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Buxton v. Springfield Lodge No. 679

Supreme Court of Vermont

May 23, 2014

Michael R. Buxton
v.
Springfield Lodge No. 679, Loyal Order of Moose, Inc. and Robert Merrill, Sr

Page 172

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Windsor Unit, Civil Division. Theresa S. DiMauro, J. (summary judgment); Harold E. Eaton, Jr., J. (judgment as matter of law).

John J. Boylan, III and John D. Willey, Jr. of Boylan Associates, P.C., Springfield, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Matthew D. Anderson of Pratt Vreeland Kennelly Martin & White, Ltd., Rutland, for Defendants-Appellees.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Crawford, JJ.

OPINION

Page 173

DOOLEY, J.

[¶1] Plaintiff appeals two superior court decisions in this personal-injury negligence action: (1) an order dismissing all claims against defendant Robert Merrill, Sr., in his individual capacity, on summary judgment, and (2) an order granting partial judgment as a matter of law during trial, concluding that any liability of defendant Springfield Lodge No. 679, Loyal Order of Moose, Inc., could not be predicated on the action or inaction of Mr. Merrill, Sr., its governor. We affirm both decisions.

[¶2] We treat each appealed decision separately, beginning with the summary judgment order. We review summary judgment decisions de novo. Doe v. Forrest, 2004 VT 37, ¶ 9, 176 Vt. 476, 853 A.2d 48. In doing so, we apply the same standard as the trial court. Id. We therefore affirm a grant of summary judgment if " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." V.R.C.P. 56(a). In reviewing the facts, " we give the nonmoving party" -- in this case, plaintiff -- " the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences." Doe, 176 Vt. 476, 2004 VT 37, ¶ 9, 853 A.2d 48.

[¶3] At the time of the summary judgment order, the record reflected the following basic sequence of events, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Plaintiff, a party guest, was injured during a New Year's Eve party hosted by the Springfield Lodge when a fight broke out between two other party guests. The combatants were Danny Snide and Robert Merrill, Jr., the adult son of defendant Robert Merrill, Sr. Merrill, Sr. and his spouse -- Merrill, Jr.'s mother -- were both present at the party. At the time, Merrill, Sr. was the governor of the Lodge, the highest position in the Lodge hierarchy. In this position, Merrill, Sr. was an unpaid volunteer.

[¶4] Merrill, Jr. had a reputation as a " hothead" and a " fighter." He was bickering throughout the night with Snide about

Page 174

arm wrestling, which is forbidden by Lodge policy. Snide's spouse claimed that Merrill, Jr. was challenging Snide to arm wrestle and that she complained about this behavior to Merrill, ...


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