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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Alexis Gabree appealed the superior court’s decision to dismiss her petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). She argued that, during the plea colloquy, she never personally admitted that a factual basis for the charges existed, in violation of Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "In re Alexis Gabree" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Alexis Gabree appealed the superior court’s decision to dismiss her petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). She argued that, during the plea colloquy, she never personally admitted that a factual basis for the charges existed, in violation of Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(f). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded. View "In re Alexis Gabree" on Justia Law

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Defendant Diane Stewart was convicted of embezzling from her former employer. She appealed the trial court’s restitution order that required her to pay the bank the amount that she had embezzled, arguing that the bank was not a direct victim of the crime and therefore was not entitled to restitution. This case presented the issue of whether a bank is entitled to restitution as a “direct victim” of a crime when it incurred financial harm by reimbursing an accountholder for funds it had previously drawn from the account to pay a check that turned out to be forged. The Vermont Supreme Court held restitution was appropriate in cases such as this one where defendant’s crime directly harms the bank that must reimburse a customer’s account for embezzled funds. View "Vermont v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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The City of Rutland appealed a superior court decision that two buildings owned by the Rutland County Parent Child Center (RCPCC) were exempt from property taxation. The City argued neither property met the requirements of the public use tax exemption in 32 V.S.A. 3802(4). RCPCC is one of fifteen parent-child centers in Vermont. Under the statutory definition, a parent-child center is a “community-based organization established for the purpose of providing prevention and early intervention services." The superior court determined on summary judgment that RCPCC’s properties did not qualify for the public school tax exemption but, after a bench trial, decided that RCPCC’s use of the properties in question met the three-prong public use exemption test from American Museum of Fly Fishing, Inc. v. Town of Manchester, 110, 557 A.2d 900 (1989), and that, accordingly, both properties were exempt from property tax assessment. The Vermont Supreme Court found that RCPCC's use of the buildings met all elements of the American Museum of Fly Fishing's test, and affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Rutland County Parent Child Center, Inc. v. City of Rutland" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Limited and PLH LLC (collectively, “Allco”) appealed the Public Service Board’s order denying their motion to reconsider. Allco argued the Board was required to award standard-offer contracts to several solar projects because they provided “sufficient benefits” to the operation of Vermont’s electric grid, as set forth in 30 V.S.A. 8005a(d)(2). The standard-offer program is a component of Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program; section 8005a authorizes the Public Service Board with authority to offer power-purchase contracts to new renewable-energy plants if the proposed plants satisfy certain criteria. Because Allco’s claims relating to the correct application of section 8005a(d)(2) were neither raised nor decided at trial, the Vermont Supreme Court declined to address them on appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the Board did not err in denying Allco’s motion for reconsideration, and affirmed. View "In re Programmatic Changes to Standard-Offer Program & Investigation into Establishment of Standard-Offer Prices (Allco Renewable Energy, Ltd.)" on Justia Law

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At issue in his post-conviction relief (PCR) appeal was whether petitioner Thomas Sharrow received ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The PCR court vacated petitioner’s conviction of attempted second-degree murder on the basis of ineffective assistance of counsel; the PCR court concluded that petitioner’s trial counsel failed to object to jury instructions that did not require the State prove the absence of passion or provocation in order to convict for attempted second-degree murder and did not include attempted voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense. On appeal, the State did not challenge the PCR court’s conclusion that counsel was ineffective in petitioner’s underlying criminal trial, but argued petitioner was not prejudiced by the ineffective assistance. Finding no reversible error in the PCR court’s conclusion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Thomas S. Sharrow" on Justia Law

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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

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The State charged defendant Christopher Sharrow with second-degree murder in July 2013. While defendant was incarcerated pretrial, his counsel requested a competency hearing. The court ordered an evaluation and the Department of Mental Health selected a neutral expert to conduct the evaluation. The neutral expert conducted a competency evaluation in early 2015, but defense counsel was not present when the doctor conducted the examination. Counsel moved for a reevaluation. Again, the court ordered an evaluation and the Department selected a second expert. The second expert requested access to the first expert’s report and later requested a neuropsychological consult. The Department declined to provide funding for a neuropsychological examination, and the expert, who maintained that such an examination was necessary to complete the competency evaluation, suggested that the court reassign the evaluation to another doctor. One year later, the court granted that request and the Department subsequently appointed another expert to conduct the competency evaluation. The third court-appointed expert concluded that “defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial for the alleged offense.” The parties received a copy of that report on May 23, 2016. In the meantime, defense counsel engaged its own expert to perform a competency evaluation, which was completed on April 24, 2015. Defendant did not attempt to introduce the results of its expert’s report. Nevertheless, after receiving the third expert’s report, the State retained its own expert, and at a status conference, requested that its expert be given access to defendant in order to conduct a fifth competency evaluation. Defendant objected to the State’s request, arguing that “[t]he [c]ourt has no legal authority to order [defendant] to submit to a psychiatric evaluation arranged by the State.” In a written order the court granted the State’s motion and ordered defendant to submit to a competency evaluation conducted by the State’s expert. In response, defendant filed this interlocutory appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court held the State may not compel such an evaluation, and therefore reversed. View "Vermont v. Sharrow" on Justia Law

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Defendant Keith Baird and two others were charged with burglary, kidnapping, and first-degree murder for their involvement with the 2010 death of seventy-eight-year-old Mary O’Hagan at her home in Sheffield, Vermont. The basis for defendant’s murder charge was that the murder occurred during the commission of a burglary in which defendant participated and therefore constituted felony murder. Defendant filed a Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure Rule 12(d) motion to dismiss the first-degree murder charge, arguing that the State could not establish a prima facie case because it could not show that defendant killed the victim or that he had the necessary mental state for first-degree felony murder. A deposition of Richard Fletcher, one of the codefendants, provided most of the admissible evidence in support of the State’s opposition to the motion to dismiss; facts in the investigating police officer’s affidavit of which he had first-hand knowledge provided additional support for the State’s opposition. Following a hearing, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding the evidence of wantonness was sufficient for the question of defendant’s mental state to survive a Rule 12(d) motion to dismiss. Because the State produced sufficient evidence that fairly and reasonably tended to show the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the Court reinstated the murder charge and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Baird" on Justia Law