Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
Brillman v. New England Guaranty Insurance Company, Inc.
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
In re Snyder Group, Inc. PUD Final Plat
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
Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow
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
Chittenden County Sheriff’s Department v. Department of Labor
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
In re M.E.
Juvenile M.E. appealed the family division’s dismissal of the State’s petition to declare her a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). In May 2019, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) filed a petition alleging that M.E. was without proper parental care. The CHINS petition was based on mother’s admitted use of heroin on one occasion and allegations that M.E. had been exposed to drug use and paraphernalia while in the care of her parents. The court issued an emergency care order transferring custody to DCF. After a temporary care hearing, custody was continued with DCF. A merits hearing was held; subsequently the court concluded the State failed to establish the merits and dismissed the petition. “[A]ny time the State seeks to interfere with the rights of parents on the generalized assumption that the children are in need of care and supervision, it must first produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the statutory directives allowing such intervention are fully satisfied.” The fact that there was evidence in the record to contradict the court’s findings was insufficient for the Vermont Supreme Court to reverse the trial court’s conclusion. Accordingly, the Court affirmed dismissal of the CHINS petition. View "In re M.E." on Justia Law
Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. v. Ohio Security Insurance Company
On a winter night in 2014, strong winds blew through the town of Georgia, Vermont, causing a partially constructed livestock barn to collapse. Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. (CCE), the contractor building the barn, sought recompense for the resulting losses from its insurer, Ohio Security Insurance Company. However, insurer and insured disagreed as to policy coverage for costs incurred by CCE in removing the remains of the collapsed barn and rebuilding it to its pre-collapse state. Ultimately, CCE sued Ohio Security for breach of contract. In successive summary-judgment rulings, the trial court held that the contractor’s rebuilding expenses were covered under the policy, but the cost of debris removal was not. Ohio Security cross-appealed the first ruling and CCE appealed the second; the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the first ruling and affirmed the second. The Court determined the additional collapse coverage applied only to “Covered Property,” which was business personal property; CCE did not dispute that the barn was not business personal property and thus was not “Covered Property.” Therefore, the court’s first summary-judgment ruling was reversed. The debris removal was not a loss involving business personal property. As a result, it was not a loss to “Covered Property” at that term was defined by the policy at issue. View "Commercial Construction Endeavors, Inc. v. Ohio Security Insurance Company" on Justia Law
Burlington School District v. Provost
Defendant Adam Provost appealed a civil division determination that plaintiff Burlington School District could disclose, in response to a newspaper’s public records request, an unredacted copy of a Resignation Agreement reached by the District and Provost concerning his employment with the District. Provost argued the civil division: (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the District’s request for declaratory relief regarding a matter within the exclusive purview of the Public Records Act (PRA); and (2) erred by granting the District’s request for declaratory relief based on its conclusion that Provost had waived any objection to release of the agreement, even assuming it had jurisdiction to consider the request. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the District and Provost entered into a contract acknowledging the obligation of the District, as a public entity subject to the PRA, to release the Resignation Agreement "under the provisions of applicable law." The District and Provost had reached a legal stalemate over whether release of an unredacted copy of the Agreement would violate not only the PRA, but also their Agreement, which would expose the District to a breach-of-contract claim. Under these circumstances, it was entirely appropriate for the superior court to exercise its general jurisdiction to adjudicate the District’s request for declaratory relief. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Burlington School District v. Provost" on Justia Law
McCool v. Macura
Defendant appealed a final relief-from-abuse (RFA) order issued by the superior court family division. The parties had an intimate relationship and began living together in 2011 in a house originally owned by plaintiff’s family but later purchased by the parties. The relationship ended in December 2017. In June 2018, plaintiff filed a motion for relief from abuse, asking the Orange County family division to order defendant to stay away from her and the parties’ home. The Orange County family division concluded defendant had engaged in abuse by stalking, and that there was danger of further abuse. A temporary order was extended for six months; at the end, the RFA was not extended. The court determined at that point, the parties were engaged primarily in a property dispute. On December 19, 2018, the day after the Orange County family division denied plaintiff’s motion to extend the previous RFA order, plaintiff filed a new request for an RFA order in the Washington County family division. In her affidavit, she alleged that a few hours after the previous day’s hearing, defendant entered her residence without her consent to retrieve his belongings. Plaintiff further alleged that defendant got inside the house through forced entry and disabled the outside security cameras. She stated that defendant had a history of restraining her and that the previous RFA order had expired only hours before he entered her residence. The Washington County family division granted a temporary RFA order and scheduled a hearing. Following the hearing, the court issued a final RFA order based on the court’s determination that defendant had abused plaintiff by placing her in fear of imminent serious physical harm. Defendant appealed that order, arguing that: (1) the record did not support the court’s determination that plaintiff was placed in reasonable fear of imminent serious harm; (2) the court failed to make findings concerning any danger of future abuse; and (3) the court abused its discretion by not allowing him to cross-examine plaintiff, unfairly limiting defendant’s direct testimony, and not admitting relevant video evidence of defendant entering plaintiff’s residence. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the record did not support the court’s determination that defendant abused plaintiff by placing her in fear of imminent serious physical harm, and vacated the RFA order. View "McCool v. Macura" on Justia Law
In re Application of Derby GLC Solar, LLC
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
Vermont, et al. v. Quiros, et al.
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