This glossary is intended to help you understand the words and phrases used by judges, lawyers and clerks in Superior Court. Print this and take it with you when you go to your hearing. You can also use this glossary to help you prepare the forms you need in your case.
Action - A dispute that is in court. This is also called a civil action or a lawsuit.
Actual Notice - Written notice hand-delivered or mailed to the tenant's last known address.
Adjudicate - This describes what the court does with a case. A court decides, or adjudicates the case.
Affiant - A person who writes a statement and swears that the information is true.
Affidavit - A written statement that can be submitted to court. The person who signs the affidavit (the affiant) must swear in front of a notary that the statement is true. It is a crime to make a false statement in an affidavit.
Affirm - To swear or promise to tell the truth. To take an oath.
Affirmation - A promise to tell the truth.
Affirmative Defenses - These are facts that the tenant must prove to defeat the eviction. A defendant who has affirmative defenses must put them in the Answer to the Complaint.
Allegations - This is what one party says happened. Allegations have to be proved in a trial to win the case.
Alternative Dispute Resolution - Resolving a case outside of court. Alternative dispute resolution may include negotiation, arbitration, mediation, or early neutral evaluation.
Answer - The Answer is the written paper the Defendant files in Court. The Answer responds to the Allegations in the Plaintiff's Complaint. The Defendant must file his or her Answer in Court within 20 days of when the Complaint was served.
Appeal - This is when one side asks a higher court to change the decision of the lower court.
Appellant - The party who appeals.
Appellee - Party against whom an appeal is filed.
Appearance - An Appearance is when a party tells the court that they will take part in the action. You can file a written Notice of Appearance with the Court. An attorney files a written Notice of Appearance, telling the court that she or he is representing a person.
Breach of Lease - A breach of lease occurs when a tenant does something prohibited by the lease or fails to do something required by the lease.
Burden of Proof - If you make Allegations in a complaint or counterclaims you have to prove them at a trial. The party who made the allegations has the burden of proof in court.
Civil Action or Suit - Same as an action. A dispute in court.
Claim - This is the legal basis for asking the Court to do something.
Complaint - The written paper filed in a court to begin a lawsuit. This is sometimes called the initial pleading or petition. The Complaint must be served on the Defendants along with a Summons.
Compensatory Damages - Money that is sometimes awarded by the Court when the other side has caused you to lose money or spend money. Compensatory damages reimburse you for money you have lost.
Conclusions of Law - This is the statement made by the Court about how the law applies to a case.
Contempt - This is when a party in an action does not do what the court tells them to do. It has to be intentional. In other words, if someone is unable to do what the court told them to do it is not contempt.
Continuance - A continuance is when the court decides to postpone or delay a hearing or trial that was scheduled. When a party wants the court to postpone or delay a hearing they can request a continuance.
Contract - A Contract is an agreement that the Court will enforce. In a contract the people who made the agreement must do what they said they would do.
Counterclaim - A claim made by a Defendant against the Plaintiff. A Defendant who has claims against a Plaintiff puts the claims, which are called counterclaims, in the Answer.
Court Order - A ruling or decision made by the Magistrate or Judge. Court Orders must be followed by the parties.
Damages - Money that one party owes to the other.
Decision - In the decision the Judge or Magistrate explains what facts were proved and how the law applies to the facts.
Default - This is when a party does not file an Answer or does not appear in Court when they were supposed to. If a party is in default, the other party will get what they asked for from the Court.
Default Judgment - A court ruling against a party who has defaulted. A default judgment gives the party who did not default whatever they asked for.
Defendant - The person who is being sued. Sometimes this person is called a respondent.
Deposition - This is when someone answers questions, under oath, made by a party in a lawsuit. The deposition is done outside of court. The person being deposed swears to tell the truth. If a party wants to do a deposition of someone in a lawsuit, they need to serve them with a subpoena.
Discovery - Discovery is the part of a lawsuit, before trial, when each side can learn about the other side’s case. Discovery can include interrogatories, depositions and requests to admit.
Dismiss - To close or end the case without a judgment or final relief. A case may be dismissed by the parties or by the court.
Docket - A docket is a list of cases. The Court Docket is a list or calendar of the cases to be heard on a particular day. The Docket Sheet is a written list of all the proceedings in court in a particular case. The Docket Number is the number that is given to each case as it is filed in the court. The Docket Number should be listed on all papers that are filed with the court.
Evidence - Evidence is testimony, writings, material objects or other things that are offered to prove a fact in Court.
Ex Parte - This is a Latin phrase used in court. It describes when the Court decides something without first giving notice to one of the parties.
Execution - Execution happens after the Court makes a final order or judgment. If the judgment is for money, execution describes how the winning party collects the money awarded in the judgment. In an eviction execution is when the sheriff uses a Writ of Possession to get the tenants out.
Findings - What the Court decides are the facts of a case.
Habitability - This describes the condition of a rented apartment or house. In Vermont landlords must make sure that the premises they rent out are safe, clean, fit for human habitation and conform to health codes.
Hearing - A court appointment where the parties appear before the judge or magistrate.
In Forma Pauperis - This is a Latin phrase used in Court. It describes someone who does not have the financial ability to pay court costs. A person who cannot pay must file an affidavit in court to be excused from paying filing fees or the cost of serving papers on the other party. Sometimes this is abbreviated "IFP".
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress - This is a claim for damages. It applies to extreme or outrageous conduct a landlord does intentionally to cause anxiety, stress, or fear in a tenant.
Interrogatories - Written questions about he lawsuit that one party serves on the other party. Interrogatories must be answered in writing, under oath.
Judge - The Judge is in charge of the court room.
Judgment - The official decision or order of a Judge or magistrate. A Judgment also may be called a decree, order or decision. The judgment may include findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Jurisdiction - The authority of a court over a person, case or geographic area. The court must have jurisdiction to decide a case.
Landlord - The landlord is usually the owner of a residential dwelling unit or building. The landlord is the person or company with the power to rent property to tenants.
Lease - This is also called a rental agreement. It includes all the agreements between the landlord and the tenants about the terms and conditions of the use and occupancy of the premises. It may be in writing but sometimes it is just a verbal or oral agreement.
Litigant - A party to a legal action. A litigant or party can be a Plaintiff or a Defendant.
Mediation - This is a meeting between the parties with a neutral third person or mediator. In mediation the parties try to find a way to settle the case and resolve the disagreement without a court hearing.
Memorandum (or Memo) - A written argument, filed in Court, supporting the position of a party.
Memorandum (or Memo) in Opposition - A written argument, filed in Court, opposing the position of a party.
Merits Hearing - A merits hearing is a hearing at which evidence and testimony by witnesses are presented to either support or refute the allegations in the Complaint or Answer.
Modify - To alter, add to, limit or change an Order of the court.
Motion - A request to a court. A motion usually must be accompanied by a memorandum and an affidavit.
Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment - This is the Motion that needs to be filed when a party has been defaulted by the court and wants the court to reopen the case and allow him or her to be heard.
Negotiation - Negotiation is when the parties try to reach a settlement by discussing the case with each other and making offers and counter offers. When one party’s offer is accepted by the other party, they have a settlement. Most court cases end with a negotiated settlement.
Notary Public - A person authorized to administer oaths and verify that someone has completed an affidavit under oath. There is a notary public in the clerk’s office of all of the Vermont courts.
Notice of Appearance - A paper filed in court notifying the court and the other parties that a party or their lawyer is participating in the case. See Appearance in this Glossary.
Notice to Quit - A written notice from the landlord to the tenant saying that the tenancy is over and giving the date the tenancy is over. The landlord must provide a Notice to Quit before bringing an eviction action against the tenant. Notice to Quit is also called a termination notice.
Oath - Swearing or affirming that a statement is true. If someone makes a statement under oath and knows it is false, they may be committing a crime. Written documents or spoken testimony may be made under oath.
Party - A person who is taking part in an action or lawsuit in court. A party may be a Plaintiff or a Defendant. If the case is on appeal a party may be an appellant or an appellee.
Plaintiff - A person who begins a legal action. The Plaintiff is the party who complains or sues in a civil case.
Pleading - A written statement or claim filed in court.
Pro Se - A Latin phrase used in court. It describes a party who is representing himself or herself in court without a lawyer. Also called an unrepresented litigant or unrepresented party.
Punitive Damages - These are damages the Court awards one party to punish the other party because of outrageous conduct.
Relief - This describes what the parties are trying to get from the court.
Rent Escrow - In Vermont, in an eviction action where the tenant has not been paying rent, the Court can order the tenant to pay the rent into Court. The Court will hold onto the rent money until the case is over. If a tenant fails to pay after rent escrow has been ordered, the landlord can get a Writ of Possession and the tenant will be forced to leave before the action is over.
Reopen - After the Court has issued a judgment, it will sometimes reopen the case to introduce new evidence or permit a new trial.
Retaliation - This is when a landlord tries to punish a tenant because the tenant complained about something. In Vermont a landlord may not retaliate against a tenant by changing the rental terms or trying to evict after a tenant complained of a housing problem.
Return of Service - A written statement, filed in court, that a complaint, notice or other paper in a lawsuit was served on a party.
Service - The delivery of a pleading, notice or other paper in a lawsuit to a person or party.
Settlement - An agreement that resolves some or all of the issues in a case. A settlement makes it unnecessary for the court to decide the case. A settlement may resolve everything in the case and end it. Sometimes a settlement requires the approval of the judge.
Stay - This is when the judge decides to delay the effect of its decision or order. Sometimes this happens when the case is appealed to a higher court.
Subpoena - An order to compel someone to come to a court at a certain date and time. There are penalties if that person doesn't come to court. A subpoena may also order a person to produce certain papers or records.
Summons - A document directing a sheriff or other officer to notify the person named in the summons that a lawsuit has been started against him or her, that he or she must go to court on the day listed in the summons and he or she must file an answer to the complaint.
Superior Court - Trial court with a courthouse in each county. This court hears civil cases including small claims and eviction cases.
Supreme Court - The highest court in Vermont. The Supreme Court is the court of final appeal. It is located in Montpelier.
Termination Notice - A written notice from the landlord to the tenant saying that the tenancy is over and giving the date the tenancy is over. The landlord must provide a Termination Notice before bringing an eviction action against the tenant. A termination notice is also called a Notice to Quit.
Testimony - Evidence given in court by a witness under oath or affirmation.
Warranty of Habitability - Landlords in Vermont must make sure that the premises they rent out are safe, clean, fit for human habitation and conform to health codes.
Writ - A document issued by a court that compels a sheriff or other officer to do something.
Writ of Possession - This is what the Court uses to enforce a judgment against a tenant and give the landlord possession of the apartment or house after an eviction action. When the Court issues a Writ of Possession, the sheriff will serve it on the tenant. The Sheriff will give the tenant five days to move out voluntarily. If the tenant does not move out voluntarily the Sheriff will come back and forcibly evict the tenant.
Wrongful Distraint - Wrongful distraint is when your landlord takes your property and refuses to give it back.