Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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Tenant Marie Johnson appealed a trial court’s conclusion that she violated two material terms of her residential rental agreement: a “no-smoking” policy and a “no pets” policy. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed based on the no-pets violation: the court did not err in concluding that tenant was not entitled to a reasonable accommodation for a specific emotional support animal. The record reflected that the landlord approved tenant’s request for an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation, but did not approve of “Dutchess” as the specific animal because of the dog’s hostility, complaints from other residents, and tenant’s inability to restrain the dog. Given this holding, the Court did not address whether the trial court erred in finding that tenant violated the no-smoking policy. View "Gill Terrace Retirement Apartments, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2016, Ty Baker, Sr. pleaded no contest to grossly negligent operation in violation of 23 V.S.A. 1091(b) after his car collided with and totaled another car. Husband and wife owned the car; wife was driving the car when the accident occurred. Following his conviction and a contested restitution hearing, Baker was ordered to pay $828.88, which were lost wages for husband, who was not in the car at the time of the collision. Baker appealed that restitution order, arguing that husband did not qualify as a “victim” under the restitution statute, that the lost wages were not a “direct result” of defendant’s crime, and that the State’s evidence was insufficient to prove the amount of restitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that even if husband was a victim under the restitution statute, his lost wages were not a direct result of defendant’s criminal act and therefore fell outside the scope of Vermont’s restitution statute, 13 V.S.A. 7043. Accordingly, the Court reversed and vacated the restitution order. View "Vermont v. Baker" on Justia Law

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This case involved a challenge under the Compelled Support Clause of the Vermont Constitution to the Town of Cabot’s grant of federally derived but municipally managed funds for the purpose of repairs to a historic church. Relying on Chapter I, Article Three of the Vermont Constitution, plaintiffs challenged the Town of Cabot’s award of a grant to fund repairs to the United Church of Cabot, and sought a preliminary injunction enjoining the grant. Defendants moved to dismiss the case on the ground that plaintiffs lacked standing. With respect to the Town’s motion to dismiss, the trial court concluded that plaintiffs did have standing on two independent bases: (1) as municipal taxpayers; or (2) alternatively, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution. The court rejected the argument that municipal taxpayer standing did not apply because the funds at issue originated from federal coffers. Just as federal taxpayers have standing to pursue certain Establishment Clause claims, as recognized in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 85 (1968), state taxpayers have standing to advance Compelled Support claims under the Vermont Constitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs had standing to challenge the grant. However, the Court determined the evidence did not support the issuance of an injunction. The Court therefore affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Town of Cabot" on Justia Law

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A former employee of the Vermont Department of Labor (Department) appealed a judgment on the pleadings denying his suit against the Department seeking unpaid overtime pay. Employee argued he was entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week because, through a 1994 revision to 21 V.S.A. 384(b)(7) that refers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Vermont Legislature intended to provide state employees not only with minimum wage-and-hour rights, but also with a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. Employee also argued state employees also had a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4. Finding no error in the dismissal of employee’s claims, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Flint v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this appeal was whether land dedicated to a public use could be condemned for another public use when the new use did not materially interfere with the prior use. Intervenors, a group of Hinesburg residents who use Geprags Park, appealed the Public Service Board’s order authorizing Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to condemn an easement through the park for the purpose of installing a natural gas pipeline. They argued the Board erred in authorizing the condemnation in light of the fact that the park was already dedicated to a public use, and in concluding that the condemnation was necessary under 30 V.S.A. section 110(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision, but remanded for a minor correction to the order relating to the terms of the easement. View "In re Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Limited and PLH LLC (collectively, “Allco”) appealed the Public Service Board’s order denying their motion to reconsider. Allco argued the Board was required to award standard-offer contracts to several solar projects because they provided “sufficient benefits” to the operation of Vermont’s electric grid, as set forth in 30 V.S.A. 8005a(d)(2). The standard-offer program is a component of Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program; section 8005a authorizes the Public Service Board with authority to offer power-purchase contracts to new renewable-energy plants if the proposed plants satisfy certain criteria. Because Allco’s claims relating to the correct application of section 8005a(d)(2) were neither raised nor decided at trial, the Vermont Supreme Court declined to address them on appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the Board did not err in denying Allco’s motion for reconsideration, and affirmed. View "In re Programmatic Changes to Standard-Offer Program & Investigation into Establishment of Standard-Offer Prices (Allco Renewable Energy, Ltd.)" on Justia Law

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In 2001, plaintiffs Margaret and John Abajian hired architectural firm TruexCullins, Inc., to design additions to their home. Plaintiffs hired Thermal Efficiency Construction, Ltd. (TEC) to serve as the general contractor for the project. TEC contracted with Murphy’s Metals, Inc. to do the roofing work. The roof was installed during the winter of 2001-2002. Plaintiffs had experienced problems with ice damming on their old roof, which was shingled. Defendants recommended that plaintiffs install a metal roof to alleviate the problem. Plaintiffs accepted the suggestion, hoping that the metal roof would result in fewer ice dams. Mr. Abajian testified in his deposition that he “thought that the metal roof was going to eliminate” the ice damming. In 2014, after the roof turned out to be defective, plaintiffs sued the architecture and construction firms that designed and installed the roof for negligence and breach of contract. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants on the ground that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to defendants, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Abajian v. TruexCullins, Inc." on Justia Law

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A father appealed the grant of summary judgment that dismissed his defamation, negligence, and monetary claims against mother and her sister (aunt). Father alleged that mother and aunt coached daughter into saying “Daddy hit me” and submitted defamatory audio and video recordings of daughter’s statements to his parole officer. Father also alleged that mother made false statements to his parole officer and in mother’s petition for relief from abuse. The trial court ruled that these recordings and statements were absolutely privileged. Father also brought several monetary claims against mother premised on his allegation that he had loaned money to mother. On appeal, father argues the trial court (1) erred in concluding that the recordings and statements were protected by absolute privilege and that they should have instead been protected only by qualified privilege; (2) erred in dismissing his monetary claims against mother; and (3) abused its discretion in denying his motion for a court-appointed expert. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s entry of summary judgment on all claims except for certain monetary claims. View "Couture v. Trainer" on Justia Law