Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts

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The trial court found that the parties to this landlord-tenant dispute had an oral rental agreement. Plaintiff-landlord was awarded plaintiff landlord back rent and reimbursement for electric bills. The court granted one tenant damages to compensate him for work he performed on landlord’s properties and another tenant compensatory and punitive damages for breach of the implied warranty of habitability and illegal eviction. Landlord appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) finding there was an oral rental agreement between the parties and that defendants were tenants; (2) awarding rent for only a portion of the period tenants occupied the property; (3) awarding tenant Edson damages because the claim was not properly pled; and (4) awarding tenant Well punitive damages. Tenants cross appealed, arguing that the court abused its discretion in finding there was an agreement to pay rent once the building was compliant with the housing code and erred in awarding landlord back rent based on a theory of unjust enrichment. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the evidence supported the trial court’s finding that the parties entered an oral agreement allowing tenants to stay in landlord’s apartment rent-free for some portion of time. The record did not support the court’s findings as to the terms of that agreement: that tenants agreed to pay rent after the building became compliant with the housing code and that the building did not become code-compliant until the third week of November 2016. Consequently, the award of back rent and reimbursement for electrical costs to landlord was stricken, and that issue remanded back to the trial court to make new findings regarding the nature of the parties’ agreement and to enter any revised judgment if supported by the facts. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s award of damages to tenant Edson for the work he performed for landlord, concluding that the issue was tried by implied consent. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded an award of punitive damages was allowable as damages for breach of the warranty of habitability and affirmed the award of punitive damages to tenant Well. View "Kwon v. Edson" on Justia Law

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Appellants Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes, LLC and Icon Legacy Transport, LLC challenged a series of trial court orders in favor of appellees Dagney Trevor, Merusi Builders, Inc., Osborne Construction, LLC, and Paul Osborne. This appeal arose from the sale and construction of a new modular home that suffered from significant deficiencies. Trevor purchased the modular home; Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes, LLC (Icon Legacy) and Icon Legacy Transport, LLC (Icon Transport) manufactured and transported the home; Osborne Construction, LLC (Osborne Construction) and Paul Osborne (Osborne) were collectively the contractor involved in the assembly the home; Merusi Builders, Inc. (Merusi) was a subcontractor involved in the assembly of the home. Though not parties to this appeal, Vermont Modular Homes, Inc., David Curtis, and Blane Bovier were Icon’s Vermont-based “approved builders” and three of the defendants in the suit below. In 2015, Trevor purchased an Icon Legacy Custom Modular Home as a replacement to one she lost to fire. The home sustained significant water damage during a rainstorm when water entered the home before the roof installation was complete. Other structural defects emerged after Trevor moved into the home. Although Icon and Vermont Modular Homes repaired some of the damage, major defects relating to both the water damage and alleged improper construction remained in the home. Ultimately judgement was entered against Icon. Icon appealed, arguing multiple errors leading to the outcome against it. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed as to the trial court's thirty-percent upward adjustment of the lodestar damages calculation, and remanded for the trial court to strike that amount from Trevor's attorney fee award. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects. View "Trevor v. Icon Legacy Custom Modular Homes, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Integrated Technologies, Inc. (ITI) appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company (Crum). ITI alleged Crum breached its duty to defend ITI against a suit brought by the GOAD Company. The court granted summary judgment to Crum, finding no claim in the GOAD complaint that was potentially covered by the policy’s Errors & Omissions (E&O) Liability Coverage Part. ITI argued on appeal that the trial court misread the allegations in the GOAD complaint and interpreted the policy coverage too narrowly. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Integrated Technologies, Inc. v. Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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laintiff was a car repair business in Rutland, Vermont. Defendant insured the vehicles of dozens of plaintiff’s customers (“the insureds”) who hired plaintiff to repair damage to their vehicles between 2009 and 2014. Over seventy insurance claims, which all arose under identical insurance policies, were combined in this breach-of- contract case. In each instance, defendant paid less than what plaintiff had billed to complete the repair, a "short pay." Plaintiff submitted to defendant a final invoice and a “supplemental report” itemizing each of the repairs performed. For each claim involved in this case, although defendant did not pay a portion of what the repair shop believed was owed under the policy, defendant did pay significant sums. Defendant initially paid what its claims adjuster believed to be covered by the insurance policy after having conducted a visual inspection of the damage. Defendant generally would make at least one additional payment based on information provided by plaintiff after plaintiff disassembled the damaged vehicle in preparation to repair it, a "supplemental payment." After an adjuster’s initial estimate was paid to plaintiff and any supplemental payments were made, there was still an outstanding balance for the repair bill on each claim involved in this case. Plaintiff believed these were covered by the insurance policy yet had been unpaid by the insurer. However, defendant maintained that these unpaid portions of the repair bill between plaintiff and each insured were not covered under the policy. A jury ultimately awarded plaintiff $41,737.89 in damages. After the trial, the court concluded that plaintiff could not show that his assignors were damaged by a breach of contract by defendant and granted defendant's motion for judgment as a matter of law. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed this determination, vacated the judgment that was entered in favor of defendant, and remanded with direction to the superior court to reinstate the jury’s verdict and its award of damages. View "Parker's Classic Auto Works, Ltd. v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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Appellant Rainforest Chocolate, LLC appealed the grant of summary judgment motion in favor of appellee Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd. Rainforest was insured under a business-owner policy offered by Sentinel. In May 2016, Rainforest’s employee received an email purporting to be from his manager. The email directed the employee to transfer $19,875 to a specified outside bank account through an electronic-funds transfer. Unbeknownst to the employee, an unknown individual had gained control of the manager’s email account and sent the email. The employee electronically transferred the money. Shortly thereafter when Rainforest learned that the manager had not sent the email, it contacted its bank, which froze its account and limited the loss to $10,261.36. Rainforest reported the loss to Sentinel. In a series of letters exchanged concerning coverage for the loss, Rainforest claimed the loss should be covered under provisions of the policy covering losses due to Forgery, for Forged or Altered Instruments, and for losses resulting from Computer Fraud. Sentinel denied coverage. In a continuing attempt to obtain coverage for the loss, Rainforest also claimed coverage under a provision of the policy for the loss of Money or Securities by theft. Sentinel again denied coverage, primarily relying on an exclusion for physical loss or physical damage caused by or resulting from False Pretense that concerned “voluntary parting” of the property—the False Pretense Exclusion. Finding certain terms in the policy at issue were ambiguous, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for the trial court to consider in the first instance whether other provisions in the policy could provide coverage for Rainforest's loss. View "Rainforest Chocolate, LLC v. Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Trustee Annette Besaw held a security interest in fifty shares of stock of the Champlain Bridge Marina, Inc. She acquired the interest previously held by Ernest Giroux upon his death, in her capacity as trustee of his living trust. Champlain Bridge Marina was a family business in Addison, Vermont. Ernest (defendant Bryan Giroux’s grandfather) and Raymond Giroux (defendant’s father) started it in 1987. In the beginning, grandfather and father each owned fifty of the Marina’s 100 shares. On December 30, 1998, grandfather sold his fifty shares to father in exchange for the promissory note in which father promised to pay grandfather $272,000 plus interest. The associated January 1, 1999 security agreement gave grandfather a security interest in the fifty shares of Marina stock to secure payment on the note. Trustee appealed the superior court’s ruling on summary judgment that her suit to recover collateral under a security agreement was time-barred. The central issue in this case was when the trustee’s right to sue accrued, starting the statute-of-limitations clock. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded trustee’s right to sue under the security agreement accrued in 2013 when the borrower failed to pay the balance due on the note within forty-five days of trustee’s notice of default and borrower’s right to cure. Accordingly, the suit was not time-barred; the Court reversed and remanded. View "Besaw v. Giroux" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between an employer, MyWebGrocer, and an employee, David Tanzer, regarding the payment of phantom shares MyWebGrocer promised in an agreement between the parties. MyWebGrocer appealed when the trial court granted summary judgment in Tanzer's favor, finding that MyWebGrocer breached this agreement. The employer also appealed the jury verdict finding that the company breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the jury’s damages awards, and a post-verdict order awarding Tanzer attorney’s fees in connection with the litigation between the parties. Tanzer appealed the trial court’s post-verdict decision on attorney’s fees as well, arguing that the court erroneously limited the amount of fees that he could collect. Tanzer also appealed the trial court’s decision on summary judgment that the amount he was due under the phantom share plan did not fall within the definition of wages for purposes of Vermont’s wage statutes. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision regarding whether MyWebGrocer breached the parties’ agreement and vacated the jury’s verdict and damages awards in connection with Tanzer’s claim that MyWebGrocer breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The Supreme Court also reversed the trial court’s decision at summary judgment on Tanzer’s statutory claim and concluded the value of the phantom shares fell within the relevant statutory definition of wages. The Court did not need to address the court’s post-verdict decision regarding whether Tanzer could collect attorney’s fees. View "Tanzer v. MyWebGrocer, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Donald and Preston Sweet, who are father and son, sued defendants Roy and Catherine St. Pierre in June 2014 alleging that defendants failed to pay them wages for their work improving a stand of maple trees on defendants’ land for maple sugaring. Plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s judgment in favor of defendants on plaintiffs’ claim for unpaid wages under the Prompt Pay Act (PPA). Plaintiffs argued the trial court erred in concluding that no contract existed between the parties as required to support a PPA claim. Defendants cross-appealed, arguing the court should have awarded them attorney’s fees because they were the substantially prevailing party and erroneously excluded evidence relevant to their assault claim. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision on the merits, but reversed and remanded for it to award reasonable attorney’s fees to defendants. View "Sweet v. St. Pierre" on Justia Law

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In 2015, plaintiff Stonewall of Woodstock Corporation (Stonewall) entered into negotiations to buy commercial property located in Woodstock from defendant Oliver Block, LLC (Oliver Block). A written contract of sale was signed by Stonewall, but not by Oliver Block, which instead sold the land to defendant Stardust 11TS, LLC (Stardust). Stonewall sued, claiming that there was a valid contract and seeking specific performance. The trial court granted summary judgment for Oliver Block, on the basis that any contract with Stonewall was unenforceable under the Statute of Frauds because it had not been signed by Oliver Block. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stonewall of Woodstock Corp. v. Stardust 11TS, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts

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R.E.E. & C. Capital Management Services, Inc. (buyer) appealed a trial court order granting People’s United Bank’s motion to compel buyer to complete the purchase of a foreclosed commercial property. Buyer raised three arguments: (1) it was not a party to the foreclosure sale, and the court therefore lacked jurisdiction to compel it to purchase the property; (2) the trial court erred in declining to apply the statutory remedy; and, (3) the trial court erred in ordering specific performance because an adequate remedy at law exists. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court determined a high bidder’s successful bid in a judicial sale, and the court’s subsequent confirmation of the foreclosure sale pursuant to 12 V.S.A. 4954(a), renders a buyer a limited party such that the court is authorized to issue orders directing the buyer’s action relative to the property’s purchase. The Court found 12 V.S.A. 4954 (e) did not limit the Bank’s remedies: “the legal right to an agreement’s completion does not arise exclusively from Vermont’s foreclosure statutes.” However, the Supreme Court found that while specific performance was a permissible remedy in some instances, the trial court did not engage in the analysis of whether this case was one of those instances. Therefore, the trial court’s order of specific performance was an abuse of its discretion, leading the Supreme Court to reverse and remand this case for the trial court to perform that analysis. View "People's United Bank, NA v. Alana Provencale, Inc., et al." on Justia Law