Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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Todd and Melissa Muller appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to their insurer, Progressive Northern Insurance Company. The Mullers challenged the court’s conclusions on how the setoff provision of their insurance policy should have been applied when there were multiple claimants. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that, construing the insurance policy as a whole, the setoff provision is unambiguous: It clearly provided that Progressive was entitled to reduce “all sums . . . paid” regardless of the number of claims made. View "Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. Muller" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff lived in Stowe, Vermont with her husband C.D. and their teenage daughter. Plaintiff and her husband co-founded a business, Transegy, LLC, that provided leadership development and executive coaching. Plaintiff worked from a home office and used her personal cell phone number as the contact number for the business. C.D. previously worked at a company called Inntopia. Defendant lived in Stowe, Vermont as a writer, political strategist and media consultant who had a “reputation as an aggressive operator in his professional pursuits.” He was in a romantic relationship with L.S., who also lived in Stowe and had a teenage son who attended high school in the same class as plaintiff’s daughter. Sometime in 2017, C.D. had a sexual encounter with L.S., who had been exploring potential employment opporunities with Inntopia. Shortly after the incident, L.S. reported to defendant that C.D. sexually assaulted her. L.S. filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against C.D. and Inntopia, which settled in May 2017. As part of the settlement, L.S. signed a nondisclosure agreement. Plaintiff was unaware of L.S.’s allegations and her husband’s infidelity until the lawsuit settled. Shortly before the settlement, plaintiff began receiving numerous calls from a number with no caller ID. Evidence at trial showed that between April 2017 and March 2018, defendant called her cell phone twenty-six times from a masked number. Defendant also called C.D.’s cell phone repeatedly during this period. In total, he called or texted plaintiff’s and C.D.’s cell phones a total of 151 times. Many of the phone calls took place in the evening, including calls after ten or eleven p.m. Ultimately, plaintiff filed a complaint for Order Against Stalking against defendant. Defendant appealed a final stalking order requiring him to stay 300 feet away from plaintiff. He argued that his conduct of: (1) calling plaintiff’s cell phone repeatedly from a number with no caller ID; (2) sending three shipments of books addressed to her husband to the house she and her husband shared, including primarily books about rape; and (3) watching her in a coffee shop for an unspecified period of time, could not be considered stalking under the civil stalking statute, 12 V.S.A. 5131. Construing the terms of section 5131 narrowly because it mirrored the criminal stalking statute, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that defendant’s conduct in this case did not rise to the level of stalking, and therefore reversed. View "Hinkson v. Stevens" on Justia Law

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Father, Joe Golden, challenged a family division magistrate’s order requiring him to continue paying child support past his son S.W.’s eighteenth birthday while S.W. was enrolled in a home-study program. Father argued that the magistrate erred in finding that S.W.’s home-study program qualified as high school under the 2002 child-support order and in ordering him to continue paying child support on that basis. Resolving this dispute required review of the evidentiary record, as well as a review of the magistrate’s findings, analysis, and conclusions. The Vermont Supreme Court found father, appearing pro se, did not provide any record of the trial court's proceedings. "Because we lack a sufficient record to review the magistrate’s order, we have no basis on which to disturb it." View "Golden v. Worthington" on Justia Law

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Katherine Hall appealed an Environmental Division decision granting summary judgment to Chittenden Resorts, LLC and RMT Associates, d/b/a Mountain Top Inn & Resort (the Resort). The Environmental Division concluded the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit to run a rental program where, pursuant to a contractual agreement, the Resort rented out private homes near the Resort. On appeal, Hall argued that the Environmental Division erred in determining that the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit. Specifically, she argued the Resort needed an amended Act 250 permit because under 10 V.S.A. 6001(14)(A), the Resort and owners of the homes involved in the rental program were a collective "person." Alternatively, she argued the Resort exercised "control" over the rental homes within the meaning of section 6001(3)(A)(i). The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed with Hall's characterization of the Resort and home owners as a collective "person." Further, the Court found the Resort did not control the rented homes contemplated by section 6001(3)(i). Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a number of independent school districts, school boards, parents, students, and citizens, challenged the implementation of Act 46, as amended by Act 49, regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. The Vermont Legislature enacted those laws in 2015 and 2017, respectively, to improve educational outcomes and equity by designing more efficient school governance structures in response to long-term declining student enrollment and balkanized educational governance and delivery systems. In separate decisions, the civil division dismissed several counts of plaintiffs’ amended complaint and then later granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts. In two consolidated appeals, plaintiffs argued that: (1) the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education failed to carry out the plain-language mandate of Act 46; and (2) the Board’s implementation of the law, as manifested in its final order, violated other statutes in Title 16 and several provisions of the Vermont Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Agency’s and Board’s implementation of the law was consistent with the challenged Acts and other statutes in Title 16, did not result from an unlawful delegation of legislative authority, and did not violate any other constitutional provisions. Accordingly, the civil division’s decisions were affirmed. View "Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Huntington School District appealed the civil division’s order dismissing its complaint on motion of the two state defendants and granting defendant Mount Mansfield Modified Unified Union School District's motion for judgment on the pleadings. This case was one of several lawsuits challenging the implementation of Act 46 (as amended by Act 49) regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. Plaintiff raised four issues on appeal; three of those were resolved by the Vermont Supreme Court in a contemporaneously issued opinion concerning another challenge to the implementation of Acts 46 and 49, Athens Sch. Dist. et al. v. State Board of Education, 2020 VT 52. In this opinion, the Supreme Court set forth only the law and procedural history relevant to plaintiff’s single claim of error not decided in Athens School District: that the State Board of Education exceeded its delegated authority under Act 46 “by designating Huntington as a member of Mount Mansfield and purporting to subdelegate to Mount Mansfield the power to merge Huntington.” In relevant part, plaintiff alleged in its complaint that because Mount Mansfield was a union school district receiving incentives under Acts 153 and 156, the Board could not order Huntington to merge or otherwise alter its governance structure pursuant to Act 46, section 10(b). Plaintiff also alleged that the Board acted beyond its authority by calling for Mount Mansfield to vote on merger pursuant to 16 V.S.A. 721, while at the same time not allowing plaintiff to veto the merger by its own vote under the same statute. The state defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a viable claim for relief, and Mount Mansfield moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court found "unavailing" plaintiff's argument that Act 46 as amended did not authorize the Board to order Huntington to merge with Mount Mansfield, conditioned upon the consent of coters in Mount Mansfield's member districts. Nor did the Court found any merit to plaintiff's argument that the Board's authority was unlawfully subdelegated. As we stated with respect to the plaintiffs in Athens School District, plaintiff in this case did not demonstrate the Board failed to apply any Title 16 provisions in circumstances in which they were applicable. View "Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bradley Newton, who was injured when his brother’s truck broke apart while on a lift in plaintiff’s garage, appealed the civil division’s decision granting summary judgment to defendants associated with the state-designated inspection station where the truck had been inspected several months earlier. In the early autumn of 2014, defendant Ron Preseau performed an annual state inspection of a 1994 GMC pickup truck owned by defendant Douglas Newton, who is plaintiff Bradley Newton’s brother. In late January 2015, the truck broke down while being operated on a public highway. Shortly thereafter, Douglas put the inoperable pickup on a flatbed truck and took it to plaintiff’s detached garage. In 2010, plaintiff had purchased and installed a lift in his garage. After the plow was removed from the front of the pickup, Douglas put the pickup, which had at least 300 pounds of sand in its bed, on the lift. After diagnosing the problem, Douglas asked plaintiff to assess the damage. While plaintiff was under the truck, it collapsed into two pieces, and plaintiff was injured when one of the pieces pinned him to the floor of the garage. In July 2017, plaintiff filed a personal injury action, alleging in relevant part that defendant Preseau and others had acted negligently in connection with the inspection of the truck. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that any legal duty owed by motor vehicle inspectors to third persons did not extend to plaintiff under the circumstances of this case, which did not involve operation of the subject vehicle or any other vehicle at the time of the incident in question. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the civil division’s decision. View "Newton v. Preseau" on Justia Law

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Bernard Boudreau appealed the environmental division’s dismissal of his appeal of a Manchester Development Review Board (MDRB) decision for lack of jurisdiction. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that Boudreau’s appeal was a collateral attack on a zoning decision barred by the exclusivity-of-remedy provision in 24 V.S.A. 4472, and therefore affirmed. View "In re Hopkins Certificate of Compliance (Boudreau, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fortieth Burlington, LLC filed suit to challenge the City of Burlington’s decision that there was a reasonable need to lay out a portion of roadway for part of a project known as the Champlain Parkway. The superior court granted the City summary judgment, concluding that Fortieth lacked standing under the relevant statute and general standing principles because Fortieth did not have a legal interest in any of the properties from which legal rights would be taken. On appeal, Fortieth argued it had standing to challenge the City’s necessity decision, that it did not receive proper notice of the necessity hearing, and that the City did not properly assess the necessity of the project. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fortieth Burlington, LLC v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the Friends of Pine Street d/b/a Pine Street Coalition (Coalition), filed suit attempting to challenge the City of Burlington’s necessity order relating to the construction of the Champlain Parkway project. The superior court granted the City summary judgment on the basis that the Coalition lacked standing under both the relevant statute and general standing principles. On appeal, the Coalition argued it had standing to appeal the City’s necessity determination to the superior court, and that the City failed to satisfy the procedural and substantive requirements of the statute. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Friends of Pine Street d/b/a Pine Street Coalition v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law