Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

by
In 2001, plaintiffs Margaret and John Abajian hired architectural firm TruexCullins, Inc., to design additions to their home. Plaintiffs hired Thermal Efficiency Construction, Ltd. (TEC) to serve as the general contractor for the project. TEC contracted with Murphy’s Metals, Inc. to do the roofing work. The roof was installed during the winter of 2001-2002. Plaintiffs had experienced problems with ice damming on their old roof, which was shingled. Defendants recommended that plaintiffs install a metal roof to alleviate the problem. Plaintiffs accepted the suggestion, hoping that the metal roof would result in fewer ice dams. Mr. Abajian testified in his deposition that he “thought that the metal roof was going to eliminate” the ice damming. In 2014, after the roof turned out to be defective, plaintiffs sued the architecture and construction firms that designed and installed the roof for negligence and breach of contract. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants on the ground that the action was barred by the statute of limitations. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment to defendants, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Abajian v. TruexCullins, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Defendant-borrowers Skip and Paris Watts appealed the trial court’s summary judgment decision in favor of plaintiff-lender Deutsche Bank National Trust Company in this mortgage foreclosure action. They argued that the trial court erred by finding that a dismissal with prejudice under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) was not an adjudication on the merits given preclusive effect in a foreclosure action. Lender argues in response that earlier decisions of this Court that gave preclusive effect to the dismissal of foreclosure actions should be applied only prospectively and not to this case. Defendants entered into the mortgage at issue here in 2006. They failed to make payments in 2008. The lender accelerated payments and called for the note in late 2008. Foreclosure proceedings were initiated, and publication by service was completed in early 2010. Borrowrs did not file an answer to the complaint. The case sat for approximately one year; the trial court dismissed the case in July 2011. Following the dismissal, the borrowers attempted to find a solution that would allow the borrowers to resume payments. The Lender then filed suit again in 2013, alleging the borrowers defaulted on the 2008 promissory note. Borrowers answered the complaint, arguing that the 2013 action was precluded by res judicata by the 2009 action. The trial court granted lender’s motion, applying equitable principles to find that the 2011 dismissal was not a preclusive adjudication on the merits but that lender was entitled to recover interest only if it was due after the date of lender’s first, 2009, complaint against borrowers. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding that the lender did not advance a new default theory by refiling its 2009 case in 2013. Therefore, its claims were precluded by the dismissal of the 2009 case. View "Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Watts" on Justia Law

by
The events leading to this appeal were rooted in the parties’ 2007 divorce. In September 2005, the parties entered into a final stipulation that provided, among other things, that defendant James Billado was to pay plaintiff Laura Cramer $50,000 to buy out her interest in defendant’s business. Before the court entered a divorce judgment, defendant sought to set aside his uncounseled stipulation on the ground that, since signing the stipulation, he learned that while acting as bookkeeper, plaintiff had been stealing money from the business. The trial court rejected his claim, but found that both parties treated the various business accounts as personal accounts, withdrawing funds at will to pay for vacations, credit card debt, and other personal expenses. Defendant turned a blind eye to poor bookkeeping practices since both he and plaintiff received the financial benefit. Given this record, the trial court declined to set aside the parties’ stipulation. Plaintiff recorded a certified copy of the judgment in the Bakersfield land records to perfect her judgment lien on defendant’s property. In 2015, plaintiff filed this foreclosure action alleging that defendant had failed to pay on the 2007 judgment. Defendant appealed the trial court’s denial of his motion to set aside the default judgment of foreclosure on the grounds that the trial court erred in allowing service of the foreclosure complaint by tack order and in declining to set aside the default foreclosure judgment in light of his defenses. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court’s orders were within its discretion and accordingly affirmed. View "Cramer v. Billado" on Justia Law

by
Mallets Bay Homeowner’s Association appealed the trial court’s partial denial of its motion to stay the issuance of a writ of possession in favor of Mongeon Bay Properties (MBP) following the termination of the Association’s ground lease. Members of the Mongeon family set up a partnership to own the land under approximately 25 camps, and the partnership entered into a ground lease with the Association, rather than the individual owners of each residence. The ground lease was due to expire in 2036. The lease contained a forfeiture clause, providing that the lease would terminate “if the [Association] shall fail to perform or comply with any terms of this Lease.” MBP sued the Association in January 2012, seeking damages and termination of the ground lease because the Association had failed to perform reasonable repairs and upkeep as required by the lease. The trial court concluded that the Association’s failure to properly maintain the property and the resulting damage amounted to “waste,” and therefore the Association had violated the lease. However, the trial court determined that terminating the lease under the default provision was inequitable and instead awarded MBP damages to cover the cost of repairing the property. On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the Association had breached the lease, but remanded for reconsideration of MBP’s remedy. In 2016, the Association requested that the trial court stay the issuance of a writ of possession, arguing there was good cause for the court to stay the writ until 2036, when the lease was set to expire. The trial court entered judgment in favor of MBP, terminated the ground lease, and held MBP was to be granted a writ of possession for the property. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order in part, and remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion. On remand, the question about which the trial court should exercise its discretion was whether to grant a longer stay than reflected in an October 31 order. The trial court could exercise that discretion on the basis of the parties’ pleadings, or decide to not hold any further hearings unless it chooses to. View "Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC v. Mallets Bay Homeowner's Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs Michael and Denise Regan appealed the trial court’s decision denying them relief with respect to their complaint alleging that the redirecting of surface waters by defendant Town of Fayston and defendants Alan and Maria Spector and the Spector Retirement Trust caused ongoing flood damage to their property. In May 2009, “a huge rainstorm occurred with devastating consequences for all parties,” including the Spectors, the Regans, and other neighbors downhill from the Spectors’ lot. A culvert on the hillside above the Spectors’ property plugged, causing large amounts of water to skip over a culvert, which would have carried the water away from the Regans' property. The trial court concluded that “the conditions on the ground of which Regan complains are due almost entirely to the natural evolution of a seepage wetland that was disturbed by and is incorporating over time the installation of two unnatural and unmaintained ponds.” On appeal, the Regans argued that the trial court: (1) abused its discretion by imposing a discovery sanction that precluded them from submitting evidence on money damages; (2) applied the wrong legal standard in rejecting their claim of inverse condemnation; and (3) erred in rejecting their nuisance and trespass claims because the Spectors’ construction of the stone-lined channel in 2008 constituted an alteration of the pattern of flow within the watershed. The Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's judgment and affirmed. View "Regan v. Spector" on Justia Law

by
This case concerned the taxable status of Schulmaier Hall, a building owned by the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), two-thirds of which VCFA rented to agencies of the State of Vermont (State) during the 2013 and 2014 tax years. The City Assessor of the City of Montpelier (City) found the property nonexempt for those tax years. In response, VCFA brought a motion for declaratory judgment in the trial court, and both parties moved for summary judgment. Granting summary judgment for the City, the court found: (1) that VCFA had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before moving for declaratory judgment but also (2) that the property was not exempt on the merits. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont College of Fine Arts v. City of Montpelier" on Justia Law

by
Consolidated cases required the Vermont Supreme Court to revisit whether Vermont law recognized a cause of action for private nuisance based solely on aesthetic considerations. Appellants, a group of landowners from New Haven, appealed when the trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, two solar energy companies. The landowners filed suit after their neighbors leased property to the solar companies for the purpose of constructing commercial solar arrays. According to the landowners, the solar arrays constituted a private nuisance because they negatively affected the surrounding area's rural aesthetic, causing properties in their vicinity to lose value. The trial court consolidated the cases and, noting that the Vermont Supreme Court's precedent in "Hager" barred nuisance actions based purely on aesthetics, and granted summary judgment to the solar companies. The Supreme Court upheld Vermont's long-standing rule barring private nuisance actions based upon aesthetic disapproval alone. View "Myrick v. Peck Electric Company" on Justia Law

by
This appeal centered on a timber harvest by landowner Plum Creek Maine Timberlands, LLC in forestland enrolled in the current-use, tax-incentive program. The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation (FPR) issued an adverse inspection report, concluding that Plum Creek violated its forest-management plan and failed to comply with minimum acceptable standards during the harvest. Consequently, the Department of Taxes removed the land from the current-use program and levied a tax assessment. Plum Creek appealed, and the superior court reversed those administrative decisions. FPR then appealed, arguing that the superior court failed to give appropriate deference to FPR’s determination of the proper methodology for measuring compliance with the forest-management plan. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the court’s decision, reinstating the adverse-inspection report as upheld by the FPR Commissioner. The case was remanded back to the superior court to consider the questions raised in Plum Creek’s appeal of the PVR Director’s decision removing land from the UVA program and leveling a tax assessment. View "Plum Creek Maine Timberlands, LLC v. Vermont Dept. of Forests, Parks & Rec." 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
Neighbor Mary Bourassa appealed the Environmental Division’s affirmance of a zoning permit application by Philip and Barbara Wagner and Christopher Guay, who wanted to build a single family residence and detached garage on two merged lots of a six-lot subdivision in Grand Isle. Bourassa, an owner of another lot in the subdivision, opposed development, chiefly on the ground that the proposed house would not be constructed within the “tree line” on the property, as required by the subdivision plat plan. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Wagner & Guay Permit" on Justia Law