Yes, I made this just for this case

Moyers v. Poon, 2018 VT 27

By Andrew Delaney

SCOV begins this opinion by noting that the case has “a tangled procedural history.” Briefly, the whole thing boils down to use of a driveway near some commercial buildings in Bristol. Mr. Moyers filed suit against the Poons alleging he owned the driveway and that the Poons’ use of it for deliveries and storage of waste containers and fuel tanks was a trespass. The Poons counterclaimed, arguing that they had a prescriptive easement or had adversely possessed the driveway. They never acknowledged that Moyers was the titled owner of the property.

Because SCOV skips the specifics of the claims and counterclaims, we will too.

Moyers moved for summary judgment. He admitted that the Poons had a deeded right of way to use the driveway for deliveries. The extent of that easement wasn’t established. The trial court granted summary judgment for Moyers on the Poons’ claims for possessory and prescriptive rights in the driveway. The decision didn’t address any damages or injunctive relief based on trespass nor did it address whether the Poons had exceed the scope of any deeded right of way.

This is where things get a bit confusing. After the summary judgment decision, the trial court dealt with additional motions. These included Moyers’s motion to dismiss claims for damages for trespass and shared driveway expenses and the Poons’ motion to amend the summary judgment decision because no deeded right of access had been produced. SCOV notes that Moyers’ “motion was confusing in that it also sought the entry of a final judgment in connection with the summary judgment decision, despite the fact that the trespass claim had not been adjudicated.” The trial court reasoned that the trespass claim was being dismissed in its entirety. Moyers objected to that interpretation because he still wanted an injunction. The trial court clarified its determination that the Poons had a right of access either by deed or by Moyers’ admission.

Then the trial court entered final judgment for Moyers on the prescriptive and adverse possession claims. It also enjoined the Poons from using the driveway other than for accessing deliveries, even though there’d been no judicial determination or admission by the Poons that a trespass was occurring. Both parties appealed, and that resulted in an unpublished entry order.

SCOV affirmed everything except the injunction, which it struck in the absence of a finding that the Poons had trespassed. Importantly, it didn’t remand the case to the trial court.

But Moyers filed a motion for hearing on trespass (three days after the unpublished entry order issued) in the trial court. The Poons said, “Hold up. SCOV didn’t remand this. You—the trial court—have no jurisdiction. Also, we already litigated this claim—that’s res judicata in fancy-lawyer talk.” If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know the Poons didn’t actually say that. This is my loose, artistically licensed paraphrasing of the arguments.

The trial court denied the motion to dismiss in a brief entry order.

The Poons take an interlocutory appeal.

SCOV begins with this sentence: “We have long recognized that unless a remand is ordered when the final judgment or decree is entered in the Supreme Court, the lower court is without jurisdiction to consider the case further.” I’m no psychic, but I think I know where this is going. SCOV reasons that if a remand was necessary to dig into the trespass claim, then Moyers should’ve filed a motion for reargument after the unpublished SCOV opinion issued.

The Poons are right. The trial court had no jurisdiction to consider Moyers’ motion. The motion to dismiss should have been granted by the trial court. And that would take care of it generally, but SCOV wants to cut down uncertainty in case the parties continue this dispute. So, SCOV takes up the Poons’ res judicata argument.

Here, SCOV reasons “The final judgment in this case bars relitigation of an alleged trespass by the Poons that was or could have been litigated in this action.” But SCOV does leave the door open a crack by noting that if facts arise that could amount to a new cause of action, then Moyers may be able to bring a new claim for trespass.