Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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In February 2021, the Vermont State Auditor of Accounts, Douglas Hoffer, filed a complaint alleging that defendant OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, had breached various provisions in its contract with the Department for Vermont Health Access (DVHA) by denying the Auditor’s requests for OneCare’s employee payroll and benefits records for fiscal years (FY) 2019 and 2020. The civil division granted OneCare’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Auditor lacked contractual or statutory authority to demand the records, and the Auditor appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Hoffer v. OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, d/b/a OneCare Vermont" on Justia Law

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Defendant Austin Burnett appealed the Vermont criminal division’s order revoking his probation. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s determination that defendant violated probation conditions prohibiting him from possessing or using a device with access to the internet or having a social-media account and from possessing or using pornography. However, the Supreme Court reversed the court’s determination that defendant violated a condition governing where he could reside, and remanded for the court to reconsider its disposition without that violation. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant Roy Kuhlmann appealed the denial of his pro se motion for a new trial filed during the pendency of his appeal of his sentence and final judgment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider defendant’s motion and therefore affirmed. View "Vermont v. Kuhlmann" on Justia Law

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Father appealed a sanctions order imposed by the family division enjoining him from submitting filings in this case unless the filing was signed by a licensed attorney or he first obtained permission from the court. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court acted within its discretion in sanctioning father given his pattern of filing numerous motions that lacked factual or legal support, failing to adhere to procedural rules, and acting without good faith. The Court concluded, however, that the court’s order was overly broad in scope because it applied to all of father’s submissions to the court in this matter and did not clearly provide father with instructions on how to comply. Therefore, the case was remanded for the trial court to amend its sanctions decision accordingly. View "Fox v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Defendant Jayveon Caballero was convicted by a jury of second- degree murder. On appeal, he argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove that he acted intentionally or in knowing disregard of a deadly risk to the victim when he fired a gun into the victim’s car; (2) the trial court deprived him of a fair trial by excluding a statement of remorse that he made to his cousin three hours after the shooting; and (3) the State showed three graphic crime scene photographs to the jury that were not admitted into evidence. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was adequate evidence of intent to support the verdict, and that the alleged evidentiary errors did not require reversal. View "Vermont v. Caballero" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed a family division order modifying legal parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact as to son. The court first issued a parental rights and responsibilities order in 2015, based on the parties’ agreement. In October 2017 father filed emergency motions to modify legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact, alleging that mother was suicidal and unable to care for son. On the same day, the court granted a temporary modification solely on the basis of father’s filings, awarding sole legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities to father pending a hearing to determine whether a longer-term modification would be appropriate. Following a hearing in January 2018, the court ordered the parties to return to the terms of the original 2015 parentage order, pending a final determination on the motions to modify. At the conclusion of merits hearings held in March 2020 and 2021, the family division issued its order dividing legal responsibility for son between the parties, awarding father responsibility for educational matters and mother responsibility for all other matters. Physical parental rights and responsibilities remained shared, but the court modified the parent-child contact schedule so that the parties alternated weeks on Fridays instead of Thursdays and mother would only care for son after school every other week. On appeal, mother argued this order should have been reversed because the court: (1) abused its discretion by dividing legal rights and responsibilities between the parties; (2) impermissibly relied on DCF history; (3) erred in allowing son’s attorney to participate at the merits hearing; and (4) did not make sufficient findings relative to son’s best interests. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vance v. Locke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Town of Albany, Vermont, appealed an order granting summary judgment to a surviving relative of the grantors who had quitclaimed undeveloped property to the Town subject to certain conditions. The civil division found that the deed was ambiguous, considered extrinsic evidence to discern the grantors’ intent, and concluded that a logging operation overseen by the Town violated the deed. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the deed was unambiguous, and the logging was not a violation. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanville v. Town of Albany" on Justia Law

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At about 1:40 a.m. on March 24, 2018, defendants Michael Sinquell-Gainey and David Vaz were in a vehicle that pulled into a gas station in Newport, Vermont. The officers parked nearby were having a conversation, noticing that defendants pulled into the gas station through an exit-only access. He watched defendants drive past a set of gas pumps, circle around, and return to park next to the first set of pumps. Officer LeClair testified that he could not recall how long defendants’ vehicle remained at the gas pumps, or whether defendants actually pumped gas. When defendants left the gas station a few moments later, Officer LeClair followed. Defendants came to an intersection controlled by a flashing yellow light for traffic approaching from their direction. The operator activated the left turn signal shortly before reaching the intersection, but then “stopped for quite some time,” even though no stop was required. The vehicle made a few more turns onto the interstate, "swinging wide" and crossing the centerline, at which time Officer LeClair stopped defendants under suspicion of reckless driving. After obtaining a search warrant, officers found heroin and fentanyl in the engine compartment. The State appealed a trial court order granting defendants’ motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement after that automobile stop. The State argued the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendants because he observed a traffic violation and because the totality of the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the stop was justified based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Sinquell-Gainey & Vaz" on Justia Law