Letourneau v. Hickey
Vermont Supreme Court
807 A.2d 437 (2002)
Laurent and Alicia Letourneau (plaintiffs) and Michael and Susan Judd (defendants) owned neighboring properties. After the Letourneaus tapped maple trees on a swath of land whose ownership was disputed, the Judds filed suit in 1998 for a declaration of the property line. The Letourneaus were represented by Charles Hickey (defendant). The court ultimately ruled that the disputed property belonged to the Judds but that the Letourneaus had established a prescriptive right to continue harvesting sap from trees. The Letourneaus did not appeal. After the Letourneaus failed to pay their attorney, Hickey brought a collection action against them. The Letourneaus attempted to evade service and never filed a responsive pleading. Hickey received a default judgment in October 1999. In February 2001, the Letourneaus sued Hickey and the Judds, alleging that Hickey was liable for malpractice and that Michael Judd had slandered them at trial with testimony that their syrup tasted like tires. The Letourneaus also sought relief from the judgment in the Judds’ favor. The defendants moved for summary judgment, which the court granted. The court held that the Letourneaus had waived their malpractice claim against Hickey by failing to assert it as a compulsory counterclaim in the collection suit. As for the Judds, the court concluded that the alleged slander was privileged and that the Letourneaus had failed to prove actual harm. The court dismissed the Letourneaus’ motion for relief from the judgment without a hearing or the issuance of findings. The Letourneaus appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Per Curiam)
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