Articles Posted in Contracts

by
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

by
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

by
Wilbur Shriner, the holder of a homeowner’s insurance policy from Amica Mutual Insurance Company (Amica), appealed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to Amica and denial of his cross-motion for summary judgment. Shriner owned a glassblowing studio in Burlington until he sold the property in December 2007 and moved the glassblowing equipment to his home in Charlotte. He and his friend set up the equipment in the garage at Shriner’s property and began making glass in late 2008 or early 2009. From 2009 to 2012, Shriner and his friend “sometimes made glass for a week or two, and then would shut down for weeks due to lack of money.” During that three-year period, they made glassware approximately one time per week on average, and glassmaking was never more than an occasional or part-time activity for him. Throughout those three years, Shriner earned income from glassblowing, as well as from the redevelopment and rental of investment properties and from an organic honey and vegetable operation. In early 2012, the furnace exhaust system in a piece of glassmaking equipment malfunctioned and caused a fire that destroyed the garage and all of the property and equipment inside it. At the time, Shriner’s home was covered by his homeowner’s policy with Amica, which covered losses from fire and provided replacement coverage for buildings and personal property. The policy carried a $25,000 deductible and contained an exclusion from coverage for structures from which a business was conducted. Shriner submitted a personal property inventory for the property destroyed in the fire, with a replacement cost totaling $88,354.91. Amica accepted Shriner’s fire-loss claim and determined the replacement cost of the garage to be $42,422.97. Amica applied the policy’s $25,000 deductible and made an actual cash-value payment of $1460.53 as an advance partial payment to Shriner for the garage. Amica then changed positions and, asserting that Shriner’s glassblowing activities constituted a “business” for the purposes of the policy’s exclusion, refused to make any further payments to replace the garage. Amica paid Shriner $11,613 for nonbusiness property that was destroyed in the garage but capped its payment for other property in the inventory at $2500, which was the maximum reimbursement permitted under the policy for “business” personal property. Shriner brought suit to recover the full amount of his claim, and the court granted summary judgment to Amica. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shriner v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was found in a series of e-mails exchanged between two business partners who jointly owned a document shredding company, and whether those e-mails (read together) constituted an enforceable contract to sell one partner's interest in the company to the other partner. Defendant-seller appealed the trial court's determination that the partners had an enforceable contract and that seller was obligated to negotiate the remaining terms of the deal in good faith. He argued that there were too many open terms to produce an enforceable contract and that the partners had no intent to be bound to a contract by their e-mails. Plaintiff-buyer cross-appealed, arguing that the e-mails demonstrated an intent to be bound, and that the Supreme Court should enforce the contract. The Supreme Court rejected the buyer's argument that the parties had entered into a fully-completed contract, and agreed with the seller that there was no enforceable contract at all. The Court reversed the trial court which held to the contrary, and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of the seller. View "Miller v. Flegenheimer" on Justia Law

by
This case centered around sixteen shares in the Malletts Bay Club, Inc. (MBC) that were sitting in escrow since 1998, when George Gordon conveyed the associated real property to J. Douglas Johnson. On summary judgment, the trial court ruled that defendant James McGarry, as transfer agent for the shares, breached the parties’ contract and his fiduciary duty by failing to issue the shares to Gordon’s successors upon their demand, and that defendant MBC had waived its right to challenge Gordon’s failure to transfer those shares to Johnson by agreeing to the Gordon-to-Johnson conveyance. After its review of this matter, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the agreement defining the parties’ rights and obligations with respect to the MBC shares did not require McGarry to return the shares to Gordon on demand, and that based on undisputed evidence, MBC did not waive its right to enforce its bylaws with respect to the transaction. Defendants were therefore entitled to summary judgment and plaintiffs were not. The Court remanded for further proceedings to resolve any remaining claims of plaintiffs that were not the subject of the cross motions for summary judgment. View "Rounds v. Mallets Bay Club, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Defendants-counterclaimants Jeanmarie Leonard and Carol Sayour appealed the grant of summary judgment on their counterclaims in favor of plaintiff Jennifer Weinstein and third-party defendants, Lloyd Weinstein, plaintiff’s husband, and his law firm, The Weinstein Group, P.C. This case started in an application for a permit to construct a barn made by defendants in May 2012. Defendants received a zoning permit from Manchester’s zoning administrator allowing them to construct a barn on Lot #10. Pursuant to the Declaration for Rocking Stone Farm, defendants received a waiver from the Homeowner’s Association. Plaintiff appealed the permit to the Manchester Development Review Board (the “DRB”). The DRB affirmed the grant of the permit. Defendant Leonard and her husband were walking along Lot #10 with a landscape contractor when plaintiff began yelling at them from her upstairs window. Plaintiff then left her home and entered Lot #10, accompanied by a “very large dog.” Despite being asked to leave, she physically confronted the Leonards, who eventually left the lot. Two days later, plaintiff filed an appeal of the DRB’s decision to the Environmental Division of the Superior Court. Plaintiff, a trained attorney, initially represented herself, but Mr. Weinstein and his law firm, The Weinstein Group, P.C., entered an appearance as counsel for her. Both the Association and counsel for defendants advised plaintiff by letter that her opposition to the barn permit constituted a violation of the Non-Interference Clause of the Declaration, which provided that each owner of a lot in Rocking Stone Farm agreed “not [to] take any action to contest or interfere with any development in the Community so long as such development is consistent with the Land Use Approvals.” The Environmental Division rendered judgment in favor of defendants. Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff also filed suit against defendants in superior court with a ten-count complaint, alleging, among other things, that the Declaration had been breached by defendants’ construction of the barn. Defendants filed counterclaims against plaintiff for trespass, civil assault, breach of contract, tortious invasion of privacy, as well as abuse of process and third-party claims against Mr. Weinstein and his law firm for abuse of process and breach of contract. Finding no reason to disturb the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as it did in plaintiff’s favor, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Weinstein v. Leonard" on Justia Law

by
Equinox on the Battenkill Management Association, Inc., appealed a superior court's grant of summary-judgment denying insurance coverage. The appeal arose from a declaratory judgment action against management association’s insurer, Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company, Inc., to determine coverage under a commercial general liability policy for damage to cantilevered balconies on condominium units it managed in Manchester. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether "Gage v. Union Mutual Fire Insurance Co,." (169 A.2d 29 (1961)) was still good law with regards to the meaning of "collapse" and whether "Gage" controlled the result here. After review, the Court concluded that the policy language in this dispute was broader than the language in Gage and that therefore Gage did not control. The Court reversed the trial court’s summary judgment and remanded the case for that court to resolve disputed questions of fact and interpret the applicable policy language. View "Equinox on the Battenkill Management Assn., Inc. v. Philadelphia Indemnity Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Owner and developer, Stratton Corporation and Intrawest Stratton Development Corporation, sued a condominium construction project's general contractor Engelberth Construction, Inc., who in turn filed a third-party claim against subcontractor Evergreen Roofing Company. A jury found that Engelberth Construction breached its contract with developer and breached an express warranty, which proximately caused developer to sustain damages related to roof repairs. The jury also found that Evergreen Roofing breached its subcontract with Engelberth Construction, and that Evergreen Roofing was obligated to indemnify Engelberth Construction. Evergreen Roofing appealed, arguing that the court erred in denying a pretrial motion for summary judgment filed by Engelberth Construction on various issues, including the scope of the contract between developer and Engelberth Construction and whether proof of non-insurance or lack of availability of insurance coverage was a prerequisite to developer's recovery against Engelberth. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that Evergreen Roofing failed to preserve its argument. View "Stratton Corp. v. Engleberth Construction, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Tenant was the successor lessee to a thirty-year lease on a commercial property in Brattleboro. The lease was executed in 1987. The lease established a basic annual rent of $26,500 in paragraph 8, and then set forth how the rent would increase in subsequent years. Pursuant to the rent-increase provision, each year landlords calculated the annual rent increase and sent a notice to tenant. The increase was calculated as the percentage change in the CPI from the previous year to the current year multiplied by the previous year's rent. This increase was then added to the prior year's rent to arrive at the new annual rent. In March 2007, tenant assumed the lease. From 2008 to 2012, landlords sent rent-increase notices and tenant paid rent annually adjusted for increases, calculated according to this method, without objection. In 2013, landlords sent the annual rent increase notice to tenants. The notice reflected the new 2013 rent as $54,060. Tenant objected to the amount of rent and the calculation method for rental increases. The parties were unable to resolve their dispute, and tenant filed an action seeking both a declaration that its interpretation of the lease language was correct and damages for overpaid rent. Tenant appealed the court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant landlords on the parties' dispute concerning a rental-increase provision of the lease. Tenant argued on appeal that the court erred in using extrinsic evidence to interpret a portion of the lease tenant believed was unambiguous, and in reaching an inequitable result. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "B&C Management Vermont, Inc. v. John, Ringey & Beck" on Justia Law

by
Insurer Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Insurance Company appealed a trial court's order granting summary judgment to defendants Energy Wise, Inc. and Michael and Shirley Uhler in this declaratory-judgment action. Energy Wise was a Vermont corporation that specialized in insulating buildings and homes. It purchased a commercial general liability (CGL) policy from insurer, effective March 1, 2010 to March 1, 2011. In late 2010, Energy Wise installed spray-foam insulation at the Shrewsbury Mountain School. A school employee, Shirley Uhler, and her husband later filed suit against Energy Wise. Ms. Uhler asserted that she was "exposed to and encountered airborne chemicals and airborne residues" from the spray-foam insulation and suffered bodily injury as a result. The Uhlers raised claims of negligence, res ipsa loquitur, and loss of consortium. Energy Wise requested coverage under its CGL policy, and insurer agreed to defend Energy Wise under a bilateral reservation of rights. In September 2012, insurer filed a complaint for declaratory judgment, asserting that its policy did not cover the claims at issue. Insurer cited the "Total Pollution Exclusion Endorsement" in its policy, which excluded coverage for "[b]odily injury . . . [that] would not have occurred in whole or in part but for the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of ‘pollutants' at any time." Insurer argued that the court should have granted summary judgment in its favor because the "total pollution exclusion" in its policy plainly and unambiguously precludes coverage in this case. After review, the Supreme Court agreed with insurer, and therefore reversed the trial court's decision and remanded with instructions to enter judgment in insurer's favor. View "Cincinnati Specialty Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Energy Wise Homes, Inc." on Justia Law