Vermont Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments at Vermont Law School
March 7, 2012
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. -- The Vermont Supreme Court will oral arguments in six cases starting at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 28, in Oakes Hall in the high court's annual session at Vermont Law School.
The court will consider the following cases:
• In re Joint Petition of Green Mountain Power Corp. et al., 2011-277 & 2011-366/367, 9:30 a.m. - 10:20 a.m.: These consolidated cases concern Green Mountain Power Corp.'s development of a wind turbine project in Lowell, known as the Kingdom Community Wind Project. The Public Service Board (PSB) issued a certificate of public good (CPG) in May 2011, approving the project subject to certain conditions. The nearby towns of Craftsbury and Albany, along with a citizens group called Lowell Mountains Group, Inc., appeal the issuance of the CPG and related orders. The appellants allege that the PSB erred in numerous findings and rulings, including issues surrounding noise standards, habitat fragmentation and associated easements, economic considerations and the loss of natural communities. The appellants also argue that their due process rights were violated because the PSB did not hold a public hearing before issuing two orders (concerning habitat mitigation and the economic viability of the project) after it already issued the CPG. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources appears as an appellee only with respect to the question of whether the project will have an undue adverse effect on the natural environment.
• State v. Vuley, 20 11-087, 10:30 a.m. - 11 a.m.: The defendant appeals his convictions for two counts of first-degree arson arising from repeated fires at his home in Colchester. The defendant claims that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that it could use the so-called "doctrine of chances," which holds that certain uncommon events are unlikely to occur repeatedly by accident, to find that he "willfully and maliciously" set the fires. He argues that this instruction violated his constitutional right to due process by allowing the jury to find that he possessed this state of mind in setting the fires based solely on the number of fires. He also argues that the trial court erred in denying his motions to sever the trials for each offense and to dismiss the charges, and that there is insufficient evidence to support his convictions.
• State v. Paro, 2011-184/185, 11 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.: The defendant, who has entered a conditional guilty plea to DUI, appeals the trial court's denial of her motion to suppress evidence obtained after a traffic stop. A Hartford police officer observed the defendant idling her Chevrolet pick-up truck in the parking lot of Northeast Foreign Cars in the middle of the night. Having been burglarized before, the business was on the Hartford Police Department's "directive patrol list." Mindful of these past crimes and thinking it strange that an American-made truck was idling at a foreign car repair shop at such an hour, the officer decided to investigate further. As the officer turned his cruiser around, defendant drove off. Based on these facts, the officer executed a traffic stop, after which the defendant was arrested for DUI. The defendant claims that the traffic stop was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 11 of the Vermont Constitution. She argues that the officer did not have "reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity" before making the stop, as required by both constitutions. As a result, she argues that the evidence obtained after the stop should be suppressed.
• State v. M.W., 2011-229, 1:30 p.m. - 2 p.m.: Does a statute restricting competency evaluations of defendants violate the separation of powers doctrine by divesting trial judges of the power to order a competency evaluation at the Vermont State Hospital? The statute at issue, 13 V.S.A. § 4815(g)(1), provides that a court "shall not order" an inpatient examination unless a mental health professional determines that the person is in need of treatment. The defendant was arraigned and the judge ordered an outpatient competency evaluation, which determined that he may be suffering from a mental illness. While free on conditions of release, the defendant was arrested for illegal trespass. The court then ordered a mental health screening, which determined that he suffered from a medical condition, not a mental illness. Thus, because defendant was not a person "in need of treatment," the court did not send him to the state mental hospital, but set conditions of release and bail. The State's Attorney argues that the statute usurps the trial judge's authority. The Attorney General has intervened and argues that the interlocutory appeal should be dismissed as moot or as improvidently granted, and that the statutory restriction does not violate the separation of powers doctrine.
• Shattuck v. Peck, 2011-145, 2 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.: This case involves an attempt to use the equitable powers of the court to divide property after a long-term romantic relationship. Appellant Victor Shattuck and appellee Donna Mae Peck were involved in a romantic relationship for more than 12 years. The parties were never married, but they lived together, shared expenses and coordinated estate planning. In the 1990s, they shared a residence on her property in Springfield. By 1999, Shattuck had purchased land in Cavendish. They agreed to transfer their respective properties to each other as joint tenants, each with a survivorship right. In 2005, the couple moved to a newly constructed home on the Cavendish property and began renting out the property in Springfield. They later became concerned that the rental income would adversely affect government benefits she was receiving on account of a disability. Accordingly, she quitclaimed both the Springfield and Cavendish property to Shattuck and he arranged financing to pay off the Springfield mortgage and refinance outstanding debt on the Cavendish property. Although the couple lived together as a family in Cavendish, the record indicates that Peck paid "rent." In 2007, both parties executed wills naming each other as residuary beneficiaries. In 2010, they broke off their relationship and Shattuck moved out of their shared residence in Cavendish. He later filed a complaint seeking her eviction from the property, a writ of possession and past due rents. She counterclaimed that the Cavendish property, as well as another property in Springfield, were the subject of a partnership between the parties. The Civil Division found Peck had failed to present sufficient evidence that either a partnership or constructive trust was created, and it resolved all issues in favor of Shattuck. Peck appeals.
• Columbia v. Lawton, 2011-151, 2:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.: This case presents a constitutional question. In short: What rights does a man have who claims to be the biological father of a child when another man has already been legally declared the child's father pursuant to Vermont's parentage statute? A putative biological father brought an action to establish parentage over a 2-year-old child. However, a previous parentage order had already determined that a different man is the child's father. The section of the parentage statute on "standing" reads: "An action to establish parentage in cases where parentage has not been previously determined either by an action under this subchapter or by adoption, may be brought by a . . . person . . . alleging himself . . . to be the natural parent of a child." 15 V.S.A. § 302(a) (emphasis added). It was this section of the parentage statute that the trial court ruled precluded the present putative biological father from seeking to establish parentage (because parentage had already been established as to someone else). Both the mother and the putative biological father were pro se during the first round of arguments in this matter. The putative father argued that he received no notice of the earlier parentage action, and therefore had no opportunity to attempt to assert his rights to parentage. Recognizing the constitutional concerns that the case raised, the Court sought additional briefing from Court-appointed counsel.
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