Marsh Inter Vivos Trust v. McGillvray, et al.


US-SC-VermontThe issue before the Supreme Court in this case involved the interplay between rulings and requirements relating to zoning in connection with a planned development and enforcement of restrictive covenants and deed restrictions applicable to property within the development. Plaintiff obtained municipal zoning approval to reconfigure the lot lines in her two-lot farmstead parcel within the Quechee Lakes subdivision, as well as to construct a dwelling on the second, yet-to-be-developed lot. The Environmental Division affirmed the zoning board’s award of the latter permit. Notwithstanding that order, in a declaratory judgment action also initiated by plaintiff, the civil division concluded that plaintiff’s proposed construction violated the applicable restrictive covenants and deed restrictions. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the Environmental Division’s decision resolved the dispute, that the civil division improperly considered extrinsic evidence when the disputed deed restrictions were clear on their face, that defendants’ challenge to plaintiff’s right to build the proposed dwelling was time-barred, and that the character of the development had changed so much that the disputed deed restrictions are no longer valid. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that Plaintiff’s theory of the case was that the deed language was ambiguous; plaintiff was instrumental in framing the trial court’s task as one of construing ambiguous deed language; and plaintiff led the way in introducing extrinsic evidence in support of plaintiff’s own interpretation. “Given this record, plaintiff cannot now challenge the trial court’s consideration of extrinsic evidence to interpret the documents.” The Court concluded that plaintiff suffered no prejudice from the trial court’s decision to consider the testimony about the context surrounding the disputed deed language – both that offered by plaintiff and by defendants. Finding no error in the trial court’s decision to deny the motion for declaratory judgment, the Court reached no other issues plaintiff raised in her appeal and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

Marsh Inter Vivos Trust v. McGillvray et al.

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