Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle
Island Industrial, LLC, appealed a trial court decision granting the Town of Grand Isle’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. In 2004, in connection with the development of a subdivision known as Island Industrial Park, Island Industrial constructed a private road called Island Circle. In 2014, Island Industrial petitioned the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. At a September 2016 meeting, the selectboard, as recommended by the road commissioner, unanimously approved a motion to accept Island Circle as a public road after a two-year period to ensure the pavement would hold up during frost and thaw periods. At the end of the two-year period, Island Industrial executed an irrevocable offer of dedication, in which it agreed to execute and deliver deeds conveying Island Circle to the Town. In 2018, Island Industrial received an email from the Town, explaining that a special meeting was being held two days later to discuss the Town’s acceptance of Island Circle as a public road. The selectboard held two special meetings to discuss rescinding its 2016 motion to accept Island Circle as a public road. Following an executive session, the selectboard rescinded the 2016 motion and provided three reasons for its decision: (1) Island Circle would only provide benefits to the Town in the future but not at this time; (2) the road would be expensive to maintain; and (3) safety concerns. A few days later, Island Industrial received a letter from the selectboard reaffirming that the Town rescinded the 2016 motion. Island Industrial appealed the selectboard’s decision rescinding the 2016 motion pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75, and asked the superior court to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Town to accept Island Circle as a public road. Appealing the denial of mandamus relief, Island Industrial argued to the Vermont Supreme Court that the trial court erred in considering the Town’s motion for judgment on the pleadings when Island Industrial spent time and resources responding to the Town’s previously filed summary-judgment motion. Alternatively, Island Industrial argued that the Town was not entitled to judgment on the pleadings because the allegations in the complaint, if proven, demonstrated that Island Industrial was entitled to mandamus relief. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Island Industrial, LLC v. Town of Grand Isle" on Justia Law
Moyers v. Poon
Defendants own a building on a lot at 17 Main Street in Bristol, Vermont. They have fenced in a small parcel behind their building, which they use to store materials in service of their building. Plaintiff claims to own a driveway that runs to the rear of defendants’ building, which defendants use for deliveries, as well as a parking lot behind defendants’ building where the small fenced-in parcel is located. Plaintiff initially sued defendants in 2014, claiming title to the “driveway along the side of defendants’ commercial building” and the small parcel. Defendants counterclaimed, arguing that they had “a right to use the driveway and land behind their building for parking, access, delivery, storage, and other related commercial purposes” by virtue of a prescriptive easement for the driveway and through adverse possession with respect to the small parcel. In May 2018, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue here. He claimed to own the property south of defendants’ property line, and he argued that defendants were trespassing by storing items on his land. Plaintiff asserted that defendants knew that he wanted the items removed and, by refusing to do so, they were depriving him of the possession and use of his property. Plaintiff also asserted that defendants benefited from his ownership and maintenance of the driveway and they were required by 19 V.S.A. 2702 to contribute rateably to his maintenance costs. Finally, plaintiff sought punitive damages based on his allegation that defendants were acting in bad faith. When the trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, plaintiff appealed, raising numerous arguments. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of plaintiff's claim for contribution under 19 V.S.A. 2702, and affirmed the remainder of the trial court's decision. View "Moyers v. Poon" on Justia Law
Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al.
Plaintiff Cameron Crogan was seriously injured when he rode his motorbike into a cable strung across a beach access road at the lakeside residential development where he lived with his family. As a result, his mother filed a negligence action against several entities related to the development, including the homeowners’ association and a separately formed beach association, as well as certain individuals in both their individual and representative capacities. The civil division granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment primarily on the grounds that, given the undisputed facts of this case, Vermont’s Recreational Use Statute protected them from liability, and the individual defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care in connection with the accident that led to this lawsuit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the individual defendants were entitled to summary judgment, but reversed the trial court’s determination that the Recreational Use Statute was applicable in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings concerning plaintiff’s claims against the non-individual defendants. View "Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al." on Justia Law
Zucker v. Wark
Donald Zucker appealed a summary-judgment decision awarding attorney’s fees to Gregory Wark, because Zucker refused to mediate a dispute arising out of a real estate purchase and sale agreement. On appeal, Zucker argued he was not required to mediate because the purchase and sale agreement was not an enforceable contract. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment, and vacated the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees. View "Zucker v. Wark" on Justia Law
Billewicz, et al. v. Town of Fair Haven
Plaintiffs Johnathan Billewicz, Michael Billewicz, J & M Investment Trust, and Lillian Billewicz appealed a the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to defendant Town of Fair Haven. Plaintiffs sought damages and a declaratory judgment that deeds purporting to convey their properties to the Town following a tax sale were void. The court found their action was foreclosed by the one-year statute of limitations at 32 V.S.A. 5294(4) for claims challenging the validity of a tax collector’s acts. Plaintiffs argued this was error because their claims were instead subject to the three-year statute of limitations for actions for the recovery of land sold at a tax sale under 32 V.S.A. 5263. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Billewicz, et al. v. Town of Fair Haven" on Justia Law
Demarest v. Town of Underhill
Plaintiff David Demarest filed suit against the Town of Underhill, seeking a declaration that he had a right of vehicle access over a Town trail, and appealing the Selectboard’s decision denying his request for highway access to a proposed new subdivision on his property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town, concluding that plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief was barred by claim preclusion and that the Town acted within its discretion in denying the permit. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred in applying claim preclusion, and that the Town exceeded its authority under the statute in denying his request for access. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Demarest v. Town of Underhill" on Justia Law
In re Estate of Theodore George
Daughter Deborah George appealed the civil division’s determination that her father, decedent Theodore George, was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was properly included in his estate. Decedent purchased the vehicle at issue, a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, in 1992. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a Certificate of Title to decedent in 1994 in his name only. The copy of the title in the record contained no assignment of ownership to daughter. In 2006, decedent submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the DMV. Decedent’s name was listed in the space provided for the owner, and daughter’s name was listed in the adjacent space provided for a co-owner. Next to daughter’s name, a handwritten annotation said, “add co-owner.” The form directed applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner was listed and provides that “if no box is checked joint tenants will be selected.” Decedent made no indication. At the bottom of the form, decedent signed the application; the line for the co-owner’s signature was left blank. No bill of sale accompanied the 2006 Registration Application. The DMV issued registration certificates naming both decedent and daughter for 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017-2018. On appeal of the civil division's determination, daughter argued that decedent’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership effectively transferred an interest in the vehicle to her. Alternatively, she argued that decedent’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was insufficient evidence that decedent transferred an interest in the vehicle to daughter under either theory and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Theodore George" on Justia Law
Khan et al. v. v. Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Assn., Inc.
In prior proceedings, the Vermont Supreme Court remanded this case involving Alpine Haven, a residential development in the Towns of Montgomery and Westfield, Vermont. The case was remanded to the trial court for a determination of the basis upon which the Alpine Haven Property Owners Association, Inc. (AHPOA) could bill plaintiffs for services that AHPOA provided. The trial court determined that those plaintiffs who owned “Chalet Lots” were required by their deeds to pay AHPOA a reasonable fee for road maintenance, snowplowing, and garbage removal; those plaintiffs who owned “Large Lots” were required by statute and equitable principles to contribute to AHPOA’s road maintenance costs. The court concluded plaintiffs failed to show any material factual dispute regarding the reasonableness or accuracy of AHPOA’s fees. It thus ordered plaintiffs to pay AHPOA’s annual assessments between 2011 and 2018. Plaintiffs challenged this decision on appeal. But finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Khan et al. v. v. Alpine Haven Property Owners' Assn., Inc." on Justia Law
Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Assn, Inc. v. Deptula
Homeowner Edward Deptula appealed pro se a judgment in favor of plaintiff Alpine Haven Property Owners’ Association, Inc. (AHPOA) and third-party defendants Estate of Robert Gensburg and Gensburg & Greaves, PLLC (collectively Gensburg) in a long-running dispute over homeowner fees. AHPOA’s billing was based either on voluntary membership in AHPOA, or a homeowner’s obligation by deed and/or equity to pay for certain services that AHPOA provided. AHPOA owns and maintains a 4.5-mile road network within Alpine Haven, which almost all owners need to access their properties. AHPOA is also responsible for the streetlights, snowplowing, and garbage disposal within Alpine Haven. Deptula purchased a chalet lot in 1972. He has repeatedly refused to pay AHPOA’s annual assessments and those of AHPOA’s predecessor-in-interest and assignor, Leisure Properties. This has led to numerous collection actions. On appeal of this latest challenge to the assessments, Deptula raised numerous arguments, but finding no reversible error in the judgment in favor of AHPOA, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Alpine Haven Property Owners' Assn, Inc. v. Deptula" on Justia Law
VTRE Investments, LLC v. MontChilly, Inc.
Defendant, MontChilly, Inc., appealed a trial court’s order requiring it to remove portions of a fence that interfered with plaintiff VTRE Investments, LLC's easement for ingress and egress. MontChilly also contended the trial court improperly failed to issue a ruling on its counterclaim for trespass against plaintiff for parking on MontChilly’s property without any legal right to do so. On cross-appeal, plaintiff challenged the court’s holding that it was bound by a reciprocal easement allowing a drainpipe over its property on the ground that its predecessor in interest did not sign the instrument creating the easement. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order requiring MontChilly to remove portions of its fence, and remanded for the court to enter judgment on MontChilly’s trespass counterclaim. With respect to VTRE’s cross-appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the court’s judgment. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "VTRE Investments, LLC v. MontChilly, Inc." on Justia Law