Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiffs, Lofts Essex, LLC and the Wilson Inn, Inc. (collectively, the Lofts), appeal the trial court’s pretrial denial of summary judgment and the court’s final decision ruling in favor of defendant, Strategis Floor and Décor, Inc. The dispute between the parties arose from a warranty claim made on laminate flooring in a 54-apartment unit complex. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the trial court’s pretrial denial of summary judgment was not reviewable and affirmed the final decision granting judgment to Strategis. View "The Lofts Essex, LLC v. Strategis Floor Decor Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant Clyde Bovat was convicted of shooting a deer in violation of Vermont big-game-hunting laws and failing to immediately tag the deer. On appeal he claimed the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence allegedly obtained in violation of his constitutional right to be free from warrantless government intrusions. In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving 2017, a resident of Huntington, Vermont was awoken by a gunshot close to his home. The concerned resident called the state game warden to report a possible deer jackIng. In the course of the ensuing investigation, wardens were lead to defendant’s house. Based in part on their observations through the garage window, wardens obtained a search warrant to seize defendant’s truck and collected samples of the blood they had observed, which matched a sample from the deer at issue. They did not photograph the truck until approximately five days after the seizure, during which time the truck had been left outside in inclement weather. Due to exposure to the elements, a smaller amount of blood than originally observed was visible, and deer hair was no longer visible. Defendant unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence obtained through the search warrant. While the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendant that his garage is within the curtilage of his home, it was unpersuaded by his remaining arguments. The Supreme Court found the wardens were conducting a legitimate police investigation, during which they observed defendant’s truck in plain view from a semiprivate area. The Court declined to address the merits of defendant’s remaining challenges and affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Vermont v. Bovat" on Justia Law

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Defendant Onix Fonseca-Cintron appealed his three domestic assault convictions. He argued the trial court erred in failing to provide the jury with a self-defense instruction. He also argued the underlying conduct supported only one criminal offense, not three. The State charged defendant with three counts of domestic assault: (1) first-degree aggravated domestic assault based on defendant’s attempt to strangle complainant; (2) first-degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon based on defendant’s hitting the complainant with a sheathed machete and threatening to kill her; and (3) domestic assault based on defendant’s dragging complainant by the hair. The jury found defendant guilty on all three counts. Finding no reversible error in the trial court judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Fonseca-Cintron" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed a family division disposition order transferring custody of her six-year-old daughter A.M. to father, who lived in Colorado. Specifically, mother argued the court erred in directing mother to pay for 75% of the costs of transporting the child back and forth to Vermont for contact with mother. Specifically, she argued the court lacked authority in this CHINS proceeding to make an order allocating travel costs, particularly since neither party requested such an order, there was no warning to the parties, and no evidence was taken regarding their relative financial conditions. The State did not disagree and joined in mother’s arguments on this issue. Because the Vermont Supreme Court found no statutory authority for the court to make a financial award of this type in a CHINS proceeding, it reversed the family court’s final disposition order insofar as it purported to allocate 75% of the costs of transporting A.M. for visits to mother. The matter was remanded for that court to issue new disposition and parental rights and responsibilities orders without that provision. View "In re A.M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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After a bench trial, a trial court issued a judgment and order which held, among other things, that Wright & Morrissey owed J & K Tile Co. $42,000 plus interest under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties, and that Wright & Morrissey unlawfully withheld J & K Tile Co.’s retainage check in violation of the Vermont Prompt Pay Act. Following this decision a few months later, the court further held that each party was the prevailing party in a portion of the litigation and should be awarded attorney’s fees regarding that portion. Wright & Morrissey appealed, and J & K Tile Co. cross-appealed. With regard to the retainage, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court did not err. However, with respect to the prevailing party issue, the Supreme Court determined “a fee award should not be apportioned among claims that arise from a common core of facts.” Although not all of the evidence was relevant to all the claims, all the evidence, and all the theories of liability, related to the same common core of facts. J & K Tile Co. itself treated the claims as arising from a common core of facts, as evidenced by their combining the failure-to-mediate and breach-of-contract allegations into a single count. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court should have determined who was the substantially prevailing party as a whole, considering all the claims together. Accordingly, it reversed the order regarding attorney’s fees and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "J & K Tile Company" on Justia Law

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Applicant Derby GLC Solar, LLC appealed a Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision denying its application for a certificate of public good (CPG) for a netmetered solar electric-generation facility. The PUC determined that applicant’s proposed project failed to satisfy 30 V.S.A. 248(b)(7) or (10). Applicant contended the PUC erred by not weighing the alleged economic benefits of the project against its adverse impacts, improperly considered evidence that should not have been admitted, misinterpreted the language of section 248, and treated applicant’s project differently than similarly situated projects. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Application of Derby GLC Solar, LLC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Christopher Sullivan appeals a trial court order granting summary judgment to the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) on his Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75 petition challenging the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough. Petitioner was convicted of one count of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor with death resulting, and one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. While serving a resulting incarcerative sentence, he sought Civil Rule 75 review of the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough and earned time toward such furlough, arguing that this denial was predicated on unlawful consideration of his convictions as indicative of a history of violent behavior The Vermont Supreme Court found the DOC could authorize reintegration furlough or an award of earned time toward reintegration furlough only where these decisions were made in accordance with rules promulgated by the DOC pursuant to the grant of authority at 28 V.S.A. 808c(c). During the pendency of this appeal, the DOC moved to dismiss the case as moot, contending that, because petitioner reached his minimum sentence on August 5, 2019, and was paroled on August 14, 2019, the requested relief could no longer be granted. Petitioner responded that the DOC failed to prove that this situation will not reoccur, observing that he could be reincarcerated and subsequently denied furlough on the basis of the same two convictions, which would remain on his record. In the alternative, he urged the Supreme Court to adopt a public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded the case was moot, declined to adopt such an exception, and dismissed. View "Sullivan v. Menard" on Justia Law

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Defendant Paul Alzaga appealed his conviction for DUI refusal. On appeal, defendant argued: (1) the trial court erred in admitting testimony indicating that defendant had refused to take a preliminary breath test (PBT) and regarding the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) test; (2) the court committed plain error in instructing the jury and designing the jury verdict form; and (3) the conviction was invalid because the jury did not enter a verdict. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Alzaga" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a series of plans overseen by defendants to develop several real estate projects in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Work on these projects spanned eight years, including fundraising and planning stages, and involved several limited partnerships and other corporate entities (the Jay Peak Projects). The Jay Peak Projects, at the direction of defendants Ariel Quiros and William Stenger, raised investment funds largely through a federal program known as the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program (EB-5 Program). In April 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit alleging securities fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud against the Jay Peak Projects developers, Ariel Quiros and William Stenger. The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation also filed suit against Quiros and Stenger, alleging similar claims. On the basis of these and other allegations, plaintiffs, all foreign nationals who invested in the Jay Peak Projects, filed a multi-count claim against ACCD and several individual defendants. Intervenors, a group of foreign investors who were allegedly defrauded by defendants, appealed an order denying their motion to intervene in the State’s enforcement action brought against defendants. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed because the motion to intervene was untimely. View "Vermont, et al. v. Quiros, et al." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review in this matter centered on a timber trespass action brought by plaintiffs against a neighboring landowner and the logger who cut plaintiffs' trees. Plaintiffs appealed the jury verdict in their favor, arguing that the damage award was inadequate. Plaintiffs also claimed the jury should have found the neighbor liable for unlawful mischief and that the trial court erred in denying their claims for treble damages, additional costs, and prejudgment interest. Finding no abuse of the trial court's discretion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Epsom v. Crandall" on Justia Law