Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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The Vermont Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s request to extend an exception to the general rule to the circumstances of this case, which wanted to impose on attorneys a duty to prospective beneficiaries of undrafted, unexecuted wills. Doing so, in the Court’s view, would undermine the duty of loyalty that an attorney owes to his or her client and invite claims premised on speculation regarding the testator’s intent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against both defendant and his law firm alleging that defendant committed legal malpractice and consumer fraud, specifically alleging defendant breached a duty of care by failing to advise mother on matters of her estate and failing to draft a codicil reflecting her intent. The court granted defendants a partial motion to dismiss on the consumer fraud allegation. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding another count of legal malpractice. This amended complaint alleged that defendant breached a duty owed to plaintiff to the extent that he could have successfully challenged mother’s will. According to plaintiff, he filed six affidavits from mother’s relatives, friends, and neighbors indicating that mother was committed to leaving a House she owned to plaintiff. Defendants again moved for summary judgment in which they argued that an attorney did not owe “a duty to a non-client prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will or other estate planning document.” The trial court ruled there was no duty to beneficiaries of a client’s estate under Vermont law. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Strong v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

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The information filed by the State charged Serendipity Morales with six counts of unauthorized practice of law. Morales was an inmate at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Center, and it was alleged she engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by helping fellow inmates in their cases, including performing legal research and drafting motions. In this probable cause review, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's consideration was whether there was probable cause to believe that Morales committed the alleged offenses. The Court concluded that there was not and accordingly dismissed the State’s information without prejudice. View "In re Serendipity Morales" on Justia Law

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K.F.'s (a juvenile) father appealed the termination of his parental rights. On appeal to the Supreme Court, he argued the trial court erred in denying his motion for new counsel since his previous lawyer had a conflict of interest. As justification, father argued that his trial counsel failed to pursue certain strategies he suggested, and that she would not introduce or object to what he felt was important evidence at trial because she had been a foster parent and was therefore sympathetic to the Department for Children and Families (DCF). The trial court did not find these arguments persuasive and denied father's motion to remove father's trial counsel. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that father did not demonstrate that his lawyer rendered ineffective counsel, and accordingly affirmed the trial court's decision. View "In re K.F." on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a jury award of emotional distress and economic damages in a legal malpractice action. Defendant challenged the damages award on the grounds that emotional distress damages were not available in a legal malpractice case and that the award of economic damages equal to the amount plaintiff paid to settle the underlying case was improper because plaintiff failed to establish that the underlying settlement was reasonable. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed as to the award of emotional distress damages and affirmed as to the economic damages award. View "Vincent v. DeVries" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Celeste Puppolo, executor of the Estate of Eva Puppolo, appealed a jury verdict in favor of Defendant Donovan & O'Connor, LLC stemming from a legal malpractice action. Plaintiff claimed that the trial court erred in denying a motion to withdraw her counsel, that she was denied a fair trial when the court allowed Defendant’s attorney to testify to the merits of the underlying medical malpractice action, and that the trial court improperly admitted expert testimony that exceeded the scope of the defendant’s expert disclosure. Plaintiff's was unpersuaded by the results of investigations into the death of her aunt Eva, and consulted with Defendant about bringing a wrongful death and survivorship claim against the aunt's nursing home and attending physicians. In light of the autopsy report, and the conclusions of the police, Defendant declined to take the case. Defendant told Plaintiff that the limitations period for the survival action began to accrue when she was appointed executor of the estate. Defendant conceded that this statement was incorrect and that the limitations period had actually begun to accrue two months earlier, when the original executor was appointed. Defendant also conceded that it failed to specifically notify Plaintiff of the two year limitations period for the wrongful death action. Plaintiff filed a complaint against the home and physicians through another attorney. Both claims were dismissed on summary judgment as time-barred. Plaintiff subsequently filed suit against Defendant, claiming that her reliance on its legal advice deprived her of the opportunity to pursue the wrongful death and survivorship claims for her aunt's death. Upon review, the Supreme Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in its decisions in Plaintiff's case. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the jury verdict against Plaintiff. View "Puppolo v. Donovan & O'Connor, LLC" on Justia Law