Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Stephen Ankuda, Esq., as the administrator of the Estate of Miriam Thomas, appealed a court order granting former guardian Paul Thomas’s motion to dismiss a decision of the probate division. The probate division ordered Thomas to reimburse his mother’s estate for what it described as damages incurred during his tenure as her financial guardian. However, the Vermont Supreme Court found the civil division did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because the probate division’s order was not a final order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the civil division’s order and remanded to the probate division for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Miriam Thomas" on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this case before the Vermont Supreme Court stemmed from a dispute between former business partners and the turnover of records pursuant to a stipulated judgment entered following the dissolution of their business relationship. Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking to enforce the judgment’s record turnover requirement, and pled various causes of action for injuries arising out of defendant’s refusal to turn the records over immediately after the judgment. The trial court dismissed the related claims as time-barred, and ultimately adjudicated the enforcement claim on the merits in favor of defendant. The Vermont affirmed the trial court in all but one aspect: because the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion on whether certain types of documents were subject to the stipulated judgment’s turnover requirement, the Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to amend its judgment. View "Sutton v. Purzycki" on Justia Law

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Mother Diana LaFlam appealed the denial of her motion to modify physical and legal rights and responsibilities. She argued that her relocation to Florida following a divorce from father Jody LaFlam was an unanticipated circumstance requiring modification of the physical rights and responsibilities of their two children, and that father’s neglect of the children’s health warranted a modification of legal rights and responsibilities. Father cross-appealed the portion of the order finding that his neglect of the children’s health constituted changed circumstances under 15 V.S.A. § 668(a). The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the family division that mother’s relocation was not a change in circumstances as to physical rights and responsibilities, and that father’s conduct was a change in circumstances with respect to legal rights and responsibilities. The Court reversed and remanded as to the trial court's best-interests analysis. View "LaFlam v. LaFlam" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (Blue Cross) appealed the Green Mountain Care Board’s (GMCB) decision modifying its proposed health-insurance rates for 2022. The GMCB approved Blue Cross’s proposed rates with several exceptions, one of which was relevant here: its contribution to reserves (CTR). Blue Cross had sought a base CTR rate of 1.5%, but the GMCB ordered Blue Cross to lower it to 1.0%, thereby diminishing overall insurance rates by 0.5% and reducing health-insurance premiums. The GMCB found that a 1.5% base CTR was “excessive” because Blue Cross was expected to be above its target Risk Based Capital (RBC) range by the end of 2021, “individuals and small businesses are still struggling financially after a year-long economic slowdown,” and a 1.0% CTR would allow its “reserves to sit comfortably within the company’s RBC target range.” Blue Cross moved for reconsideration, arguing that the term “excessive” was strictly actuarial in nature, and that the GMCB misconstrued it by weighing non-actuarial evidence— testimony concerning affordability—as part of its examination of whether the proposed rate was excessive. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Blue Cross raised essentially the same issue. Because none of the actuarial experts who testified concluded that Blue Cross’s proposed CTR was excessive, Blue Cross argued, the GMCB could not properly conclude that it was. Blue Cross conceded that health-insurance rates for 2022 could not now be changed, but it urged the Supreme Court to rule on the merits, arguing that this matter was not moot because the CTR rate for this year will disadvantage Blue Cross in future rate-review proceedings. The Supreme Court determined Blue Cross did not demonstrate that this kind of case was capable of repetition yet evading review or subjected it to continuing negative collateral consequences. Therefore, Blue Cross failed to meet the exceptional thresholds necessary for the Court to reach the merits in a moot case. View "In re Blue Cross and Blue Shield 2022 Individual & Small Group Market Filing" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Scott Traudt appealed a family division order granting defendant Victoria Traudt’s motion to enforce a provision in the parties’ 2010 divorce order that required plaintiff to refinance the mortgage on the marital home and pay defendant $25,000. Plaintiff argued that defendant was barred from enforcing the judgment by the eight-year statute of limitations for actions on judgments set forth in 12 V.S.A. § 506. The family division found that the statute of limitations did not apply because plaintiff had acknowledged the debt within the limitations period. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division. View "Traudt v. Traudt" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Defendant Dean Stearns pled guilty in 2018 to five counts of voyeurism and two counts of promoting a recording of sexual conduct. He was sentenced in 2020 to an aggregate term of ten to fifteen years suspended, except five years to serve. Defendant appealed the denial of his motion for sentence reconsideration, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by: (1) failing to apply individualized sentencing factors; (2) not considering how changes to incarceration conditions during the pandemic adversely affected the ability to achieve sentencing goals; and (3) upholding a sentence that had been effectively increased due to pandemic-era restrictions. The State contended, among other things, that defendant’s motion for sentence reconsideration was properly denied because sentence reconsideration did not include review of post-incarceration matters and defendant sought relief based on post-incarceration circumstances. To this the Vermont Supreme Court agreed and affirmed primarily on that basis. View "Vermont v. Stearns" on Justia Law

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Mother challenged the denial of her request that a child-support order be made retroactive and that she be awarded the arrearage. A magistrate judge found that mother assigned her right to any past-due support to the Office of Child Support (OCS) as a condition of receiving benefits on behalf of her child and that the State waived any arrearages. The family division affirmed. Mother argued on appeal that she did not assign OCS her right to past-due support. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division. View "OCS/Dionne v. Anthony" on Justia Law

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Defendants A.P. and Z.P. were charged by the Franklin County Vermont State’s Attorney’s Office with multiple serious criminal offenses in April 2020. The State’s Attorney’s Office discovered a conflict of interest, and the Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) took over prosecuting the case. In December 2020, the AGO determined that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges and on December 30, 2020, dismissed all pending charges against defendants. In January 2021, defendants moved to seal the criminal cases under 13 V.S.A. § 7603(a)(1)(B). The AGO filed a notice on January 27, 2021, indicating that it did not object to the sealing requests. Consequently, on January 28, 2021, the criminal division issued an order sealing the underlying criminal dockets. The orders indicated that they applied to “all court files and records, law enforcement records, fingerprints, and photographs applicable to the proceeding” and directed that “[a]ll agencies and officials in custody of such documents shall comply.” The issue in this appeal was whether the Vermont Journalism Trust (VJT) could access sealed records from a criminal division proceeding. The trial court denied VJT’s request for access to records that were previously sealed on the ground that access was not permitted by statute and the court lacked discretion to override the statutory provision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that VJT lacked standing to appeal that order and dismissed the appeal. View "Vermont v. Z.P. & A.P. (Vermont Journalism Trust, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a family division’s denial of its request to extend an order placing seventeen-year-old D.K. in the conditional custody of his mother. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the court’s conclusion that it lacked authority to extend a conditional custody order (CCO) for a third six-month period under 33 V.S.A. § 5320a(a), and therefore affirmed. View "In re D.K." on Justia Law

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The State appealed a family division’s order granting juvenile E.S.’s motion to suppress a statement given to law enforcement in this delinquency proceeding. In July 2021, the state’s attorney filed a delinquency petition alleging E.S. engaged in behavior designated as the crime of lewd or lascivious conduct with a child. E.S. subsequently moved to suppress statements he made during an interview with law enforcement, arguing that he was in custody during the interview and therefore should have been provided with Miranda warnings and the ability to consult with an independent interested adult. The State opposed the motion. The family division granted E.S.’s motion, concluding that he was in custody during the interview because a reasonable juvenile in his circumstances would not have felt free to terminate the interview and leave. The State argued on appeal of the suppression motion that the family court used the wrong standard to determine whether E.S. was in custody during the interview. E.S. argued 13 V.S.A. § 7403(c) did not provide a right for the State to appeal an order granting a motion to suppress in a juvenile delinquency proceeding. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with E.S. and dismissed this appeal. View "In re E.S., Juvenile" on Justia Law