Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Stephen Ankuda, Esq., as the administrator of the Estate of Miriam Thomas, appealed a court order granting former guardian Paul Thomas’s motion to dismiss a decision of the probate division. The probate division ordered Thomas to reimburse his mother’s estate for what it described as damages incurred during his tenure as her financial guardian. However, the Vermont Supreme Court found the civil division did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because the probate division’s order was not a final order. Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the civil division’s order and remanded to the probate division for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Miriam Thomas" on Justia Law

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The issue presented in this case before the Vermont Supreme Court stemmed from a dispute between former business partners and the turnover of records pursuant to a stipulated judgment entered following the dissolution of their business relationship. Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking to enforce the judgment’s record turnover requirement, and pled various causes of action for injuries arising out of defendant’s refusal to turn the records over immediately after the judgment. The trial court dismissed the related claims as time-barred, and ultimately adjudicated the enforcement claim on the merits in favor of defendant. The Vermont affirmed the trial court in all but one aspect: because the Supreme Court came to a different conclusion on whether certain types of documents were subject to the stipulated judgment’s turnover requirement, the Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to amend its judgment. View "Sutton v. Purzycki" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a family division’s denial of its request to extend an order placing seventeen-year-old D.K. in the conditional custody of his mother. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the court’s conclusion that it lacked authority to extend a conditional custody order (CCO) for a third six-month period under 33 V.S.A. § 5320a(a), and therefore affirmed. View "In re D.K." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether a non-resident plaintiff could obtain a relief-from-abuse (RFA) order under Vermont’s Abuse Prevention Act. Mother and father were married in Massachusetts in 2015. Together, they had a daughter, age six, and a son, age five. The family’s relationship had been affected at times by father’s violent behavior and by mother’s substance abuse. Since 2019, father has lived in Dummerston, Vermont, while mother has maintained residency in Massachusetts. The couple remained married. After a November 2017 incident, mother reported father's abuse to police, and he was prosecuted for felony domestic violence. His contact with mother and the children was limited by a Massachusetts court. In June 2018, father sought emergency custody of the children in Massachusetts. He alleged that the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families had investigated mother for child neglect and that mother had been arraigned on a DUI, second offense, in early July 2018. A Massachusetts court held that despite father’s history of domestic violence, mother’s substance abuse impaired her ability to parent, and awarded custody to father and ordered that mother’s time with the children be restricted to supervised visits. The order also allowed father to move with the children to Vermont. Mother visited the children in Vermont, and on several occasions, father drove the children to Massachusetts to visit mother. When mother and father were getting along, mother had father’s permission to spend the night at his house. Mother’s time with the children was often unsupervised by father. They often spent time with the children together. Between January and April 2021, mother and father reconciled their relationship. By May 2021, this reconciliation had ended. Father told mother she could no longer see the children during unsupervised periods. However, mother still apparently spent considerably more time with the children than the Massachusetts court order allowed. Father subjected the children to corporal punishment and inappropriate outbursts of anger, some of which was witnessed by mother. In August 2021, she filed a complaint for an emergency RFA in Vermont; a Vermont court issued a temporary RFA order the same day. Father moved to dismiss the RFA order, contending that because mother was a resident of Massachusetts, she could not proceed under the Abuse Prevention Act. The family division concluded that mother could obtain both an emergency and final RFA order against father. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division's order. View "Bacigalupo v. Bacigalupo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and defendant worked in the same location. Defendant was the wife of plaintiff’s employer. In late July 2021, plaintiff sought relief under 12 V.S.A. § 5133 following a workplace confrontation with defendant. After an October 2021 hearing, the trial court credited plaintiff's version of events, ultimately concluding that defendant defendant behaved in a way that she knew or should have known would place a reasonable person in fear of harm, and this satisfied the statutory definition of stalking. The court thus issued a final anti-stalking order in plaintiff’s favor. Defendant appealed the issuance of that anti-stalking order against her, raising procedural and substantive challenges to the court’s decision. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with defendant that the evidence did not support the trial court’s conclusion that she engaged in “two or more acts over a period of time, however short” as required by 12 V.S.A. § 5131(1)(A). The Court therefore reversed. View "Beatty v. Keough" on Justia Law

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The Benoits sought to set aside a 2008 judgment under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). The Benoits owned real property in the City of St. Albans, Vermont, which they purchased from the Hayfords in 2003. The property had a main building with multiple rental units and a separate building in the rear of the property. In 1987, the Hayfords converted the rear building to an additional residential unit without first obtaining a zoning permit or site-plan approval, as required by the applicable zoning regulations. The City adopted new zoning regulations in 1998, which made the property more nonconforming in several respects. Both the denial of the certificate of occupancy and a subsequent denial of the Hayfords’ request for variances were not appealed and became final. In 2001, the zoning administrator issued a notice of violation (NOV), alleging that only four of the six residential units on the property had been approved. The Hayfords appealed to the Development Review Board and again applied for variances. The Board upheld the NOV and denied the variance requests based on the unappealed 1998 decision. The Hayfords then appealed to the environmental court, which in 2003 decision, the court upheld the variance denial and upheld the NOV with respect to the sixth residential unit in the rear building. The Hayfords, and later the Benoits, nonetheless “continued to rent out the sixth residence in the rear building despite the notice of violation.” In 2004, the City brought an enforcement action against the Benoits and the Hayfords. The Benoits and Hayfords argued that the actions were barred by the fifteen-year statute of limitations in 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a). The environmental court concluded that “although the Hayfords’ failure to obtain a permit and site-plan approval in 1987 occurred more than fifteen years before the instant enforcement action, a new and independent violation occurred in 1998 when the City adopted its new zoning regulations.” It ordered the Hayfords and the Benoits to stop using the rear building as a residential unit and imposed fines. Appealing the 2004 judgment, an order was issued in 2008, leading to the underlying issue on appeal here: the Benoits contended that decision was effectively overruled by a later case involving different parties. The Environmental Division denied their request and the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "In re Benoit Conversion Application" on Justia Law

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Neighbors appealed an Environmental Division order vacating a municipal notice of violation (NOV) alleging owners were using a two-unit building as an unpermitted duplex. The Environmental Division concluded that a 2006 amendment to the City of Burlington’s zoning ordinance did not automatically reclassify the status or use of the building from a duplex to a single-family home with an accessory dwelling. It also held that a 2014 interior reconfiguration by owners did not change the property’s use, and the zoning statute of limitations, 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a), barred the City’s enforcement action in any case. Finding no reversible error in this judgement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Burns 12 Weston Street NOV" on Justia Law

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Twelve years after a trial court ordered defendant Randy Therrien to pay restitution, he moved to vacate the order. The trial court denied the motion as untimely. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the motion was untimely, and affirmed that portion of the judgment. The Supreme Court remanded the case for the correction of a computational error in the order made pursuant to the parties’ stipulation. View "Vermont v. Therrien" on Justia Law

Posted in: Civil Procedure
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Plaintiff Theodore de Macedo Soares challenged the process by which defendant, the Prudential Committee for Barnet Fire District No. 2, obtained approval for a municipal bond. The trial court denied plaintiff’s request to invalidate the bond vote, finding that although the Prudential Committee violated the Open Meeting Law during the process, the defect was the result of oversight, inadvertence, and mistake, and it was cured by the Committee’s validation resolution. The court denied plaintiff’s remaining requests for relief as well. Plaintiff argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court erred in: (1) concluding that the Open Meeting Law violations could be cured under 24 V.S.A. § 1757 or 17 V.S.A. § 2662; (2) failing to address his request for a new trial; (3) denying his attorney-fee request; and (4) dismissing his claim regarding curb-stop fees. The Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court’s judgment in favor of the Committee. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the trial court to enter final judgment in favor of defendant Vermont Municipal Bond Bank too. View "de Macedo Soares v. Barnet Fire District #2 et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants Brenda and Dale Merritt (neighbors) challenged a superior court’s decision granting summary judgment to plaintiff Steven Daiello (landowner) and defendant Town of Vernon in a dispute over a road in Vernon, Vermont. They argued the court erred by concluding: (1) that Stebbins Road was properly established as a public road; and (2) that landowner had a common-law right of access to his property over Stebbins Road that prevented him from proving that the Town interfered with his right to access his property. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Daiello v. Town of Vernon, et al." on Justia Law