Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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The Father, Jonathan Pahnke, appealed the modification of a foreign child support order. He argued that he was never properly served with the motion to modify child support, that the Vermont family division lacked personal and subject matter jurisdiction over him and this matter, and that the magistrate improperly ruled that mother did not owe him arrears for the period preceding the modification. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, but remanded the case for recalculation of the mother's child support arrearage. View "Pahnke v. Pahnke" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Robert Foti sold most of his fuels business to defendant James Kurrle and agreed to sell gasoline to defendant through a retained wholesale distributorship. When the business relationship soured, plaintiff sued defendant for one month's nonpayment of gasoline and other claims. Defendant counterclaimed for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of the Vermont Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), all stemming from the original purchase of plaintiff's business. Defendant appealed the trial court's judgments as a matter of law on the counterclaims in favor of plaintiff, specifically the CFA counterclaim, arguing that the court should not have considered plaintiff’s motion because plaintiff did not raise the argument that the CFA did not cover the transaction until after trial, and that the court erred in holding that the transaction was not "in commerce." Furthermore, defendant appealed the court’s ruling on the breach of contract and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing counterclaims arising from the non-competition provision. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Court concluded, as the trial court did, that the CFA did not apply to this transaction as a matter of law. The Court agreed with defendant that the trial court should have sent the case to the jury on the contract claims. View "Foti Fuels, Inc. v. Kurrle Corporation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Brown appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to the State on his claim of employment discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. He argued that summary judgment was improper because genuine material issues of fact remained as to whether his membership in the Vermont National Guard was a motivating factor in the State's decisions not to promote him, and ultimately to terminate him from his position. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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For over sixty years, the testator lived with her husband "Bill" Agan in the Town of Ludlow, where both were active in a variety of community organizations and activities. After Bill died, the testator placed her assets into trust. The original trust beneficiaries were the testator's brother, sisters, and the testator's niece and nephew. In 1996, the testator amended the trust to reduce the bequest to her brother (with whom she had a falling out), and to add bequests to three local community organizations: the Building Fund of the United Church of Ludlow, the Black River Academy Museum of Ludlow, and the Black River Valley Senior Center of Ludlow. A third trust amendment in May 2004 deleted the brother as a beneficiary. Additional trust amendments in December 2004, February 2005, and May 2005 variously altered the trustee, successor trustee, and trust account. Relatives and others who dealt with the testator during the period from 2004 to 2005, observed personality changes and signs of confusion. Her primary care physician diagnosed dementia in June 2004, and prescribed several medications in 2005 to help arrest the effects of dementia. In May 2005, the testator contacted an attorney to draft a number of additional changes to her trust. Less than a week after that contact, the testator's sister Patricia filed an involuntary guardianship petition, referencing the doctor's dementia diagnosis and recommending the appointment of a guardian. Following a hearing, Patricia withdrew her petition and the probate court granted the testator's petition, finding that the testator understood the nature and consequences of the requested voluntary guardianship. The testator died in May 2008. The estate at the time was worth in excess of eight million dollars. In April 2009, three members of the testator's family named as beneficiaries under a seventh amended trust, the testator's sister Joanne Curran, nephew Michael Curran, and niece Cathleen Curran (plaintiffs), filed a complaint for declaratory relief in superior court naming as defendants the nonprofit organizations receiving bequests under the trust. Plaintiffs sought a declaration that the testator lacked the capacity to execute the seventh trust amendment, and that the amendment was the product of undue influence and was invalid as a result. The court found sufficient evidence of "suspicious circumstances" to shift the burden of proof to defendants to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the seventh trust amendment was not the product of undue influence. 11. The jury returned a special verdict, finding that the testator had the capacity to execute the seventh trust amendment, and that it was not the product of undue influence. The court denied plaintiffs' subsequent motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, for a new trial. This appeal followed. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Curran v. Building Fund of the United Church of Ludlow" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Thomas and Marie Baptie, administrators of the estate of their son, John Baptie, appealed a superior court's decision granting defendant and former police officer Aron McNeil, summary judgment dismissing their negligence case against him. Specifically, plaintiffs argued the officer was liable for the death of their son as the result of the negligent investigation of their complaint against defendant Jonathon Bruno, the man who murdered their son four days after they made a complaint. The Supreme Court agreed with the superior court's conclusions that defendant was entitled to qualified official immunity from plaintiffs' lawsuit and that, they could not prove all of the elements of their negligence or intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims. View "Baptie v. Bruno" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the civil suspension of his driver's license and the admission of the breath-test results in his criminal prosecution for driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor (DUI). Defendant contended on appeal that because the test results were obtained after the testing machine registered a "fatal error," the breath-test analysis did not meet the requisite performance standards, and thus the necessary foundation for admissibility was not laid. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying suppression in the criminal case, but reversed and remanded the civil suspension. View "Vermont v. Burnett" on Justia Law

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Defendant Edward Johnson appealed his convictions for attempted aggravated murder, kidnapping, lewd and lascivious conduct, unlawful trespass, and enhancement under Vermont's habitual offender statute. On appeal, he argue: (1) the trial court erred in refusing to grant a mistrial when a member of the jury pool mentioned in front of prospective jurors that defendant had another case; and (2) that the evidence was insufficient to prove defendant's identity as the perpetrator or that he had the requisite intent to kill. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed defendant's convictions. View "Vermont v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the superior court's denial of his motion to modify his sentence. He contended the court erred in failing to award credit for time served. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court reversed the superior court's decision and granted defendant credit against the controlling burglary sentence for the time he spent in jail between arrest and sentencing on the later charges. View "Vermont v. LeClair" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions for unlawful trespass. Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP) is an electric utility that operates several wind-power sites throughout Vermont. Construction required cutting trees, excavating, and blasting rock to produce a "crane road" on which the turbines could be erected by crane. Because a portion of the crane road would be within 100 feet of the GMP's leased property's boundary line, some blast safety zones actually extended into neighboring land owned by Donald and Shirley Nelson, who strongly opposed the project. The Nelsons allowed a group to protest the wind-power site by setting up camp on the portion of the Nelsons' land that fell within a blast safety zone. This prompted GMP and its blasting subcontractor to increase their safety measures, risking a delay of construction of more than five weeks and threatening GMP's eligibility for the federal tax credits. In Fall 2011, GMP initiated a civil suit against the Nelsons for nuisance and interference with contract. While the suit was pending, Defendants passed through an existing property line and entered a portion of the crane-road construction site located on land disputed by the Nelsons and GMP. GMP halted construction, and a representative asked defendants to leave. Although aware of the boundary dispute, defendants refused to leave, claiming permission from the Nelsons, who they maintained owned the disputed land. GMP then contacted local police, who arrived at the scene and asked defendants to leave. Defendants again refused and were arrested. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by not dismissing the case in the interests of justice. View "Vermont v. Gillard" on Justia Law

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The complainant in this case and defendant Tyler Waters lived together for several years and have a minor child together. After they broke up, complainant got a relief-from-abuse (RFA) order against defendant. A 2009 modification of the final RFA order was based on findings that defendant had abused complainant, there was a danger of further abuse, and defendant represented a credible threat to complainant’s safety. The order prohibited defendant from, among other things, abusing, threatening, stalking, or harassing complainant. It prohibited defendant from communicating or attempting to communicate directly or indirectly with complainant, except that it specifically stated, "[d]efendant may have contact by telephone only." Complainant reported to the police that due to the volume of communications from defendant she felt "harassed, bullied, and made to feel guilty." The State charged defendant with violating the RFA order. Specifically, the State alleged that defendant had violated the prohibition against harassing complainant. The ultimate issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether it was plain error for the trial court to instruct a jury that it could convict defendant for violating an abuse-prevention order prohibiting him from harassing petitioner if it concluded that he engaged in conduct that would cause a reasonable person to be "annoyed, irritated, tormented or alarmed." The Supreme Court concluded that the instruction was plain error, and that the evidence presented at trial could not support a conviction for violating the abuse-prevention order, as worded. View "Vermont v. Waters" on Justia Law