Friday, August 26, 2011

Forbidden Love

In re Margaret Strouse, Esq., 2011 VT 77

 Ah the power of love!  Today’s case illustrates one of the downsides to practicing in a small state.  In early February of 2008, Attorney began dating a man she had met at her gym.  Several weeks into the romance, while looking over the client list at the Burlington law firm where she worked, she discovered that her firm represented the soon-to-be ex-wife of her beau in the pending divorce action. 

Toxic Trouble

Blanchard v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber, Co., 2011 VT 85.

Plaintiff in today’s case suffers from a rare form on non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that has attacked his central nervous system.  Plaintiff blames his condition on exposure to the known carcinogen benzene, which possibly leaked from Defendant’s plant in Windsor, across the gully, and into the ball field where Plaintiff spent most of the waking hours of his youth.

The Benefit of Veterans

Cote v. Cote, 2011 VT 92.

Despite the length of the SCOV’s opinion this is a one-trick pony.  Husband and wife divorce.  Husband is ordered to pay wife $2000 a month in support.  Husband fails to make payment.  Wife cannot support herself and bank begins to foreclose on her house.  Wife files to enforce the order and to garnish husband’s income and meets a federal road block.

Home Away from Home

Iannarone v. Limoggio, 2011 VT 91.

To say that divorce is a difficult process is misleading.  Divorce is the rending of a societal unit into its original, basic components.  It is a proposition fraught with peril given the joint assets and minors that the union has produced.  It is a math equation in which the elements do not reduce to the original sum of the parts. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Entirely Out of the Question

RBS Citizens, N.A. v. Ouhrabka, 2011 VT 86.

As a brief primer for today’s opinion, it is important to know how people do and do not own property as a group of two or more.  For most groups who purchase a house or property together, they own it in a manner known as “tenants in common.”  That means they each own a separate share of the property that is in and of itself an undivided right to occupy and possess the property as a whole.  What does that mean?  It means that contrary to I Love Lucy, tenants in common lack the legal right to divide the house in half with tape. 

Down the Drain

Cheney v. City of Montpelier, 2011 VT 80 (mem.).

In Vermont any claim of damages under $5000 can be brought to small claims court where the process allows parties to quickly and efficiently litigate their issues.  While many of these cases involve collection matters or minor disputes, the court is open to larger, more complicated claims.  As today’s case illustrates, the average small claims court case can raise all kinds of sophisticated questions of liability and causation.

Breaking Away

Blue v. Dept. of Labor, 2011 VT 84

One of the great lessons that we have yet to learn from academia is the benefit of a sabbatical.  Who among us would not benefit by taking a break from our jobs and exploring something else for awhile.  Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we could take a season to explore something else before we went back to the widget factory or the litigation production studio we call home?  Unfortunately, for most this is not an option.  Mortgages, children who need to eat on a daily basis, and account depleting devotions to collecting back issues of Carl Barks’ 1950s work on the Donald Duck comic series leave us with precious little savings  Or maybe I am speaking for myself. 

Permits of Walmart

In re JLD Properties of St. Albans, LLC, 2011 VT 87

The best way to think about today’s case is to consider it a Rorschach ink blot.  What you see probably says more about your views on development and conservation in Vermont and the process that has evolved to regulate and control it, then it does about the specific project, a long in the works strip mall that almost anywhere else in the United States would have been erected a dozen years ago.

Nobody Has the Right

State v. Herrick, 2011 VT 94.

There is an old joke about the futility of bringing a knife to a gun-fight, but the same might be said about bringing a knife to a meeting in a public place called by the husband of the woman with whom you are currently enjoying relations. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dropping the Boom on Drunk Driving

By Jeffrey Thomson

State v. Smith, 2011 VT 83

The Vermont State House has made some very interesting exceptions to what constitutes a “motor vehicle” under Vermont’s DUI laws.  These exceptions include farm tractors (drinking while farming is not a crime), snowmobiles (it’s all in fun, right?), and highway building equipment (we’ll look the other way as long as we get these dang roads fixed).  However, the statutes fail to say anything about boom lifts—those big machines that you see on construction sites with a single arm attached to a large basket on the front. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Family Trust

Estate of Nancy Alden v. Alden, 2011 VT 64

Oh what a tangled web we weave for the SCOV to unravel.  Today’s case is a fascinating take on the old story of kids versus second mom.  As with most variations on this theme, this case plays out against the trust dad created either to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of his wealth or to have a few post-mortem chuckles at the expense of his family. 

Something to Build on

Trombley Plumbing & Heating v. Quinn, 2011 VT 70 (mem.)

Plumber is hired by Owners to install heating and hot water systems in Owner’s vacation home.  After final walk through, Plumber sends an invoice to Owners for the final $7,000.  Owners refuse to pay and cite several defects including poor workmanships, non-functioning systems, and incomplete work as the basis for withholding.  Over the following year, Owners experience several problems with the system and expend substantial additional money to correct problems.

Stir Crazy

In re Ronald Combs, 2011 VT 75 (mem.)

Today’s case comes from the narrow category known as post conviction review.  Commonly referred to as a PCR petition or just PCR, the process is the state equivalent of Habeas Corpus.  It is the second level of scrutiny that defendants in the criminal justice system are entitled to receive to protect their rights and to ensure the process is working properly.  PCR cases are procedural reviews that look not necessarily to ensure that the innocent stay out, the guilty stay in, but that the system retains some safeguards to accurately tell one from the other. 

Foreclosing Options

U.S. Bank N. A. v. Kimball, 2011 VT 81

There are two competing narratives dominating the foreclosure epidemic of the past three years.  For banks and mortgage security holders, the story is one of lost revenue on an unprecedented scale.  Promises to pay that are thrown to the wind, which force honest and humble banks to scramble and fight in an unfriendly housing market for even pennies on the dollar.

For homeowners, it is a bureaucratic nightmare of dark alleys and dead ends where it is difficult to figure out who you are working with, let alone to negotiate with anyone holding real power.  It is a situation where everyday the loss of your home, your savings, and your equity looms large.  It is a nightmare world where options float away as soon as they emerge and hope looks thin and ragged.

Can You Keep a Secret?

In re Search Warrants, 2011 VT 88 (mem.)

Let us begin by not ducking the identity of the putative victims in this case.  William and Lorraine Currier disappeared from the house on June 8, 2011. As of this date, no trace of them has been found, at least as far as the public knows.   Their families remain distraught.   And the community remains sympathetic and insatiably curious to the fates of this benign and friendly couple who has suddenly vanished. The only leads appear to be a series of search warrants that the Essex police have executed against individuals and properties in the area.  The press and members of the general public have sought access to these records in the search for some answers.  

Just the Fax

Crocker v. Crocker, 2011 VT 82 (mem.)

From the attorney nightmare file comes this chilling tale.  Final judgment at the trial court in this case was filed on May 13, 2011.  Appellant had 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the SCOV.  On June 13, 2011—the thirtieth day—Appellant faxes the Court a copy of the notice of appeal.  The original arrives one day later.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Family Recipes (for Disaster)

By Michael Tarrant

Hazlett v. Toomin, 2011 VT 73 (mem.)

This is a child custody battle; or, perhaps better stated, a child custody tale of woe.  In cases like this, it is hard to pin the “winner” label on anyone, because it ultimately seems that despite whichever parent gets the favorable court ruling, everyone loses.

We begin with the classic “boy meets girl.”  Father and Mother—met back in 2001 when Mother lived in New Jersey and Father lived in Vermont.  Both already had children from previous relationships.  Father and Mother were involved for several years before Mother decided to give up Jersey and its shore to settle down with Father and several of her children in a rental house in Vermont.  Marriage, although discussed, never happened. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Indirect Awards and Accolades

Dear Reader(s)

Those of you who follow this blog, probably know that we have a regular cross-posting arrangement with our good friends over at Vermont Digger.  Like the Huffington Post, they take our best material and re-publish it each week for free.

Lucky us!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Appreciable Height

By Nicole Killoran

In re Rinkers, Inc. and Shepard Act 250 Land Use Permit, 2011 VT 78 (mem.)

Today’s story takes place against the beautiful backdrop of Hardwick—a rural town with a quaint mix of farms, homes, small-scale businesses, and thick forest.  The Hardwick skyline, if you can call it that, rarely rises above the forest canopy and has the sleepy vibe of many towns north of Route 2 that hearkens back to a level of commerce that has long since dissipated. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mormonworld: the Theme Park

By Jeffrey Thomson

In re Times and Seasons, 2011 VT 76

The sensible side of me takes great consolation in Vermont’s Act 250 and its role as a barrier (often the only barrier) to some of the more baroque development proposals in many of Vermont’s zoning-free towns.  Yet, the part of me that relishes the “schemes of folly” has always wanted to go and see the Joseph Smith Theme Park & Gift Shop!  At least, the gift shop portion that is—welcoming me to the commercially friendly park of Latter Day Saints!   

Speaking Personally

In re Shenandoah, 2011 VT 68.

Let me suggest that there is a key difference in the way lawyers and civilians use language.  For most of us, outside the legal arena, language is a vehicle that we pack with meaning to send off to others.  If the words we choose create ambiguity or if, to extend the metaphor, we choose the wrong vehicle, there is no harm.  So long as our general sense is communicated, the language has served its purpose.  Sometimes, we even cultivate this tension between words and meaning to create humor, mystery, or drama. 

Lawyers have no use for such creative applications.  For lawyers, language is something to be pinned down, fixed, and then parsed.  If you have ever sat through a deposition or trial, you understand that a lot of what lawyers are doing is asking the same question six different ways to attack the answers for inconsistencies and to nail down every possible meaning. 

CSI: Putney

State v. Simmons, 2011 VT 69

Notwithstanding the high tech police procedurals with their fancy DNA gizmos and voice-analyzing do-dads, investigations still tend to rise and fall on three essential elements: tips, the innate stupidity of most criminals, and hard-work by the investigator to take advantage of the first two.  Today’s case is no different.