Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Plaintiffs Willis S. Sheldon, individually as the father of Dezirae Sheldon, and as administrator of the Estate of Dezirae Sheldon, appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant Nicholas Ruggiero, an administrative reviewer with the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF). Plaintiffs argued that defendant negligently failed to report an allegation that Dezirae’s stepfather Dennis Duby abused Dezirae, eventually leading to Dezirae’s murder at Duby’s hands. Plaintiffs presented alternative theories for defendant’s liability under: (1) Vermont’s mandated-reporter statute, which they argued created a private right of action; (2) common-law negligence; or (3) negligent undertaking. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that even if the mandated-reporter statute creates a private right of action, or alternatively, even if defendant had a common-law duty to report suspected abuse, plaintiffs’ negligent-undertaking claim failed because defendant acted reasonably and prudently in his role as a DCF administrative reviewer. In addition, the Court concluded that defendant never undertook DCF’s statutory obligation to investigate all potential sources of Dezirae’s injuries. View "Sheldon v. Ruggiero" on Justia Law

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A husband died, naming his niece and nephew as beneficiaries to his Individual Retirement Account, rather than his wife. The wife declaratory judgment action, arguing that the beneficiary designation should be declared void under 14 V.S.A. 321 and that the IRA funds should pass through husband’s estate. The trial court granted summary judgment to defendants, concluding for several reasons that wife was not entitled to relief under section 321. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that section 321 did not apply here because wife took under husband’s will rather than electing her statutory share of his estate. View "Hayes v. Hayes" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Michele Boulet appealed the trial court’s decision to dismiss her petition for modification of the guardianship of C.H. In 2017, petitioner petitioned for modification of the guardianship of C.H., a developmentally disabled adult who has had a guardian since 2009. C.H.’s first guardian, a member of her immediate family, was removed in 2015 after being substantiated for financial exploitation of C.H. The Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) was subsequently appointed as C.H.’s guardian. Petitioner was a friend of C.H.’s family. Shortly after petitioner filed her petition for modification of guardianship, C.H. moved to dismiss through counsel to dismiss on grounds that petitioner did not have standing to petition the court for modification of C.H.’s guardianship. In October 2017, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss, deciding, in accordance with C.H.’s argument, that petitioner lacked standing to petition for modification of the guardianship. The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing on either the petition for modification or the motion to dismiss. Petitioner raised several arguments in favor of reinstating her petition; as one of her arguments resolved this appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court addressed it alone. The Supreme Court held that the trial court’s interpretation of the statute defining who has standing to petition for a modification of guardianship was inconsistent with the plain language and purpose of Vermont’s guardianship provisions. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Guardianship of C.H." on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute between Taylor Glaze, a surviving niece of Emil Kuhling, and Emil Kuhling’s Estate (Estate) over two agreements between Taylor and Emil: one concerning the transfer of Emil’s home and another about Emil’s life care. Following a bench trial, the court concluded that Taylor owed and breached a fiduciary duty to Emil regarding the sale of Emil’s home and awarded damages but concluded there was no breach of the life-care contract. Taylor appealed both decisions, arguing the Estate lacked standing to assert the breach-of-duty and breach-of-contract claims. The Estate cross-appealed the court’s determination regarding a contractual agreement for life care between Taylor and Emil. Because the Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was no breach of any fiduciary duty by Taylor regarding the sale of the house, it reversed the award to the Estate and remand to the trial court to enter judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination regarding the life-care contract. View "Estate of Emil Kuhling v. Glaze" on Justia Law

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Allen Avery (testator) died testate in 2008 and left property to his spouse and children. His spouse, children, and the executor of the estate disputed how the estate’s administrative expenses should have been allocated. The civil division determined that expenses should be paid out of spouse’s share of the personal estate until paid in full or until they exhaust her share, and that children’s share of the personalty should contribute to administrative expenses only if spouse’s share of the personalty is insufficient. Spouse appealed. Finding no error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Avery v. Estate of Allen D. Avery" on Justia Law

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Allen Avery (testator) died testate in 2008 and left property to his spouse and children. His spouse, children, and the executor of the estate disputed how the estate’s administrative expenses should have been allocated. The civil division determined that expenses should be paid out of spouse’s share of the personal estate until paid in full or until they exhaust her share, and that children’s share of the personalty should contribute to administrative expenses only if spouse’s share of the personalty is insufficient. Spouse appealed. Finding no error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Avery v. Estate of Allen D. Avery" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, an executor of an estate sued the clinic and physician's assistant who treated the decedent for wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the case because plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit, as was required by statute. The refiled case was dismissed as untimely. The executor appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which reviewed the trial court's dismissals and found that dismissal was proper in both cases. View "Quinlan v. Five-Town Health Alliance, Inc., dba Mountain Health Center" on Justia Law

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In consolidated appeals, an executor of an estate sued the clinic and physician's assistant who treated the decedent for wrongful death. The trial court dismissed the case because plaintiff failed to file a certificate of merit, as was required by statute. The refiled case was dismissed as untimely. The executor appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, which reviewed the trial court's dismissals and found that dismissal was proper in both cases. View "Quinlan v. Five-Town Health Alliance, Inc., dba Mountain Health Center" on Justia Law

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In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Richard Hayes developed a subdivision called Mountain View Estates on land jointly owned by him and his wife, Nadine Hayes, in the Town of Manchester. The subdivision grew to include forty residential homes, a school building, and a chiropractic clinic on forty-four lots. From the sale of the first lot in about 1981 until his death in 2004, Richard Hayes paid for maintenance and plowing of the roads that ran through the subdivision and maintained the subdivision’s sewer system and the portion of the water system that he and his wife still owned, without charge to the homeowners. Following the Hayes’ deaths in 2004, a probate proceeding was opened and the Hayes’ adult children, Jeffrey Hayes and Deborah Hayes McGraw, were appointed coadministrators of their estates. The co-administrators sent a letter to the homeowners in the subdivision stating that effective immediately, the homeowners would be responsible for maintaining and plowing the subdivision’s roads. The homeowners refused to assume responsibility for the road maintenance. The homeowners intervened in the probate proceedings of the Hayes’ estates to protect their rights regarding the subdivision. The estates appealed the trial court’s decision that the estates were obligated, based on an agreement between the developers and the homeowners, to continue to maintain and repair the roads and water and sewer systems until the town accepted the dedication of the infrastructure. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the court’s findings and conclusions, and remanded the matter to the trial court for remand to the probate division for further proceedings. View "Hayes v. Mountain View Estates Homeowners Association" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was the status of a revocable trust that husband’s parents established in 1999. The parties married in 1984 and have two children (now adults); they divorced in 2014. The grantor amended the revocable trust that changed the beneficiary from husband to husband’s son, thereby keeping the trust property out of the marital estate and shielding it from wife’s claims. Wife appealed the family division’s final property division award. In particular, she challenged the trial court’s refusal to enforce a subpoena requiring grantor father to testify about the trust and his capacity to change its beneficiary and argued the family court should have included the trust assets as part of the marital estate. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Collins v. Collins" on Justia Law