Gravel & Shea PC

March 2018

Gravel & Shea Wins Supreme Court Victory for Family Farmers in Franklin County

After a trial court win, Gravel & Shea attorneys successfully represented a husband and wife before the Vermont Supreme Court. The couple sought to maintain ownership of their family farm in Enosburg Falls, Vermont. The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court judgment in favor of the couple in January.

The husband and wife landowners leased their farm to another farmer in 2011 with an option to buy. The option to buy was set to expire in May 2015. However, in February 2015, the husband orally agreed to a three-month extension of the option.

When the farmer leasing the farm attempted to purchase the property in August 2015, the wife argued that the option to buy had expired in May. The farmer brought suit, claiming that the husband was acting as the apparent agent of his wife when he agreed to an extension.

After a three-day trial, the lower court rejected this argument, stating that any claimed extension was invalid because it required the consent of both the husband and wife, who own the farm as tenants by the entirety.

The farmer also argued that the landowners must sell the land under the doctrine of equitable estoppel because the farmer took actions based on his belief that he would be able to purchase the property. The trial court also rejected this argument.

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the decision. In doing so, the Court noted that the wife made no misrepresentations and that the farmer knew the property was owned by both the husband and the wife but took no steps to determine whether the wife approved of the extension.

Bob Hemley represented Gravel & Shea’s clients at trial. Dan Martin assisted with the brief and argued the case in the Vermont Supreme Court.