Justia Contracts Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
Pettersen v. Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC
Plaintiff William Pettersen appealed a trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to his former law firm, defendant Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC. He argued that sufficient evidence existed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to his claims for promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, intentional misrepresentation, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy, thus contending that summary judgment was inappropriate. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly granted summary judgment, and affirmed. View "Pettersen v. Monaghan Safar Ducham PLLC" on Justia Law
Masseau v. Luck
Homeowners Colin Masseau and Emily MacKenzie appealed a trial court’s order confirming an arbitrator’s dismissal of their claims against defendants Guy Henning and Brickkicker/GDM Home Services, LLC. Specifically, homeowners challenged the trial court’s referral of the case to arbitration on the ground that the purported arbitration agreement lacked the notice and acknowledgment provisions required under the Vermont Arbitration Act (VAA), and they urged the Vermont Supreme Court to vacate the arbitrator’s award because the arbitrator exceeded his authority by manifestly disregarding the law. The Supreme Court concluded the parties’ contract affected interstate commerce, and that the arbitration agreement was therefore governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and is not subject to the more exacting notice and acknowledgment requirement of the VAA. The Court declined to find the arbitrator's analysis rose to the level of "manifest disregard." View "Masseau v. Luck" on Justia Law
Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. Muller
Todd and Melissa Muller appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to their insurer, Progressive Northern Insurance Company. The Mullers challenged the court’s conclusions on how the setoff provision of their insurance policy should have been applied when there were multiple claimants. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that, construing the insurance policy as a whole, the setoff provision is unambiguous: It clearly provided that Progressive was entitled to reduce “all sums . . . paid” regardless of the number of claims made. View "Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. Muller" on Justia Law
In re Estate of Patricia Bixby McHugo (Susan Inouye, Appellant)
Appellant Susan Inouye challenged the probate division's allowance of her mother's most recent will. Testator was ninety-two years old and a resident of Windsor County, Vermont when she died in 2016. Testator previously lived in Arizona and was married to John Walter McHugo. They had three children together before their divorce in 1978. In 1997, testator and her ex-husband each executed a will in Arizona. Each will provided for the establishment of a testamentary trust for the support of the other former spouse during their lifetime, and provided for the remaining assets to be divided equally among the three children after both former spouses have died. In 2006, while living in Montpelier, Vermont, testator executed another will revoking the 1997 will. The 2006 will divided most of testator’s estate between two of her children, who were the appellees in this case. It excluded testator’s ex-husband and third child, Susan Inouye. Testator’s ex- husband predeceased her in 2010. Appellant argued that this will was executed in violation of a prior contract for mutual wills, and that it therefore should not have been allowed for probate administration. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the will was properly allowed, but that a contract for mutual wills may be enforced through a breach-of-contract claim. The Court therefore affirmed the probate division’s decision and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Estate of Patricia Bixby McHugo (Susan Inouye, Appellant)" on Justia Law
Construction Drilling, Inc. v. Engineers Construction, Inc.
Subcontractor Construction Drilling, Inc. (CDI) appealed a trial court’s judgment on the merits in its breach-of-contract claim against Engineers Construction, Inc. (ECI). CDI contended the trial court erred in: (1) holding that the terms of the parties’ subcontract required CDI to request a change order before it billed ECI for “drilling in obstructions” in excess of CDI’s bid price; (2) denying CDI’s motions to reopen the evidence and for a new trial; and (3) awarding ECI $234,320 in attorneys’ fees under the Prompt Payment Act. ECI cross-appealed, arguing the trial court improperly allowed CDI’s owner to offer opinion testimony absent a finding of reliability under Vermont Rule of Evidence 702 and maintaining that his testimony could not have met this standard in any event. Therefore, should the Vermont Supreme Court reverse the trial court’s denial of CDI’s breach-of-contract claim, ECI asserted the matter had to be remanded for a new trial without such testimony. The Court affirmed the trial court, and therefore did not reach the issue raised in ECI’s cross-appeal. View "Construction Drilling, Inc. v. Engineers Construction, Inc." on Justia Law
Bourdeau Bros., Inc. v. Boissonneault Family Farm, Inc. et al.
Plaintiff Bourdeau Bros., Inc. was a Vermont company that sold agricultural supplies, feed, and chemicals. Defendants operated a dairy farm in Georgia, Vermont. In July 2016, plaintiff sued defendant Boissonneault Family Farm, Inc. (BBF) for amounts owed for grain delivered by plaintiff to the farm. Plaintiff subsequently amended its complaint to add Jay and Cathy Boissonneault as co-defendants. In their answer, defendants denied that Cathy Boissonneault or BBF had done business with Bourdeau Bros., Inc. Defendants moved to dismiss Cathy Boissonneault and BBF as defendants. The court denied the motion. In February 2018, defendants filed a counterclaim alleging that plaintiff owed defendants $16,000 for water plaintiff took from defendants’ pond. A two-day bench trial took place in March 2019. At the conclusion of the trial, the court dismissed plaintiff’s claims against Cathy Boissonneault. The court found that beginning in 2012, defendants Jay Boissonneault and BBF had an oral agreement with plaintiff to purchase grain. Each time plaintiff delivered grain, it presented an invoice to defendants. Defendants consistently paid the amounts indicated in the invoices until 2015, when defendants stopped paying. The court found that defendants owed plaintiff $27,564.97 for grain delivered in 2015, including interest of eighteen percent per year. The court denied plaintiff’s request for attorney’s fees despite language in the invoices stating that plaintiff would be entitled to such fees in the event of a collection action. As the prevailing party at trial, plaintiff appealed the trial court’s denial of its request for attorney’s fees, arguing that it was entitled to recover attorney’s fees based on a term contained in invoices that it provided to defendants each time it delivered grain. Plaintiff argued that under 9A V.S.A. 2-207, the term became part of the parties’ contract when defendants failed to object to it within a reasonable time. Defendants cross-appealed, arguing that the trial court improperly calculated damages and erred by dismissing their counterclaim and finding defendant Jay Boissonneault personally liable. The Vermont Supreme Court remanded for the trial court to reconsider whether plaintiff is entitled to attorney’s fees, but otherwise affirmed judgment. View "Bourdeau Bros., Inc. v. Boissonneault Family Farm, Inc. et al." on Justia Law
Brillman v. New England Guaranty Insurance Company, Inc.
At issue in this case before the Vermont Supreme Court was the meaning of “date of loss” for the purpose of an insurance policy’s condition that any action be commenced within one year after the “date of loss.” The trial court concluded that the insurance provision requiring that an action be brought “within one year after the date of loss” was ambiguous and had to be interpreted against insurer to mean that the one-year period began to run when insurer breached its obligations (i.e., at the time homeowner received final, allegedly insufficient, payment from insurer). The court accordingly denied insurer summary judgment and granted partial summary judgment to homeowner. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded the provision was unambiguous in requiring suit to be brought within one year of the date of the occurrence giving rise to coverage and reversed the partial summary judgment for homeowner. View "Brillman v. New England Guaranty Insurance Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Burlington School District v. Provost
Defendant Adam Provost appealed a civil division determination that plaintiff Burlington School District could disclose, in response to a newspaper’s public records request, an unredacted copy of a Resignation Agreement reached by the District and Provost concerning his employment with the District. Provost argued the civil division: (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the District’s request for declaratory relief regarding a matter within the exclusive purview of the Public Records Act (PRA); and (2) erred by granting the District’s request for declaratory relief based on its conclusion that Provost had waived any objection to release of the agreement, even assuming it had jurisdiction to consider the request. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the District and Provost entered into a contract acknowledging the obligation of the District, as a public entity subject to the PRA, to release the Resignation Agreement "under the provisions of applicable law." The District and Provost had reached a legal stalemate over whether release of an unredacted copy of the Agreement would violate not only the PRA, but also their Agreement, which would expose the District to a breach-of-contract claim. Under these circumstances, it was entirely appropriate for the superior court to exercise its general jurisdiction to adjudicate the District’s request for declaratory relief. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Burlington School District v. Provost" on Justia Law
The Lofts Essex, LLC v. Strategis Floor Decor Inc.
Plaintiffs, Lofts Essex, LLC and the Wilson Inn, Inc. (collectively, the Lofts), appeal the trial court’s pretrial denial of summary judgment and the court’s final decision ruling in favor of defendant, Strategis Floor and Décor, Inc. The dispute between the parties arose from a warranty claim made on laminate flooring in a 54-apartment unit complex. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the trial court’s pretrial denial of summary judgment was not reviewable and affirmed the final decision granting judgment to Strategis. View "The Lofts Essex, LLC v. Strategis Floor Decor Inc." on Justia Law
J & K Tile Company
After a bench trial, a trial court issued a judgment and order which held, among other things, that Wright & Morrissey owed J & K Tile Co. $42,000 plus interest under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the parties, and that Wright & Morrissey unlawfully withheld J & K Tile Co.’s retainage check in violation of the Vermont Prompt Pay Act. Following this decision a few months later, the court further held that each party was the prevailing party in a portion of the litigation and should be awarded attorney’s fees regarding that portion. Wright & Morrissey appealed, and J & K Tile Co. cross-appealed. With regard to the retainage, the Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court did not err. However, with respect to the prevailing party issue, the Supreme Court determined “a fee award should not be apportioned among claims that arise from a common core of facts.” Although not all of the evidence was relevant to all the claims, all the evidence, and all the theories of liability, related to the same common core of facts. J & K Tile Co. itself treated the claims as arising from a common core of facts, as evidenced by their combining the failure-to-mediate and breach-of-contract allegations into a single count. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court should have determined who was the substantially prevailing party as a whole, considering all the claims together. Accordingly, it reversed the order regarding attorney’s fees and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "J & K Tile Company" on Justia Law