Someday we’ll change the picture, but that
day will not be today

By Andy Delaney

Every time I sit down to write one of these weekly updates, my former selves pop into my head. This week, it’s my nineteen-year-old self saying, “Dude. It’s Friday night. What is wrong with you?!?”

Speaking of nineteen-year olds, if a nineteen-year old is being homeschooled, does the other parent still have to pay child support? Well if the child-support order says support continues “if the child is enrolled [in], but has not completed high school,” then it’s quite possible. The trial court allegedly found that a home-study program met that clause and told dad to keep paying. Dad appeals and SCOV affirms—not because it wholeheartedly agrees with the trial court that a home-study program is the same thing as high school, but because dad never provided a hearing transcript for SCOV to review. Golden v. Worthington, 2020 VT 71.

Our next case deals with tax assessments. Taxpayer bought his home in an arms-length transaction for $350K. While the purchase was pending, the listers set the value at $483Kish. Taxpayer argued that the purchase price conclusively set the fair market value at the price he paid and the wonderfully unexciting procedural saga—in this case including an unpublished SCOV reversal—that accompanies a taxpayer grievance ensued. In the end, taxpayer ended up with an even higher assessment ($492.3K) based on comparison of similar properties in the ‘hood. On appeal, taxpayer argues “fair market value” means what he paid for the place. He’s got a point, but SCOV stamps the look-beyond-the-purchase-price approach with its “affirmed” stamp and reasons that the Town had strong evidence that taxpayer’s property was worth a lot more than he paid for it. Martinez v. Hartford, 2020 VT 70.

If you plan to sell retail fireworks at any point in the future (and I mean, who doesn’t), you’ll want to read this next opinion. Without getting too far into the weeds, here are the takeaways: (1) a retail fireworks establishment requires a local municipal permit to do so; and (2) the rest of the statute is clear as mud. My favorite part of this opinion is when SCOV says “both parties misconstrue” the statute. Law is a blast. Get it? Blast? I kill me. Green Mountain Fireworks, LLC v. Colchester, 2020 VT 64.

Fourth and final for this week is an opinion about our civil stalking statute. The opinion is lengthy but the lesson is simple. Behavior that could reasonably construed as harassing doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of stalking. The majority reasons that the stalking statute, because it also describes criminal conduct, should be narrowly construed and concludes that defendants acts—multiple (over 150) phone calls, sending books to plaintiff’s husband, and a stare down in a coffee shop—do not constitute a “course of conduct” to support an anti-stalking order. Chief Justice Reiber joined by retired Judge Howard dissents. The dissent reasons that the conduct falls within the statute and the majority’s “narrow” reading of the statute is not supported nor is it warranted. Hinkson v. Stevens, 2020 VT 69.