Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries
In re C.C.
Mother appealed a trial court’s determination that C.C. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). She argued that the court erred in admitting certain hearsay statements by C.C. concerning alleged sexual abuse by mother’s boyfriend. The Vermont Supreme Court did not reach mother’s arguments because, even excluding this evidence, the court’s decision was amply supported by its remaining findings. Therefore, judgment was affirmed. View "In re C.C." on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law, Government & Administrative Law
Wells et al. v. Spera
Brothers Newton and Jason Wells (plaintiffs) and their mother Beverly Wells, filed suit in September 2017 seeking to partition real property they held as tenants in common with defendant Pall Spera in Stowe, Vermont. The court granted plaintiffs’ summary-judgment motion on the question of whether they were entitled to partition as a matter of law, and issued an order of appointment of commissioners and order of reference by consent of the parties. The order appointed three commissioners and directed them to determine whether the property could be divided, assigned to one of the parties, or sold. They were ordered to determine the fair market value of the property and each person’s equitable share. Neither party reserved the right to object to the commissioners’ report. Ultimately, the commissioners concluded that physical division would cause great inconvenience to the parties. Finding division inequitable, the commissioners awarded defendant first right of assignment due to his ability to buy out plaintiffs’ interest immediately, while plaintiffs required a loan to do so, and because partition would constitute the dissolution of the partnership agreement, which defendant had wished to continue. Plaintiffs filed a motion objecting to the report, citing Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 53(e)(2)(iii). Plaintiffs’ main argument was that the commissioners exceeded their mandate as provided by the order of reference in concluding that partition would result in zoning violations, and the commissioners erred on that question as a matter of law. In the alternative, they argued the equities favored assigning the property to them. The court denied the motion, including plaintiffs’ request for a hearing, and adopted the report without qualification. It reasoned that plaintiffs had not reserved their right to object to the report as required by the plain language of Civil Rule 53(e)(2)(iii). Finding no reversible error in this decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wells et al. v. Spera" on Justia Law
Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al.
Plaintiffs were three sets of parents of schoolchildren who resided in school districts which maintained a public school for at least some grades and did not provide the opportunity for children to attend the public or independent school of their parents’ choice for all grades at the state’s expense. They raised a facial constitutional challenge to Vermont statutes that allowed school districts to choose whether to maintain a public school, permit children to attend an out-of-district public school or an independent school at the state’s expense, or some combination of both. The civil division dismissed parents’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Education Law, Government & Administrative Law
Spinette v. University of Vermont, et al.
Plaintiff Sarah Spinette sought summer housing for herself and her minor child at the Redstone Apartments located on the campus of the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College (UVM). The Redstone Apartments were owned by Catamount/Redstone Apartments, LLC (Redstone), which leased the land from UVM. Catamount Commercial Services, Inc. (Catamount) managed the apartments. In March 2018, Catamount denied plaintiff’s application to sublet a two-bedroom apartment for herself and her daughter. Two years later, plaintiff filed a complaint against UVM, Redstone, and Catamount, alleging in relevant part that defendants violated the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), and the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA), “by refusing to allow her to sublet an apartment because she intended to live in the apartment with her minor child.” In March 2021, following discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment, explaining that the Redstone Apartments were for students only and plaintiff’s housing application was denied because she intended to live with a nonstudent, not because she intended to live with her child. Defendants noted that student status was not a protected category under the FHA or VPAA. Plaintiff opposed the motion but did not identify any disputed material facts. She characterized defendants as arguing that the FHA and VPAA did not apply to their dwellings and claimed that this argument failed as a matter of law. Defendants' motion was granted, and Plaintiff appealed. But finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Spinette v. University of Vermont, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Civil Rights, Landlord - Tenant
Vermont v. Young
In August 2018, following a "series of unfortunate events," defendant Jeffrey Young fired multiple nine-millimeter rounds from inside his home toward the front door. Defendant’s adult son, and his son’s two friends were standing on the porch. His son was struck by one bullet, but the wound was not life-threatening. Defendant was arrested soon afterward and arraigned. He pled not guilty to charges including attempted second-degree murder, attempted voluntary manslaughter, aggravated domestic assault with a deadly weapon, and reckless endangerment. Following a weight-of-the-evidence hearing, the court granted the State’s motion to hold defendant without bail pending trial. In March 2020, all jury trials were paused in Vermont as part of the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 22, 2020, defendant requested a speedy trial for the first time. On June 17, 2020, defendant filed a pro se letter informing the trial court that he was unhappy with his current counsel and alleging that the attorney who represented him at arraignment had waived his speedy-trial right without his consent. On June 30, 2020, defendant, through counsel, filed an omnibus motion again asserting a violation of his speedy-trial right and seeking an immediate trial. The court denied the motion on August 25, 2020. Ultimately, the case proceeded to trial on November 1, 2021, approximately thirty-eight months and two weeks after his arrest, and fourteen months after the order denying his omnibus motion for a speedy trial. The jury returned guilty verdicts on attempted voluntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, and two counts of reckless endangerment. Following sentencing in April 2022, defendant appealed seeking to overturn his convictions because the State had violated his speedy-trial right as guaranteed under the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions. The Vermont Supreme Court was persuaded that no speedy-trial violation occurred in this case principally because of defendant’s twenty-month delay in first asserting the right, the unavoidable delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and defendant’s failure to allege that the State prosecuted him with anything other than reasonable diligence. View "Vermont v. Young" on Justia Law
Fleurrey v. Department of Aging and Independent Living, et al.
Plaintiff Tina Fleurrey appealed the dismissal of her negligence claim against defendant landlord 3378 VT Route 12 LLC. In her complaint, she alleged that landlord was responsible for the drowning death of decedent Scott Fleurrey, a fifty-four-year-old man with developmental disabilities, on the property that landlord leased to decedent’s caretakers, Upper Valley Services (UVS) and Azwala Rodriguez. The question on appeal was whether the civil division properly dismissed plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff argued the civil division erred by misunderstanding the controlling law because landlord owed decedent a duty to protect and because the civil division drew inferences favorable to landlord. The Vermont Supreme Court held that the civil division properly granted landlord’s dismissal motion because: (1) Vermont precedents required an invitee to seek redress for injuries sustained on negligently maintained property from the land possessor who invited the injured invitee to the defective property, rather than from the absentee landlord; (2) §§ 343 and 343A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts were inapplicable here because those Restatement sections addressed only land possessors, and plaintiff did not allege that landlord was the possessor of the subject property; and (3) no duty could arise where, as here, a plaintiff did not allege that a legal relationship existed between a decedent and a landlord. View "Fleurrey v. Department of Aging and Independent Living, et al." on Justia Law
Vermont v. Murphy
Defendant Chavis Murphy was convicted by jury of second-degree murder following a jury trial. He argued on appeal that the trial court erred by: (1) denying his motion for judgment of acquittal; (2) denying his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless ping of his cell phone; (3) failing to sua sponte give a limiting instruction on evidence of flight; and (4) denying his motion for new trial. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that defendant was not entitled to a judgment of acquittal. The Court further held that, while defendant had a legitimate privacy interest in his real-time cell site location information under Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution, the warrantless ping was justified by exigent circumstances, and defendant’s motion to suppress was therefore properly denied. The Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Vermont v. Murphy" on Justia Law
In re Grievance of Marc Abbey et al.
The State of Vermont appealed a decision of the Vermont Labor Relations Board sustaining a grievance filed by the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) on behalf of several classified employees. The Board determined that the State violated the employees’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) when it appointed another employee to a vacant position before the application deadline for that position had expired. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board correctly interpreted the CBA and therefore affirmed. View "In re Grievance of Marc Abbey et al." on Justia Law
Myers v. Baker, et al.
Petitioner K.C. Myers challenged the trial court’s determination that his exclusion from the earned-time program for a disqualifying offense did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Petitioner was accused of committing burglary on August 17, 2019, almost two months after the original earned-time bill, 2019, No. 56, §§ 1-9, was signed into law. He was arraigned in March 2020 and pled no contest on May 2020, receiving a two-to-five-year prison sentence. Petitioner was serving a suspended sentence for lewd and lascivious conduct with a child when he received the burglary sentence. Petitioner, like all others in prison meeting the standards set forth in 2019, No. 148 (Adj. Sess.), § 14, became eligible for earned time starting on January 1, 2021. The earned-time program was again amended by 2021, No. 12, § 2, which became effective on April 26, 2021. The central question in this appeal was whether the effective date of the earned-time program or the enactment date of the statute mandating its creation controlled for the purposes of an ex-post-facto analysis. Because the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the program’s effective date controlled, and, therefore, petitioner’s disqualification from the program did not offend the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on ex-post- facto laws, judgment was affirmed. View "Myers v. Baker, et al." on Justia Law
Gladchun v. Eramo, et al.
Jeffrey and Alyssa Gladchun appealed the grant of summary judgment to their neighboring landowners, Michael and Diane Eramo, and the Eramos’ lessee, New Cingular Wireless, PCS, d/b/a AT&T (AT&T). The civil division concluded that a deed granting a right-of-way for “ingress and egress” to the Eramos was unambiguous and did not limit AT&T from installing utility lines under the right-of-way to service a planned communications tower. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the deed was unambiguous as to the right-of-way. However, the Supreme Court disagreed that it expressed more than the plain, ordinary meaning of “ingress and egress,” which did not include installing underground utilities. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gladchun v. Eramo, et al." on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Procedure, Real Estate & Property Law