Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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At issue in this case before the Vermont Supreme Court was the meaning of “date of loss” for the purpose of an insurance policy’s condition that any action be commenced within one year after the “date of loss.” The trial court concluded that the insurance provision requiring that an action be brought “within one year after the date of loss” was ambiguous and had to be interpreted against insurer to mean that the one-year period began to run when insurer breached its obligations (i.e., at the time homeowner received final, allegedly insufficient, payment from insurer). The court accordingly denied insurer summary judgment and granted partial summary judgment to homeowner. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the provision was unambiguous in requiring suit to be brought within one year of the date of the occurrence giving rise to coverage and reversed the partial summary judgment for homeowner. View "Brillman v. New England Guaranty Insurance Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Applicant, the Snyder Group, Inc., which initially obtained approval from the City of South Burlington Development Review Board (DRB) to construct a planned unit development (PUD), appealed an Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, that the City’s governing zoning bylaw concerning the transfer of development rights (TDRs) with respect to PUD applications did not comply with two subsections of the enabling statute and was unconstitutionally vague. Neighbors, as interested parties opposing the PUD, cross-appealed with respect to the Environmental Division’s rulings that the TDR bylaw complied with three subsections of the enabling statute. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the rulings challenged by neighbors, reversed the rulings challenged by applicant, and remanded the matter for Environmental Division to enter summary judgment in favor of applicant. View "In re Snyder Group, Inc. PUD Final Plat" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a Labor Relations Board decision that grievant Jacob Carnelli, a former correctional officer who was eligible for mandatory reemployment pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA), met the minimum qualifications for a position at the Department of Motor Vehicles requiring at least two years of “office clerical experience.” The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board overstepped its authority by failing to apply the minimum qualifications as established by the DMV, and therefore reversed. View "In re Grievance of Jacob Carnelli" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the denial of defendant Mary Ann Theberge’s post-judgment motion to enforce the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to a spousal-maintenance award made in her favor in the parties’ divorce action. The trial court found that the parties agreed to a modification of the maintenance award eliminating the yearly COLA and that, consequently, plaintiff Gerald Theberge’s maintenance payments - which continued after the alleged agreement, absent the COLA - were not in arrears. Accordingly, the court denied the enforcement motion. The Vermont Supreme Court held that a tuition agreement between the parties was a valid contract such that, if plaintiff agreed to waive defendant’s obligation thereunder in connection with a second agreement, he would have given up a legal right he was otherwise free to exercise. As a result, remand was necessary for the trial court to determine whether the parties entered an agreement with corrected factual findings. In connection with this remand, the Court noted that the trial court considered defendant’s receipt of ten years of maintenance payments without COLA to constitute “waiver by performance.” However, it was unclear whether the trial court was referring to waiver in the context of evidence that defendant made an oral agreement to waive the COLA, or whether it was referring to waiver as the relinquishment of a known right through defendant’s failure to seek enforcement of the COLA sooner than she did. Upon remand, the trial court was asked to clarify its conclusion regarding defendant’s “waiver by performance.” View "Theberge v. Theberge" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Town of Ludlow appealed a Property Valuation & Review Division (PVR) hearing officer’s decision lowering the fair market value of two quartertime-share condominium properties, Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House, located at the base of Okemo Ski Resort. On appeal, the Town argued that the time-share owners in Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the Town’s appraisal. The Town also argued that hearing officer incorrectly interpreted 32 V.S.A. 3619(b) and failed to properly weigh the evidence and make factual findings. After review of the PVR hearing officer’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the hearing officer correctly determined that the time-share owners met their initial burden of producing evidence to overcome the presumption of validity by presenting the testimony of their expert appraiser. Second, the Supreme Court conclude that the hearing officer correctly determined that section 3619 addressed who receives a tax bill when time-share owners were taxed but said nothing about how to value the common elements in condominiums. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing officer made clear findings and, in general, provided a well-reasoned and detailed decision. Accordingly, the decision was affirmed. View "Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Reco Jones appealed the civil division’s denial of his postconviction relief (PCR) petition alleging that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that his guilty plea was involuntary. Due to his immigration status, federal deportation policies, and Department of Corrections (DOC) policies, the sentence petitioner agreed to, nominally twelve years to life, likely amounted to a life sentence without the possibility of parole with only a minimal chance of deportation. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the voluntariness of his plea was compromised by misinformation given to him. The Court therefore reversed and vacated petitioner’s conviction, and remanded to the civil division with instructions to refer the case to the criminal division for further proceedings. View "In re Jones" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Bouchard pled guilty to two sex offenses, and challenged several of the special sex-offender probation conditions imposed on him. The two offenses related to lewd and lascivious conduct, and one count of unlawful restraint in the second degree. The offending conduct involved his niece and nephew. At the sentencing hearing, the court imposed the agreed-upon sentence. The State presented no evidence in support of any of the contested probation conditions. The trial court expressed its concern about defendant’s ability to complete the sex-offender treatment program, and told defendant that “if you don’t complete the program and a violation of probation is filed and your probation is revoked, there is no room in the sentence that you’ve negotiated with your attorney for any other programming. It really is as close to a flat ten-year sentence as I’ve ever seen.” The court imposed various probation conditions, including the “sex [-] offender special conditions of probation” at issue on appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court remanded the two conditions limiting contact with minors for clarification as to the age restrictions and the rationale behind them. The Court upheld the conditions prohibiting defendant from accessing or loitering in places where children congregate, and requiring defendant to give his probation officer notice within 48 hours of a change in contact information. View "Vermont v. Bouchard" on Justia Law

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The Chittenden County, Vermont Sheriff’s Department (CCSD) appealed the Vermont Employment Security Board’s ruling that the CCSD was not entitled to relief from several weeks of unemployment compensation benefits which it paid to a former CCSD employee, Michael Major, due to an alleged erroneous determination by a Board claims adjudicator. The CCSD and the State both appealed a claims adjudicator’s decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who, following a hearing, reversed the claims adjudicator’s determination and found that Major had voluntarily quit and was therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. As part of that determination, the ALJ waived any requirement that Major repay the benefits he had received because the ordered payments were not a result of any nondisclosure or material misrepresentation on his part. The ALJ also refused to allow the CCSD or the State relief from benefits already paid to Major as a result of the claims adjudicator’s determination. Although the ALJ concluded the State was Major’s last employing unit, the ALJ further determined that neither Major nor the sheriff made any distinction between Major’s employment by the State or the CCSD and that, in practice, Major’s position as a State transport deputy and his duties from the CCSD were one and the same. The ALJ refused to allow the CCSD and the State to be relieved of benefits they had paid to Major because both employers had chosen not to pay quarterly unemployment insurance tax, but instead elected to make reimbursement payments to the unemployment compensation fund for benefits they were ordered to pay. As a result of being a reimbursing employer, rather than a contributing one, the CCSD was liable to reimburse the unemployment fund, and could not be relieved of those charges. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed, finding the plain language of 21 V.S.A. 1321(f) made it “abundantly clear to all eligible employers” that, should they select reimbursing status, they would assume responsibility for benefits paid but denied on appeal. “Having availed itself of this advantage, the CCSD cannot now avoid the financial obligations, including the risk of liability for benefits paid in error, it accepted in exchange.” View "Chittenden County Sheriff's Department v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Following a jury trial, defendant Venessa Sarkisian-Kennedy was convicted of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, second offense (DUI-2), and criminal refusal of an evidentiary breath test (refusal). She appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in: (1) admitting, subject to what she contended was an ineffective limiting instruction) the results of a horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test offered by the State absent scientific, foundational testimony from an expert witness; and (2) allowing the State to present evidence of her refusal to consent to a preliminary breath test (PBT) on the theory that it was relevant to consciousness of guilt. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concurred with defendant’s first contention, but not the second. The Court therefore reversed and remanded the refusal conviction and affirmed the DUI-2 conviction. View "Vermont v. Sarkisian-Kennedy" on Justia Law

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Parents appealed the termination of their rights in M.L., born in 2014, and H.T., born in 2015, following a long-delayed initial disposition hearing. They argued the trial court: (1) committed plain error in accepting their stipulation that the children were in need of care or supervision (CHINS); (2) violated their due process rights by delays in the proceedings; and (3) erred in concluding that they would not be able to parent the children within a reasonable time. While the delay in the initial disposition hearing meant the court did not have to find stagnation in order to terminate the parents’ residual parental rights, the court made findings that supported termination. Contrary to parents’ assertion, the Vermont Supreme Court found the trial court did not “ignore[] the injustices that were apparent to service providers, expert witnesses and the GALs.” Instead, the Supreme Court determined the trial court applied the law and evaluated, based on the evidence, whether terminating parents’ rights would be in the children’s best interests. “While parents disagree with the court’s conclusion, they fail to show error.” View "In re H.T. & M.L." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law