Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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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

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In February 2021, the Vermont State Auditor of Accounts, Douglas Hoffer, filed a complaint alleging that defendant OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, had breached various provisions in its contract with the Department for Vermont Health Access (DVHA) by denying the Auditor’s requests for OneCare’s employee payroll and benefits records for fiscal years (FY) 2019 and 2020. The civil division granted OneCare’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Auditor lacked contractual or statutory authority to demand the records, and the Auditor appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Hoffer v. OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, d/b/a OneCare Vermont" on Justia Law

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Father appealed a sanctions order imposed by the family division enjoining him from submitting filings in this case unless the filing was signed by a licensed attorney or he first obtained permission from the court. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court acted within its discretion in sanctioning father given his pattern of filing numerous motions that lacked factual or legal support, failing to adhere to procedural rules, and acting without good faith. The Court concluded, however, that the court’s order was overly broad in scope because it applied to all of father’s submissions to the court in this matter and did not clearly provide father with instructions on how to comply. Therefore, the case was remanded for the trial court to amend its sanctions decision accordingly. View "Fox v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law