Articles Posted in Business Law

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Defendants Barry Feldman, the New England Expedition-Colchester, LCC (NEE-Colchester), and Colchester Managing Member, LLC (CMM), petitioned the Vermont Supreme Court to strike jury-awarded punitive damages and find that the trial court erred in numerous evidentiary rulings, in denying defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law, and in denying defendants’ motion for a new trial. This appeal concerned a commercial dispute over the proceeds from a 2012 sale of a grocery store between plaintiffs Eugene Beaudoin, the New England Expedition Limited Partnership II (NEELP-II), and the New England Expedition Limited Partnership IV (NEELPIV), and defendants. Prior to the transaction at issue, Feldman and Beaudoin had a sixteen-year business relationship during which they developed commercial properties throughout New England. Beaudoin and Feldman developed a grocery store in Colchester (the Colchester store) in 1997 or 1998. In 2012, the Colchester store sold to a third party for $14,500,000. The net proceeds before distribution were $1,300,000. Feldman would have been entitled to two-thirds and Beaudoin to one-third of the proceeds. However, Feldman distributed 100% of the net proceeds to himself as reimbursement for monthly payments made by Feldman to Beaudoin from 2005 through 2010. Consequently, Beaudoin filed suit against Feldman for claims of conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment and sought both compensatory and punitive damages. After hearing all the evidence and closing arguments, the jury determined that Feldman had converted Beaudoin’s share of the Colchester-store sale proceeds, that he breached his fiduciary duty to Beaudoin, and that he was unjustly enriched by the sale. As a result, they awarded $432,300 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages to Beaudoin. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court struck the award of punitive damages, but affirmed in all other respect, finding no other reversible error. View "Beaudoin v. Feldman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Business Law

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Several carpenters, including one single-member LLC, an installer of cement siding, and a painter contended they were employees of Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc. for the purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. Bourbeau challenged that classification, contending that it was not liable for unemployment taxes on monies paid to a carpenter operating as a single-member LLC because an LLC was not an “individual” under the unemployment tax statute and therefore not subject to the ABC test established by 21 V.S.A. 1301(6)(B). Second, Bourbeau argued the Employment Security Board erred in applying the ABC test with respect to all of the workers whose remuneration is the subject of this appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with Bourbeau on the first point and held that an LLC was not an “individual” for the purposes of assessing unemployment taxes. However, the Court affirmed the Board’s determination that the remaining four individuals were employees for purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. View "In re Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Shashi Airi filed suit against defendant Gurdeep “Sunny” Nagra in 2011. The trial court held a bench trial in 2016. Initially, defendant hired plaintiff to manage two hotels in Brattleboro. In this capacity, plaintiff was employed by a variety of business entities that owned the hotels. Defendant was either a member, partner, or shareholder in these entities until October 2007, when federal agents raided defendant’s various business entities and the physical hotels. As a result of the raids and defendant’s subsequent prosecution, the business entities that employed plaintiff went into receivership. At this point, in 2007, defendant contracted in an individual capacity with plaintiff to assist with the receivership proceedings and to perform the duties defendant could not accomplish because of the pending criminal charges. The parties agreed to a rate of pay. Plaintiff performed the required tasks until December 14, 2007, when the properties were out of receivership. From November 5, 2007 to December 14, 2007, was the first period under dispute; the trial court awarded plaintiff $7215 for services rendered during this period. Defendant appealed that award. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that because defendant did not submit the transcripts of that record, he waived his right to contest the issue on appeal under Vermont Rule of Appellate Procedure 10(b)(1). Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Airi v. Nagra" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nicholas Cassani appealed the trial court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiff H&E Equipment Services, Inc. on its complaint to collect on a 2001 Arizona judgment. Defendant argued that the action was time-barred under 12 V.S.A. 506. Alternatively, he contended that there was a material dispute of fact as to whether the Arizona court had personal jurisdiction over him at the time it entered its judgment. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "H&E Equipment Services, Inc. v. Cassani Electric, Inc." on Justia Law

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Wilbur Shriner, the holder of a homeowner’s insurance policy from Amica Mutual Insurance Company (Amica), appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Amica and denial of his cross-motion for summary judgment. Shriner owned a glassblowing studio in Burlington until he sold the property in December 2007 and moved the glassblowing equipment to his home in Charlotte. He and his friend set up the equipment in the garage at Shriner’s property and began making glass in late 2008 or early 2009. From 2009 to 2012, Shriner and his friend “sometimes made glass for a week or two, and then would shut down for weeks due to lack of money.” During that three-year period, they made glassware approximately one time per week on average, and glassmaking was never more than an occasional or part-time activity for him. Throughout those three years, Shriner earned income from glassblowing, as well as from the redevelopment and rental of investment properties and from an organic honey and vegetable operation. In early 2012, the furnace exhaust system in a piece of glassmaking equipment malfunctioned and caused a fire that destroyed the garage and all of the property and equipment inside it. At the time, Shriner’s home was covered by his homeowner’s policy with Amica, which covered losses from fire and provided replacement coverage for buildings and personal property. The policy carried a $25,000 deductible and contained an exclusion from coverage for structures from which a business was conducted. Shriner submitted a personal property inventory for the property destroyed in the fire, with a replacement cost totaling $88,354.91. Amica accepted Shriner’s fire-loss claim and determined the replacement cost of the garage to be $42,422.97. Amica applied the policy’s $25,000 deductible and made an actual cash-value payment of $1460.53 as an advance partial payment to Shriner for the garage. Amica then changed positions and, asserting that Shriner’s glassblowing activities constituted a “business” for the purposes of the policy’s exclusion, refused to make any further payments to replace the garage. Amica paid Shriner $11,613 for nonbusiness property that was destroyed in the garage but capped its payment for other property in the inventory at $2500, which was the maximum reimbursement permitted under the policy for “business” personal property. Shriner brought suit to recover the full amount of his claim, and the court granted summary judgment to Amica. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shriner v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was found in a series of e-mails exchanged between two business partners who jointly owned a document shredding company, and whether those e-mails (read together) constituted an enforceable contract to sell one partner's interest in the company to the other partner. Defendant-seller appealed the trial court's determination that the partners had an enforceable contract and that seller was obligated to negotiate the remaining terms of the deal in good faith. He argued that there were too many open terms to produce an enforceable contract and that the partners had no intent to be bound to a contract by their e-mails. Plaintiff-buyer cross-appealed, arguing that the e-mails demonstrated an intent to be bound, and that the Supreme Court should enforce the contract. The Supreme Court rejected the buyer's argument that the parties had entered into a fully-completed contract, and agreed with the seller that there was no enforceable contract at all. The Court reversed the trial court which held to the contrary, and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of the seller. View "Miller v. Flegenheimer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Citibank (South Dakota), N.A. (lender) and Sears, Roebuck and Co. (retailer) appealed a superior court decision affirming the determination of the Vermont Department of Taxes (Department) that the parties, who had partnered to operate a private label credit card program through retailers’ stores, were not entitled to sales tax refunds related to bad debts. The Department denied lender’s refund requests because it was not a registered vendor under Vermont law that remitted the sales tax it sought to recover, and denied retailer’s deductions because it did not incur the bad debt at issue. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that because they acted in combination to facilitate the sales giving rise to the bad debts, they were not barred from obtaining relief. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Citibank (South Dakota), N.A. v. Dept. of Taxes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff TLOC Senior Living, LLC, owned and operated a senior living community in Middlebury, Vermont, doing business as “The Lodge at Otter Creek.” In July 2013, defendant Albert Bingham registered the name “The Lodge at Otter Creek” under his own name with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office after plaintiff lapsed in its re-registration of the name. In December 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging slander of title, trade infringement, unfair competition, and tortious interference with contract. Plaintiff claimed that despite Bingham’s actions, his registration of the name did not bestow him with any rights to actually use it as a trade name. Rather, plaintiff contended that it retained the exclusive common law rights to the continued use of “The Lodge at Otter Creek” as its trade name. Bingham filed several counterclaims. He argued in relevant part that by registering the name “The Lodge at Otter Creek” as his business name, he effectively foreclosed any right that plaintiff had to the name. The court concluded that although Bingham had been able to register “The Lodge at Otter Creek,” plaintiff’s failure to re-register the name did not allow Bingham to use it. Defendant appealed, and finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "TLOC Senior Living, LLC v. Bingham" on Justia Law

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This was a dispute between two computer software companies. SynEcology Partners, L3C challenged the trial court’s order dismissing its complaint against Business RunTime, Inc. stemming from its failure to comply with Business RunTime’s discovery requests. In 2008, SynEcology’s founders, Edward Grossman and Jeanne Conde, sold the company’s assets to Lawrence Kenney. Grossman and Conde subsequently started a new software company, Business RunTime. In August 2011, SynEcology filed a civil complaint against Business RunTime, Edward Grossman, Jeanne Conde, and two former SynEcology employees, Thomas Reynolds and Toby Leong, for alleged fraud, theft of intellectual property, industrial sabotage, computer crimes, burglary, larceny, willful breaches of nondisclosure and employee contracts, theft and disclosure of trade secrets, and tortious interference with contractual relations. What followed was a protracted discovery phase, culminating in Business RunTime’s motion for contempt, sanctions, and attorneys’ fees, filed on July 23, 2014, which ultimately resulted in dismissal of SynEcology’s complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed. " It is clear from its discussion that the trial court lost faith in SynEcology’s willingness to undertake a good faith effort to comply with the discovery orders or motions to compel. Although SynEcology argues that it was willing and able to produce the Comcast emails and privilege log, the trial court had no reason to believe SynEcology would suddenly make good on its promises having failed to do so in the past." View "Synecology Partners L3C v. Business RunTime, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs owned a building, with a mortgage, in Hartford, Vermont, where they operated a pizza business. In 2013, they sold the pizza business to defendant and leased him the premises. In November 2013, plaintiffs brought an eviction action, asserting that defendant had failed to pay rent. The court granted plaintiffs a default judgment and a writ of possession in December 2013. The court subsequently granted defendant’s request to vacate the default judgment and stay the writ of possession. Defendant then filed an answer and a counterclaim. In his counterclaim, defendant argued that he was fraudulently induced into entering into the lease agreement and that the lease should be declared void. Alternatively, defendant argued that he had cured any breach of the lease by paying money into an escrow fund. Defendant appealed the trial court’s order granting judgment to plaintiffs on their complaint for ejectment and damages. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Panagiotidis v. Galanis" on Justia Law