Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Daiello v. Town of Vernon, et al.
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
Sanville v. Town of Albany
The Town of Albany, Vermont, appealed an order granting summary judgment to a surviving relative of the grantors who had quitclaimed undeveloped property to the Town subject to certain conditions. The civil division found that the deed was ambiguous, considered extrinsic evidence to discern the grantors’ intent, and concluded that a logging operation overseen by the Town violated the deed. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the deed was unambiguous, and the logging was not a violation. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sanville v. Town of Albany" on Justia Law
Nijensohn v. Ring
In dividing the divorcing parties’ assets, a Massachusetts court ordered a special master to sell the Vermont property. After the sale, plaintiff filed an action in a Vermont superior court to rescind the sale and quiet title to the property. Applying the doctrine of comity, the civil division dismissed his action, deferring to the ongoing proceeding in Massachusetts. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the Vermont court should not have dismissed his suit on comity grounds because the Massachusetts court lacked jurisdiction to order the special master to sell the property. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the Vermont court acted within its discretion and affirmed. View "Nijensohn v. Ring" on Justia Law
New England Phoenix Company, Inc. v. Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital, Inc. et al.
New England Phoenix Company, Inc. appealed a trial court order denying its motion for a deficiency judgment following a foreclosure decree and an order confirming its purchase of a mortgaged property at a judicial sale. In 2010, Bank of America lent a veterinary hospital business in Grand Isle money. Paws and Laws, LLC owned the hospital’s real property, and Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital, Inc. owned the business assets. The bank lent Paws and Laws and Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital money separately: Paws and Laws' loan was secured by a mortgage on the real property, Grand Isle Veterinary was secured by the business' personal property and assets. In 2012, Paws and Laws violated the terms of the mortgage by conveying the real property by quit claim deed to Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital. In 2014, Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital gave Bank of America a second mortgage on the real property to secure its finance agreement. Soon thereafter the business defaulted on the loans and guarantor abandoned the property. Guarantor’s attempts to sell the property were unsuccessful. Bank of America did not initiate foreclosure proceedings on the loans, and instead, assigned the loans and mortgages to New England Phoenix. New England Phoenix filed this foreclosure action in April 2019. Guarantor did not participate in the proceedings. In late 2019, the trial court entered a default judgment and issued a foreclosure decree by judicial sale. Neither guarantor nor Grand Isle Veterinary redeemed the property, New England Phoenix submitted the winning bid and the judicial sale. In March 2021, the court issued an order confirming the sale and transferring title to the property to New England Phoenix. In a separate order, the court restated a request that New England Phoenix provide a 2010 appraisal before it would rule on the deficiency judgment. New England Phoenix argued, in effect, that the 2010 appraisal was immaterial to the court’s decision, and that in any case, by the time it took an assignment of the loans and mortgages, the property had long been abandoned and contained no business assets. In appealing the trial court's refusal to reconsider the deficiency issue, it argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court's reasoning for denying relief was made in error. The Supreme Court concurred with New England Phoenix that the trial court abused its discretion by failing to consider factors relevant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 80.1(j)(2), and by exercising its discretion to deny a deficiency judgment “for clearly untenable reasons.” View "New England Phoenix Company, Inc. v. Grand Isle Veterinary Hospital, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Town of Pawlet v. Banyai
Landowner Daniel Banyai appealed an Environmental Division decision upholding a notice of violation, granting a permanent injunction, and assessing $46,600 in fines, relating to alleged zoning violations and the construction of a firearms training facility in the Town of Pawlet. Banyai argued he had a valid permit, certain exhibits were improperly admitted at the merits hearing, and the fines were excessive. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's decision. View "Town of Pawlet v. Banyai" on Justia Law
Masiello Real Estate, Inc. v. Matteo, et al.
Masiello Real Estate, Inc. appealed a superior court’s conclusions of law on its breach-of-contract, quantum-meruit, and negligent-misrepresentation claims following a bench trial. Masiello’s claims stemmed from seller Dow Williams’ refusal to pay it a real estate commission under their right-to-market agreement. Seller owned a 276-acre property in Halifax and Guilford, Vermont. In 2013, he executed a one-year, exclusive right-to-market agreement with Chris Long, a real estate broker who worked for Masiello. Seller and broker agreed on a $435,000 asking price and a fixed $25,000 broker commission. The agreement had a one-year “tail” that compelled seller to pay the commission if, within twelve months of the agreement’s expiration, seller sold the property and Masiello was the procuring cause. The listing agreement would be renewed several times after negotiations with prospective buyers failed. Michelle Matteo and Torre Nelson expressed an interest in the property. Nelson, having obtained seller’s contact information from seller’s neighbor, contacted seller directly and asked if he was still selling. Between August and September 2016, Nelson and seller discussed the fact that seller wanted $400,000 for the property and buyers wanted seller to consider a lower price. No offer was made at that time. The tail of a third right-to-market agreement expired on September 30, 2016. Between September and November of that year, Nelson and Matteo looked at other properties with the other realtor and made an unsuccessful offer on one of those other properties. Returning to seller, Nelson, Matteo and seller negotiated until they eventually agreed to terms. Believing that it was improperly cut out of the sale, Masiello sued seller and buyers. The superior court concluded that because the property was not sold during the tail period, and because Masiello was not the procuring cause, no commission was due under the contract. The court further held that there was no negligent misrepresentation and that Masiello was not entitled to recovery under quantum meruit. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Masiello Real Estate, Inc. v. Matteo, et al." on Justia Law
Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle
Island Industrial, LLC, appealed a trial court decision granting the Town of Grand Isle’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. In 2004, in connection with the development of a subdivision known as Island Industrial Park, Island Industrial constructed a private road called Island Circle. In 2014, Island Industrial petitioned the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. At a September 2016 meeting, the selectboard, as recommended by the road commissioner, unanimously approved a motion to accept Island Circle as a public road after a two-year period to ensure the pavement would hold up during frost and thaw periods. At the end of the two-year period, Island Industrial executed an irrevocable offer of dedication, in which it agreed to execute and deliver deeds conveying Island Circle to the Town. In 2018, Island Industrial received an email from the Town, explaining that a special meeting was being held two days later to discuss the Town’s acceptance of Island Circle as a public road. The selectboard held two special meetings to discuss rescinding its 2016 motion to accept Island Circle as a public road. Following an executive session, the selectboard rescinded the 2016 motion and provided three reasons for its decision: (1) Island Circle would only provide benefits to the Town in the future but not at this time; (2) the road would be expensive to maintain; and (3) safety concerns. A few days later, Island Industrial received a letter from the selectboard reaffirming that the Town rescinded the 2016 motion. Island Industrial appealed the selectboard’s decision rescinding the 2016 motion pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75, and asked the superior court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. Appealing the denial of mandamus relief, Island Industrial argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court erred in considering the Town’s motion for judgment on the pleadings when Island Industrial spent time and resources responding to the Town’s previously filed summary-judgment motion. Alternatively, Island Industrial argued that the Town was not entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the allegations in the complaint, if proven, demonstrated that Island Industrial was entitled to mandamus relief. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle" on Justia Law
Moyers v. Poon
Defendants own a building on a lot at 17 Main Street in Bristol, Vermont. They have fenced in a small parcel behind their building, which they use to store materials in service of their building. Plaintiff claims to own a driveway that runs to the rear of defendants’ building, which defendants use for deliveries, as well as a parking lot behind defendants’ building where the small fenced-in parcel is located. Plaintiff initially sued defendants in 2014, claiming title to the “driveway along the side of defendants’ commercial building” and the small parcel. Defendants counterclaimed, arguing that they had “a right to use the driveway and land behind their building for parking, access, delivery, storage, and other related commercial purposes” by virtue of a prescriptive easement for the driveway and through adverse possession with respect to the small parcel. In May 2018, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue here. He claimed to own the property south of defendants’ property line, and he argued that defendants were trespassing by storing items on his land. Plaintiff asserted that defendants knew that he wanted the items removed and, by refusing to do so, they were depriving him of the possession and use of his property. Plaintiff also asserted that defendants benefited from his ownership and maintenance of the driveway and they were required by 19 V.S.A. 2702 to contribute rateably to his maintenance costs. Finally, plaintiff sought punitive damages based on his allegation that defendants were acting in bad faith. When the trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, plaintiff appealed, raising numerous arguments. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of plaintiff's claim for contribution under 19 V.S.A. 2702, and affirmed the remainder of the trial court's decision. View "Moyers v. Poon" on Justia Law
Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al.
Plaintiff Cameron Crogan was seriously injured when he rode his motorbike into a cable strung across a beach access road at the lakeside residential development where he lived with his family. As a result, his mother filed a negligence action against several entities related to the development, including the homeowners’ association and a separately formed beach association, as well as certain individuals in both their individual and representative capacities. The civil division granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment primarily on the grounds that, given the undisputed facts of this case, Vermont’s Recreational Use Statute protected them from liability, and the individual defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care in connection with the accident that led to this lawsuit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the individual defendants were entitled to summary judgment, but reversed the trial court’s determination that the Recreational Use Statute was applicable in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings concerning plaintiff’s claims against the non-individual defendants. View "Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al." on Justia Law
Zucker v. Wark
Donald Zucker appealed a summary-judgment decision awarding attorney’s fees to Gregory Wark, because Zucker refused to mediate a dispute arising out of a real estate purchase and sale agreement. On appeal, Zucker argued he was not required to mediate because the purchase and sale agreement was not an enforceable contract. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment, and vacated the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Zucker v. Wark" on Justia Law