Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
State v. Walter Taylor, III
In this case decided by the State of Vermont Supreme Court, the defendant, Walter Taylor, III, appealed his convictions for aggravated assault, attempted domestic assault, assault and robbery, and obstruction of justice, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his request for a voluntary intoxication instruction and his motion for a judgment of acquittal on the obstruction-of-justice charge. The court affirmed the convictions.The case centered around an event in July 2021 where the defendant had an argument with his ex-girlfriend, which escalated into physical assault, and subsequently attacked a neighbor who was recording the incident on her phone. The defendant claimed that he was intoxicated at the time of the incident and argued that this should have been considered in his defense, as it could have affected his ability to form the necessary mental state for the charged crimes.However, the court held that the evidence did not establish a nexus between alcohol consumption and an effect on the defendant’s mental state. The court noted that there was no evidence regarding the size of the containers of the beverages that defendant had consumed, the timeframe in which they were consumed, or their alcohol concentration. The court found that the evidence of intoxication was insufficient to call into question whether defendant was capable of forming the required intent or whether he actually formed the required intent.On the charge of obstruction of justice, the defendant argued that his conduct could not be considered obstruction as there was no ongoing investigation at the time of the alleged assault. The court disagreed, ruling that the existence of a pending judicial proceeding is not required to prove obstruction of justice. The court concluded that the defendant's conduct, which included assaulting a person who appeared to be recording his conduct after being informed that the police were on their way, fell within the language of the obstruction of justice statute.Therefore, the court affirmed the defendant's convictions for aggravated assault, attempted domestic assault, assault and robbery, and obstruction of justice. View "State v. Walter Taylor, III" on Justia Law
Poss v. Alarie
Defendant Seth Alarie appealed a final relief-from-abuse (RFA) order requested by plaintiff Carissa Poss, his former girlfriend. On February 6, 2023, plaintiff filed a form RFA complaint alleging defendant physically abused and stalked her on two previous occasions. The family division issued a temporary RFA order on that date, and set a hearing for ten days later. Defendant was served with the complaint, both affidavits, the temporary order, and the notice of hearing at 4 p.m. on February 15. Both parties appeared at the hearing pro se. After the hearing, the trial court found by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant had abused and stalked plaintiff. The court issued its findings and conclusions orally from the bench and followed up with a written order prohibiting defendant from, among other things, contacting plaintiff or coming within 300 feet of plaintiff, her residence, place of employment, or car for one year. Represented by counsel on appeal, defendant attacked the proceedings, arguing that due process rights applied to RFA proceedings and that the court violated those rights by holding the hearing after he received less than twenty-four hours’ notice and not granting a continuance for defendant to retain counsel. He argued the trial court violated other due process rights when it did not permit him to cross-examine plaintiff and took testimony outside the scope of the facts alleged in the pleadings. Finding no deprivation of due process nor other reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Poss v. Alarie" on Justia Law
In re A.O. & I.O.
Mother appealed multiple family court decisions that found her four minor children B.G., E.G., I.O., and A.O. to be children in need of care or supervision (CHINS). Mother’s husband J.O., who was the father of I.O. and A.O., also appealed the decisions concerning those children. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the CHINS determinations were not supported by the court’s findings or the evidence, and therefore reversed the CHINS merits and associated disposition orders. The Supreme Court also concluded that the court erred in permitting the dissemination of certain records from the CHINS proceedings to J.O. and his advocate in a separate administrative appeal, and reversed that order as well. View "In re A.O. & I.O." on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law
Thurber v. Thurber
Plaintiff appealed the denial of her motion to enforce a provision in the parties’ final divorce order that gave her the option to purchase jointly owned real property from defendant. The property at issue was a five-acre parcel of land with buildings on the Connecticut River where the parties lived and operated a marina business during their marriage. In the final divorce order, the court gave each party the option to buy out the other’s share of the property. If plaintiff chose not to exercise the purchase option and defendant wished to do so instead, he had to notify plaintiff and send her a check. If neither party wished to purchase the property and business, it was to be sold through a realtor and the proceeds would be split between the parties. In January 2022, plaintiff moved to enforce her option to purchase the marina property. Plaintiff asserted that an April 2020 court order had given her thirty days to notify defendant of her intent to purchase. She argued that the order was stayed by her motion to alter or amend the judgment and subsequent notice of further proceedings, and did not become final until the trial court issued a November 2021 decision. According to plaintiff, she had thirty days from that date to exercise the option and did so by sending a letter with a $25,000 check to defendant on November 30, 2021. Defendant opposed plaintiff’s motion and filed his own motion to enforce the sale of the property to him. Defendant asserted that after plaintiff indicated in her motion to alter or amend that she did not want to purchase the property, he had notified her of his intent to purchase it on June 1, 2020, and mailed her a $25,000 check. At that time, plaintiff responded by offering to sell the property for a much higher price but did not express any interest in purchasing it herself. After the court issued its decision on remand, defendant sent plaintiff a check for the remaining $217,500 along with a quitclaim deed for her to complete. Defendant argued that plaintiff’s first appeal did not stay or alter the deadlines for exercising the purchase option, which expired in June 2020. The family division of the superior court concluded that plaintiff’s purchase option had expired and that defendant effectively exercised his option to purchase the property instead. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Thurber v. Thurber" on Justia Law
In re K.G. & L.G.
In consolidated appeals, Parents challenged the termination of their residual parental rights to K.G. and L.G., and the denial of their post-termination motion to set aside the merits and disposition orders in this case under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(6) based on allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Vermont Supreme Court found it was unnecessary to decide if parents had a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel in juvenile proceedings and affirmed both decisions. View "In re K.G. & L.G." on Justia Law
In re J.N.
J.N. was born in August 2013. On the eve of J.N.’s eighth birthday in August 2021, the State filed a petition alleging that J.N. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to lack of proper parental care (CHINS- B) after an incident during which mother had dragged J.N. by her arms, causing bruises. The court transferred temporary custody to the Department for Children and Families (DCF). After a series of subsequent incidents at school and home, a trial court issued a disposition order that continued custody of J.N. with DCF, with a goal of reunification with her mother by June 2023. Mother appealed the CHINS disposition, Mother argued the State essentially used a CHINS petition to advance a claim of abuse, and that by accepting that framing, the trial court deprived her of notice and interpreted the statute in a manner that was unconstitutionally over broad. The Vermont Supreme Court determine the trial court’s findings did not fit the theory charged by the State. To the extent the State asked the Supreme Court to affirm the CHINS determination based on a theory of abuse, the Court agreed with Mother that this would create a problem of notice. Accordingly, the disposition was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re J.N." on Justia Law
Davis v. Davis
Mother appealed a family division’s order denying her motion to permanently suspend father’s parent-child contact with the parties’ minor son. Mother argued the court erred in denying her motion to admit into evidence out-of-court statements made to her and other adults by son when he was four years old that allegedly demonstrated sexual abuse by father. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the family court did not abuse its discretion in excluding son’s hearsay statements from the parent-child contact hearing, and therefore affirmed. View "Davis v. Davis" on Justia Law
In re Z.P.
Mother appealed the family division’s order transferring custody of thirteen-year-old Z.P. to father, who was previously the noncustodial parent. In 2020, Z.P. was adjudicated a child in need of care or supervision, for which a case plan was approved with the goal of reunification with mother, who had been the sole custodial parent. Department for Children and Families (DCF) placed Z.P. with his maternal grandmother. In November 2021, DCF determined that it could not fully license grandmother as a foster parent and indicated that it planned to move Z.P. to a different placement. Z.P. and mother moved jointly for a conditional custody order (CCO) transferring custody to grandmother. The State opposed the request. After a hearing, the family division granted the motion in December 2021, but stated that this was a “close call” and indicated that it would reconsider its decision if grandmother failed to work with DCF to exercise protective supervision of Z.P. After a hearing, however, the court found that mother had failed to engage in any aspect of the case plan and lacked insight into the reasons Z.P. was in DCF custody. Further, the Court found that over the course of the case, father had shown that he was committed to caring for Z.P. and was able to do so. Z.P. was accepted in father’s home and had become active and engaged with father’s family. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the family division did not err in its findings that it was in Z.P.'s best interests to be placed with his father. View "In re Z.P." on Justia Law
In re C.C.
Mother appealed a trial court’s determination that C.C. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). She argued that the court erred in admitting certain hearsay statements by C.C. concerning alleged sexual abuse by mother’s boyfriend. The Vermont Supreme Court did not reach mother’s arguments because, even excluding this evidence, the court’s decision was amply supported by its remaining findings. Therefore, judgment was affirmed. View "In re C.C." on Justia Law
LaFlam v. LaFlam
Mother Diana LaFlam appealed the denial of her motion to modify physical and legal rights and responsibilities. She argued that her relocation to Florida following a divorce from father Jody LaFlam was an unanticipated circumstance requiring modification of the physical rights and responsibilities of their two children, and that father’s neglect of the children’s health warranted a modification of legal rights and responsibilities. Father cross-appealed the portion of the order finding that his neglect of the children’s health constituted changed circumstances under 15 V.S.A. § 668(a). The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the family division that mother’s relocation was not a change in circumstances as to physical rights and responsibilities, and that father’s conduct was a change in circumstances with respect to legal rights and responsibilities. The Court reversed and remanded as to the trial court's best-interests analysis. View "LaFlam v. LaFlam" on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law