Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Jayveon Caballero was convicted by a jury of second- degree murder. On appeal, he argued: (1) the evidence was insufficient to prove that he acted intentionally or in knowing disregard of a deadly risk to the victim when he fired a gun into the victim’s car; (2) the trial court deprived him of a fair trial by excluding a statement of remorse that he made to his cousin three hours after the shooting; and (3) the State showed three graphic crime scene photographs to the jury that were not admitted into evidence. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was adequate evidence of intent to support the verdict, and that the alleged evidentiary errors did not require reversal. View "Vermont v. Caballero" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed a family division order modifying legal parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact as to son. The court first issued a parental rights and responsibilities order in 2015, based on the parties’ agreement. In October 2017 father filed emergency motions to modify legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities and parent-child contact, alleging that mother was suicidal and unable to care for son. On the same day, the court granted a temporary modification solely on the basis of father’s filings, awarding sole legal and physical parental rights and responsibilities to father pending a hearing to determine whether a longer-term modification would be appropriate. Following a hearing in January 2018, the court ordered the parties to return to the terms of the original 2015 parentage order, pending a final determination on the motions to modify. At the conclusion of merits hearings held in March 2020 and 2021, the family division issued its order dividing legal responsibility for son between the parties, awarding father responsibility for educational matters and mother responsibility for all other matters. Physical parental rights and responsibilities remained shared, but the court modified the parent-child contact schedule so that the parties alternated weeks on Fridays instead of Thursdays and mother would only care for son after school every other week. On appeal, mother argued this order should have been reversed because the court: (1) abused its discretion by dividing legal rights and responsibilities between the parties; (2) impermissibly relied on DCF history; (3) erred in allowing son’s attorney to participate at the merits hearing; and (4) did not make sufficient findings relative to son’s best interests. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vance v. Locke" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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Plaintiff Angela Gates appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant, her former employer, on plaintiff’s claims for disability discrimination under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (FEPA) and retaliation under both the Vermont Parental Family Leave Act (PFLA) and Vermont’s workers’ compensation law. Defendant hired plaintiff as a “molder” in 1996. In May 2015, plaintiff reported to defendant that she injured her left knee outside of work. She subsequently took approximately twelve weeks of leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the PFLA, which ran concurrently. Plaintiff returned to work full-time as a "molder" in August 2015 after exhausting her FMLA/PFLA leave. She returned to molder work, but it caused pain in her knee. Plaintiff was reassigned to work as a "finisher," which again aggravated her knee. After a third period of recovery and return to work, plaintiff testified that when she returned, she was told there was no work she could do that was a light-duty task. "Ultimately, plaintiff had the burden to present some admissible material by which a reasonable jury could infer that defendant’s stated legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for terminating her - that she was indefinitely incapable of performing the essential functions of her job - was a lie. She failed to do so." The trial court correctly granted summary judgment to defendant on plaintiff’s retaliation claims. View "Gates v. Mack Molding Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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At about 1:40 a.m. on March 24, 2018, defendants Michael Sinquell-Gainey and David Vaz were in a vehicle that pulled into a gas station in Newport, Vermont. The officers parked nearby were having a conversation, noticing that defendants pulled into the gas station through an exit-only access. He watched defendants drive past a set of gas pumps, circle around, and return to park next to the first set of pumps. Officer LeClair testified that he could not recall how long defendants’ vehicle remained at the gas pumps, or whether defendants actually pumped gas. When defendants left the gas station a few moments later, Officer LeClair followed. Defendants came to an intersection controlled by a flashing yellow light for traffic approaching from their direction. The operator activated the left turn signal shortly before reaching the intersection, but then “stopped for quite some time,” even though no stop was required. The vehicle made a few more turns onto the interstate, "swinging wide" and crossing the centerline, at which time Officer LeClair stopped defendants under suspicion of reckless driving. After obtaining a search warrant, officers found heroin and fentanyl in the engine compartment. The State appealed a trial court order granting defendants’ motion to suppress evidence obtained by law enforcement after that automobile stop. The State argued the officer had reasonable suspicion to stop defendants because he observed a traffic violation and because the totality of the circumstances supported reasonable suspicion of impaired driving. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed that the stop was justified based on reasonable suspicion of impairment. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded. View "Vermont v. Sinquell-Gainey & Vaz" on Justia Law

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Employee Christie Mitchell appealed a summary judgment order in favor of NBT Bank, N.A. regarding its policy of deducting her overtime compensation from her commissions so that she was never paid more than gross commissions regardless of how many hours she worked in a week. She contended the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) required the bank to pay her entire gross commissions plus overtime wages. Because the FLSA contained no such requirement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mitchell v. NBT Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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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

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In an interlocutory appeal, the issue presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review was whether the superior court erred by denying the State’s request to order a psychiatric evaluation of defendant Brent Boyajian before holding a competency hearing. In November 2019, the State charged defendant with burglary of an occupied dwelling, misdemeanor possession of stolen property, and simple assault of a protected professional. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to suppress evidence but asked the court to delay holding a hearing on the motion to allow defense counsel time to determine defendant’s competency to stand trial, indicating that he planned to hire an expert. At a status conference, defense counsel explained that defendant was raising the issue of competency because he had a significant traumatic brain injury and recently suffered an aneurysm. For this reason, counsel noted that defendant was being evaluated by a medical provider with a memory clinic that could perform neurological testing. The experts’ report concluded that “although [defendant] has many specific capacities necessary for adjudicative competence, his limitations in verbal memory and other aspects of cognitive processing are likely to create significant problems effectively communicating with counsel and assisting in his defense.” The experts opined that defendant was therefore not competent to stand trial. The State then filed its own motion for psychiatric evaluation, contending the court should not rely only on defendant's evaluation to determine competency. The court denied the State's request. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the State contended that 13 V.S.A. 4817(b) required the trial court to order an evaluation before holding a competency hearing when the court has reason to believe that a defendant may be incompetent due to mental disease or defect, and an evaluation by a defense-retained expert did not satisfy this requirement. To this the Supreme Court agreed, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vermont v. Boyajian" on Justia Law

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In October 2017, plaintiffs Sadie Boyd (a student at Twin Valley Middle High School in Whitingham, Vermont) Madeleine Klein (a resident and property owner in Whitingham), and the Town of Whitingham filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against defendant State of Vermont, arguing that the education funding and property taxation system set forth in 16 V.S.A. ch. 133 and 32 V.S.A. ch. 135 violated the Education Clause, the Proportional Contribution Clause, and the Common Benefits Clause of the Vermont Constitution. They claimed that the system was unconstitutional because it deprived plaintiff Boyd of an equal educational opportunity, required plaintiff Klein to contribute disproportionately to education funding, and compelled the Town to collect an unconstitutional tax. The civil division granted the State’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the alleged inequities were caused by the statutes in question or that the education property taxation system lacked a rational basis. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boyd, et al. v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Town of Sheldon appealed a hearing officer’s valuation of the subject property, a hydroelectric generating facility, as of April 1, 2019. It challenged the hearing officer’s application of the Income Approach to determine the property’s fair market value and his rejection of the Town’s Direct Sale Comparison approach. The Town essentially argued that the hearing officer’s findings were insufficient to support his conclusions. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the valuation. View "Missisquoi Assoc. Hydro c/o Enel Green Power v. Town of Sheldon" on Justia Law