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avidreader13

Being sued by independent school

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My kids went to a very small, informal independent school of only 6 children, and run out of a woman's home. After 5 years of supporting this school, I had a financial setback and had to leave this school after giving her a few weeks notice. She immediately filled the spots with 2 new students, and 9 months later I have been summoned to small claims court as she claims I owe her for the full years tuition. I no longer have a copy of the contract, but after 5 years of reading it, I certainly never remember that one would be responsible for the full tuition if one left. Where should I begin my research for a defense? ( I live in VT) Assuming this was in the contract, is there any way to argue for unforeseen financial hardship? Any help would be appreciated, I am a low-income single mom and am terrified of what will happen if I lose (she's asking for $ 5,000!)

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The place to start is by seeking a copy of the contract through discovery. Then head to a local law library to do some research.

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My kids went to a very small, informal independent school of only 6 children, and run out of a woman's home. After 5 years of supporting this school, I had a financial setback and had to leave this school after giving her a few weeks notice. She immediately filled the spots with 2 new students, and 9 months later I have been summoned to small claims court as she claims I owe her for the full years tuition. I no longer have a copy of the contract,

A good argument for keeping important records forever.

but after 5 years of reading it, I certainly never remember that one would be responsible for the full tuition if one left.

That doesn't mean it isn't in there.

Where should I begin my research for a defense? ( I live in VT)

Right here, on the VT small claims website where you should study EVERYTHING, especially the part where you have 20 days to file an answer if you want to raise a defense.

http://vermontjudiciary.org/GTC/Civil/smallclaims.aspx

Small claims court generally doesn't allow discovery and I don't see anything in the VT rules allowing it, so you aren't going to see the contract until you get to court.

At which time I suggest you ask for a continuance so you have time to study it and prepare your defense.

Assuming this was in the contract, is there any way to argue for unforeseen financial hardship?

No.

Financial hardship is NEVER a reason to breach a contract.

However, you noted that she filled the spaces right away. That gives you the opportunity to argue mitigation. In our legal system the aggrieved party (her) is 1 - not allowed to profit from the breach and 2 - must mitigate her damages as soon as reasonably possible.

I don't have the time or the inclination to research case law for you and google is very limited so I suggest you consult an attorney and at least get some case citations that you can quote in court. NEVER assume that a judge in small claims court is going to do it for you. It's up to you to argue your defense.

I am a low-income single mom and am terrified of what will happen if I lose (she's asking for $ 5,000!)

$5000 is the small claims limit. It's unlikely that she'll be able to justify that amount.

Unfortunately, neither you or I know what the contract says.

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There is not a copy of the contract on their website and small claims court said they did not know under which grounds she felt owed this money, if there was indeed a contract, and told me there was no discovery so I couldn't obtain a copy of anything the plaintiff may have as evidence. I have scoured my house, to no avail; I left on supposedly friendly terms with this woman and just didn't think I needed to hold onto anything, she never led me to think she felt owed anything, never mind thinking of suing me. Lesson learned-I will hold onto everything from now on.

adjusterjack- Thank you for the great help. I had already spoken to the court clerk about being able to ask for a continuance if evidence was brought forth that I didn't know about so I could prepare my defense, but she just kept saying that the plaintiff would really have to prove that I owed them this money and I shouldn't worry-not very helpful!

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Lesson learned-I will hold onto everything from now on.

Good idea. Get yourself a flatbed scanner (if you don't have one) and scan every document the minute you get it. Use a back up hard drive that automatically backs up your data every night and use a portable hard drive periodically that you keep away from the computer. That way you can keep documents forever without the paper taking up space and you print it out if you ever need them.

A few years ago I started scanning all my paper files on to my computer. Worked on it about a half hour at a time over a period of months and got 4 drawers of files reduced to one drawer. Since then every time I pay a bill I scan it along with the check. Takes about 30 seconds. Same with online transactions - screen shot - save. Purchase receipts - scanned as soon as I bring them home. Anything else - scan it - save it.

adjusterjack- Thank you for the great help. I had already spoken to the court clerk about being able to ask for a continuance if evidence was brought forth that I didn't know about so I could prepare my defense, but she just kept saying that the plaintiff would really have to prove that I owed them this money and I shouldn't worry-not very helpful!

What'll happen in court is that she will present her case and documents first and you'll have the opportunity to respond. If that's when you see the contract, then you'll have to wing it.

If the contract goes against you, don't forget to raise mitigation of damages as a defense to the amount. It would help if you could present evidence that she filled the spots that your kids vacated just in case she tries to deny it.

Of course, if she denies filling the spots then the mitigation requirement could work against her.

Here's an article explaining mitigation:

http://www.douglastu...f-damages-rule/

I also found the following reference to a VT case decision that you can cite:

"Under general contract law, "the nonbreaching party in a contract

dispute has a duty to make reasonable efforts to mitigate damages arising

from the breach." Estate of Sawyer v. Crowell, 151 Vt. 287, 294, 559 A.2d

687, 692 (1989). This duty to mitigate has alternately been referred to as

the doctrine of "avoidable consequences," in recognition of the fact that an

injured party should not be able to recover damages for loss that could have

been avoided with reasonable effort. Reid v. Mutual of Omaha Ins. Co., 776

P.2d 896, 904 n.8 (Utah 1989); see also 3 E. Farnsworth, Farnsworth on

Contracts { 12.12, at 220 (1990) (discussing preclusion of recovery for

avoidable losses); Restatement (Second) of Contracts { 350 comment b (1981)

(no recovery for reasonably avoidable losses)."

I did not find the full decision of Estate of Sawyer vs Crowell but I found several other VT case decisions that cite that one. I'm posting them without reading them so you'll have to determine how they apply.

http://caselaw.findl...rt/1382736.html

https://law.justia.c...0/op89-020.html

http://vt.findacase....0011.DVT.htm/qx

http://www.morelaw.c...sp?s=VT&d=39866

http://www.ratemyhor...ane-savoie.aspx

And here's the exact quote from the Restatement (Second) of Contracts:

"§350. AVOIDABILITY AS A LIMITATION ON DAMAGES

(1) Except as stated in Subsection (2), damages are not recoverable for loss that the injured party could have avoided without undue risk, burden, or humiliation.

(2) The injured party is not precluded from recovery by the rule stated in Subsection (1) to the extent that he has made reasonable but unsuccessful efforts to avoid loss."

So, if she did fill the spaces you might only owe until the date she filled them. If she didn't fill the spaces, you raise lack of mitigation as a defense and then she will have to explain what efforts she made to do so and why she was not successful.

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