Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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Defendant-borrowers Skip and Paris Watts appealed the trial court’s summary judgment decision in favor of plaintiff-lender Deutsche Bank National Trust Company in this mortgage foreclosure action. They argued that the trial court erred by finding that a dismissal with prejudice under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) was not an adjudication on the merits given preclusive effect in a foreclosure action. Lender argues in response that earlier decisions of this Court that gave preclusive effect to the dismissal of foreclosure actions should be applied only prospectively and not to this case. Defendants entered into the mortgage at issue here in 2006. They failed to make payments in 2008. The lender accelerated payments and called for the note in late 2008. Foreclosure proceedings were initiated, and publication by service was completed in early 2010. Borrowrs did not file an answer to the complaint. The case sat for approximately one year; the trial court dismissed the case in July 2011. Following the dismissal, the borrowers attempted to find a solution that would allow the borrowers to resume payments. The Lender then filed suit again in 2013, alleging the borrowers defaulted on the 2008 promissory note. Borrowers answered the complaint, arguing that the 2013 action was precluded by res judicata by the 2009 action. The trial court granted lender’s motion, applying equitable principles to find that the 2011 dismissal was not a preclusive adjudication on the merits but that lender was entitled to recover interest only if it was due after the date of lender’s first, 2009, complaint against borrowers. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding that the lender did not advance a new default theory by refiling its 2009 case in 2013. Therefore, its claims were precluded by the dismissal of the 2009 case. View "Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Watts" on Justia Law

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In this case, a Vermont voter and candidate in the state’s 2016 presidential primary, challenged whether U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were constitutionally qualified to run for President of the United States. The trial court dismissed the suit on the grounds that appellant lacked standing and the court lacked jurisdiction to assess the qualifications of the Senators to run for president. Appellant appealed both holdings, but the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal for a different reason: the case was now moot. View "Paige v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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This case focused on whether the Department for Children and Families (DCF) could deny an applicant temporary housing assistance under General Assistance (GA) Rule 2652.3 for having left her housing in response to a notice of termination without cause from her landlord. DCF argued that applicant Dezarae Durkee caused her own loss of housing and therefore was ineligible for assistance. The Human Services Board upheld this determination. Applicant argued that leaving in response to a notice of termination without cause does not constitute causing her own lack of housing and sought a declaration of such damages. The Vermont Supreme Court granted the declaratory judgment but concluded damages were not appropriate relief. View "In re Appeal of Dezarae Durkee" on Justia Law

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Defendant Extreme Contracting, LLC appealed a trial court’s order granting a default judgment to plaintiff Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co., LLC in a contract dispute. The court held defendant responsible for enforcing a mandatory arbitration clause in the parties’ contract and ordered defendant to “initiate” arbitration by a certain date. When defendant failed to do so, the court considered this a failure to obey a “scheduling order” under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 16.2, and as a sanction, it granted a default judgment to plaintiff under Rule 37(b)(2)(C). Defendant argued, among other things, that a default judgment was inappropriate here. It contended that the court should have granted its motion to dismiss plaintiff’s suit given the mandatory arbitration provision, and that as the defendant, it should not have been required to “initiate” arbitration. It also argued that the court erred in denying its motion to vacate the default judgment. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed the court erred, and based on that order ultimately granted a sanction unsupported by the facts and the law. The Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded for entry of an order requiring plaintiff to initiate arbitration or face dismissal of its suit. View "Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co., LLC v. Extreme Contracting, LLC" on Justia Law

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The events leading to this appeal were rooted in the parties’ 2007 divorce. In September 2005, the parties entered into a final stipulation that provided, among other things, that defendant James Billado was to pay plaintiff Laura Cramer $50,000 to buy out her interest in defendant’s business. Before the court entered a divorce judgment, defendant sought to set aside his uncounseled stipulation on the ground that, since signing the stipulation, he learned that while acting as bookkeeper, plaintiff had been stealing money from the business. The trial court rejected his claim, but found that both parties treated the various business accounts as personal accounts, withdrawing funds at will to pay for vacations, credit card debt, and other personal expenses. Defendant turned a blind eye to poor bookkeeping practices since both he and plaintiff received the financial benefit. Given this record, the trial court declined to set aside the parties’ stipulation. Plaintiff recorded a certified copy of the judgment in the Bakersfield land records to perfect her judgment lien on defendant’s property. In 2015, plaintiff filed this foreclosure action alleging that defendant had failed to pay on the 2007 judgment. Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to set aside the default judgment of foreclosure on the grounds that the trial court erred in allowing service of the foreclosure complaint by tack order and in declining to set aside the default foreclosure judgment in light of his defenses. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s orders were within its discretion and accordingly affirmed. View "Cramer v. Billado" on Justia Law

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Neighbors for Healthy Communities (neighbors) appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to grant North East Materials Group, LLC, (NEMG) an Act 250 permit for operating an asphalt plant. Neighbors specifically challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250, claiming that conditions imposed by the court pursuant to these two criteria repeat existing requirements that NEMG did not or could not comply with and, thus, were insufficient to meet Act 250’s criteria. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "In re North East Materials Group, LLC Amended Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

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Defendant Hector LeClair, plaintiff Joseph LeClair’s grandfather, was experienced in construction and has developed several properties around the Vermont. In 2011, defendant approached his son, Ricky LeClair, who also worked in construction, about replacing the roof on the building in which defendant had his office. Defendant’s son, Ricky, then approached his twenty-seven-year-old son, plaintiff, about working on defendant’s roofing project. Plaintiff had also worked in construction and was an experienced roofer, but was unemployed at the time. Plaintiff’s father told him he would make “good money” for working on defendant’s roof. Plaintiff’s father supplied the tools, equipment, and materials for the roof job. On October 7, 2011, plaintiff arrived at the property with another person to work on the roof. They had already removed the shingles from the roof, leaving only the underlayment, which on that October morning was covered with dew and early frost. Plaintiff claimed that he initially decided not to work on the roof because the frost made it slippery but changed his mind when defendant arrived at the property and ordered him to begin work. Plaintiff climbed a ladder onto the property’s roof; plaintiff fell from the second-story roof and landed on the paved driveway below, sustaining serious and permanent head and spinal injuries. Plaintiff sued defendant for his injuries, and appealed when the trial court granted defendant summary judgment. Plaintiff argued the trial court erred by concluding that defendant owed him no duty and that the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to amend his complaint to add a new liability theory. Given the circumstances of this case, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred in concluding, as a matter of law on summary judgment, that defendant owed no duty to plaintiff. View "LeClair v. LeClair" 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 Ashley Nutbrown-Covey is the mother of three children: J.N., born in 2013; A.N., born in 2008; and A.C., born in 2004. In August 2011, defendant and A.N.’s father took A.N. (then three years old) to the emergency room for an injury to A.N.’s leg. A.N. was examined by a physician, whose treating records indicate that although it was obvious that A.N. was injured, there were no deformities or external bruising to A.N.’s leg. The physician ordered X-ray examinations, which showed that A.N. was suffering from a spiral fracture of the left leg, meaning that A.N.’s leg had been subjected to significant torque. Although the physician was a mandated reporter, he did not notify the Department for Children and Families (DCF) of A.N.’s injury because nothing indicated that A.N. had been injured by defendant or any other adult. Neither DCF nor the State took any action until 2014. This case presented the question whether the doctrine of issue preclusion bars the State from prosecuting defendant for alleged abuse of one child, A.N., after the family court, in an earlier child-in-need-of-supervision (CHINS) proceeding involving a different child, J.N., found that there was insufficient evidence to adjudicate J.N. CHINS for being without proper parental care or subsistence. The Vermont Supreme Court held that, given the facts of this case, the prosecution was not barred by issue preclusion. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss. View "Vermont v. Nutbrown-Covey" on Justia Law

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Mallets Bay Homeowner’s Association appealed the trial court’s partial denial of its motion to stay the issuance of a writ of possession in favor of Mongeon Bay Properties (MBP) following the termination of the Association’s ground lease. Members of the Mongeon family set up a partnership to own the land under approximately 25 camps, and the partnership entered into a ground lease with the Association, rather than the individual owners of each residence. The ground lease was due to expire in 2036. The lease contained a forfeiture clause, providing that the lease would terminate “if the [Association] shall fail to perform or comply with any terms of this Lease.” MBP sued the Association in January 2012, seeking damages and termination of the ground lease because the Association had failed to perform reasonable repairs and upkeep as required by the lease. The trial court concluded that the Association’s failure to properly maintain the property and the resulting damage amounted to “waste,” and therefore the Association had violated the lease. However, the trial court determined that terminating the lease under the default provision was inequitable and instead awarded MBP damages to cover the cost of repairing the property. On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the Association had breached the lease, but remanded for reconsideration of MBP’s remedy. In 2016, the Association requested that the trial court stay the issuance of a writ of possession, arguing there was good cause for the court to stay the writ until 2036, when the lease was set to expire. The trial court entered judgment in favor of MBP, terminated the ground lease, and held MBP was to be granted a writ of possession for the property. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order in part, and remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion. On remand, the question about which the trial court should exercise its discretion was whether to grant a longer stay than reflected in an October 31 order. The trial court could exercise that discretion on the basis of the parties’ pleadings, or decide to not hold any further hearings unless it chooses to. View "Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC v. Mallets Bay Homeowner's Assn., Inc." on Justia Law