial motion to dismiss on the consumer fraud allegation. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding another count of legal malpractice. This amended complaint alleged that defendant breached a duty owed to plaintiff to the extent that he could have successfully challenged mother’s will. According to plaintiff, he filed six affidavits from mother’s relatives, friends, and neighbors indicating that mother was committed to leaving a House she owned to plaintiff. Defendants again moved for summary judgment in which they argued that an attorney did not owe “a duty to a non-client prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will or other estate planning document.” The trial court ruled there was no duty to beneficiaries of a client’s estate under Vermont law. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Strong v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

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This case involved a revocable trust established by Virginia Newman. Her two sons, Roger and Frank Lamson, were both beneficiaries and trustees of the trust. Roger filed an action in the probate division alleging breach of trust by Frank. The court ruled in Roger’s favor on his claim arising from Frank’s personal use of Virginia’s vehicles. Frank appealed and the civil division granted Frank summary judgment on that claim. Roger filed this appeal, arguing that the civil division erred in concluding Frank did not violate his fiduciary obligation and in failing to award damages for Frank’s use of the vehicle. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Lamson v. Lamson" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff Shashi Airi filed suit against defendant Gurdeep “Sunny” Nagra in 2011. The trial court held a bench trial in 2016. Initially, defendant hired plaintiff to manage two hotels in Brattleboro. In this capacity, plaintiff was employed by a variety of business entities that owned the hotels. Defendant was either a member, partner, or shareholder in these entities until October 2007, when federal agents raided defendant’s various business entities and the physical hotels. As a result of the raids and defendant’s subsequent prosecution, the business entities that employed plaintiff went into receivership. At this point, in 2007, defendant contracted in an individual capacity with plaintiff to assist with the receivership proceedings and to perform the duties defendant could not accomplish because of the pending criminal charges. The parties agreed to a rate of pay. Plaintiff performed the required tasks until December 14, 2007, when the properties were out of receivership. From November 5, 2007 to December 14, 2007, was the first period under dispute; the trial court awarded plaintiff $7215 for services rendered during this period. Defendant appealed that award. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that because defendant did not submit the transcripts of that record, he waived his right to contest the issue on appeal under Vermont Rule of Appellate Procedure 10(b)(1). Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Airi v. Nagra" on Justia Law

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The State charged defendant Jeffrey Reed with three offenses: (1) a violation of 13 V.S.A. 1754(a) by knowingly giving false information to a law enforcement officer with the purpose of deflecting an investigation from himself; (2) a violation of 10 V.S.A. 4747 by taking big game by the aid of a salt lick; and (3) a violation of 10 V.S.A. 4781 by possessing big game taken by an illegal device, in this case a salt lick. A jury convicted defendant of knowingly giving false information to a law enforcement officer, and defendant appealed, arguing the evidence presented against him was insufficient to support the verdict. In summary, the statements at issue here were essentially: I don’t know what happened to the antler and I do know what happened to the antler; it fell off when I laid a knife on it. In addressing the argument here, making inconsistent statements is not an element of the crime. The Supreme Court noted the question properly considered was whether, if the jury found each of the statements to be false, could it also find that each statement was made for the purpose of deflecting an investigation. Neither of the statements was sufficient to meet the purpose element. On this basis, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Vermont v. Reed" on Justia Law

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Defendant Patricia Kane appealed the trial court’s conclusion that she violated a special probation condition requiring electronic monitoring, specifically a global position system (GPS) monitor. On appeal, she claimed: (1) the condition was an improper delegation of authority; (2) failed to notify her of the conduct constituting a violation; and (3) violated her constitutional right to travel and her right to be free of unreasonable searches. Defendant also claimed that, after the probation revocation hearing, the court improperly imposed defendant’s original conditions, including the electronic monitoring condition. Finding nothing improper nor a violation of her constitutional rights, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Kane" on Justia Law

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Can a prison superintendent order a second administrative hearing when a hearing panel finds a prisoner not guilty of violating a prison rule at an initial hearing because of a clerical mistake in the prison’s evidence? Petitioner, an inmate in Vermont State prison charged with fighting, appealed summary judgment decision validating a superintendent’s authority to order a second hearing under these factual circumstances. The hearing officer found petitioner not guilty of the charged violation. The disciplinary committee unanimously agreed with the hearing officer. The superintendent then ordered a new hearing on the charge against petitioner. As he did in his motion for summary judgment, petitioner argues on appeal that the principle of collateral estoppel operates to bar a second hearing on the charge that was tried in his initial hearing. While the Supreme Court was unwilling to rule broadly on the superintendent’s power to order a new hearing, the Court held that the new hearing ordered here was appropriate when it was clear that the original decision was based on a mistake in the recording of the date of the incident underlying the disciplinary action. View "McLaughlin v. Pallito" on Justia Law

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Defendant Ronald Carter was convicted of domestic assault as a lesser included offense of first degree aggravated domestic assault. He appealed, arguing that domestic assault was not a lesser included offense of aggravated domestic assault when defendant is charged with inflicting serious bodily injury by strangulation. The Supreme Court disagreed that the inclusion of the lesser included offense was improper and affirmed. View "Vermont v. Carter" on Justia Law

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The parties divorced in 2004 and were parents to two sons, approximately sixteen and fourteen years old. The parental rights and responsibilities portion of the final divorce order was amended several times and those changes were incorporated in a stipulated agreement approved by the family court in September 2008. Under that agreement, mother had sole physical and legal parental rights and responsibilities. Father had parent-child contact with the children every other week. In this appeal, father claimed that, under 15 V.S.A. sec. 670, he was entitled as a matter of right to his sons’ personal records, and specifically, to all of his sons’ mental health records. The family court disagreed and denied father access to the requested records based on the best interests of the children. Finding no reversible error in the family court's order, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Rinehart v. Svensson" on Justia Law
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