Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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The trial court dismissed plaintiff Paul Civetti's negligence action against the Town of Isle La Motte and the Town Road Commissioner on grounds that: (1) because the Road Commissioner was an “appointed or elected municipal officer,” plaintiff was required by 24 V.S.A. section 901(a) to bring his action against the Town, rather than the Road Commissioner; and (2) the Town was, in turn, immune from suit based on municipal immunity. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that: the Town has formally adopted road standards for its town roads; the Road Commissioner is responsible for assuring that the Town’s roads meet those standards; Main Street did not comply with those standards, including standards relating to the “width and shoulder”; the Road Commissioner knew or should have known that Main Street did not comply; and plaintiff was injured in a motor vehicle accident because of the non-compliant road. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that if the Road Commissioner was negligent in performing a ministerial function, the Town assumes the Road Commissioner’s place in defending the action and therefore may not assert municipal immunity from the claim pursuant to section 901(a) or § 901a, and that dismissal of this claim on the basis of qualified immunity was premature. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Civetti v. Turner" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the tax status of a 9.9-acre parcel of land containing an 11,500-square-foot garage that was owned and used by Zlotoff Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit charitable organization, for the purpose of storing and maintaining a collection of classic automobiles that it displayed at its nearby museum. The trial court ruled that the garage and the land were tax-exempt because they were used for a public purpose. However, it denied the Foundation’s request for a refund of property taxes paid to the Town of South Hero from 2016 to 2018 because the Foundation did not obtain a certificate of authority allowing it to transact business in Vermont until 2019. The Foundation and the Town both appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Zlotoff Foundation, Inc. v. Town of South Hero" on Justia Law

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Defendant Clay Knight appealed the civil division’s affirming a small-claims award to the Town of Bennington for reimbursement of defendant’s salary and benefits pursuant to a contract between defendant and the Town. Defendant signed an “employment agreement” with the Bennington Police Department under which, in exchange for receiving full-time training, he agreed to repay the Town a portion of his salary if he was unable or unwilling to remain employed by the Town for three years. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review was whether this agreement conflicted with the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that set defendant’s rate of pay during training. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the employment agreement indeed conflicted with the CBA, and therefore reversed. View "Town of Bennington v. Knight" on Justia Law

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Applicant, the Snyder Group, Inc., which initially obtained approval from the City of South Burlington Development Review Board (DRB) to construct a planned unit development (PUD), appealed an Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the City, that the City’s governing zoning bylaw concerning the transfer of development rights (TDRs) with respect to PUD applications did not comply with two subsections of the enabling statute and was unconstitutionally vague. Neighbors, as interested parties opposing the PUD, cross-appealed with respect to the Environmental Division’s rulings that the TDR bylaw complied with three subsections of the enabling statute. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court upheld the rulings challenged by neighbors, reversed the rulings challenged by applicant, and remanded the matter for Environmental Division to enter summary judgment in favor of applicant. View "In re Snyder Group, Inc. PUD Final Plat" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a Labor Relations Board decision that grievant Jacob Carnelli, a former correctional officer who was eligible for mandatory reemployment pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA), met the minimum qualifications for a position at the Department of Motor Vehicles requiring at least two years of “office clerical experience.” The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board overstepped its authority by failing to apply the minimum qualifications as established by the DMV, and therefore reversed. View "In re Grievance of Jacob Carnelli" on Justia Law

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The Town of Ludlow appealed a Property Valuation & Review Division (PVR) hearing officer’s decision lowering the fair market value of two quartertime-share condominium properties, Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House, located at the base of Okemo Ski Resort. On appeal, the Town argued that the time-share owners in Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the Town’s appraisal. The Town also argued that hearing officer incorrectly interpreted 32 V.S.A. 3619(b) and failed to properly weigh the evidence and make factual findings. After review of the PVR hearing officer’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the hearing officer correctly determined that the time-share owners met their initial burden of producing evidence to overcome the presumption of validity by presenting the testimony of their expert appraiser. Second, the Supreme Court conclude that the hearing officer correctly determined that section 3619 addressed who receives a tax bill when time-share owners were taxed but said nothing about how to value the common elements in condominiums. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing officer made clear findings and, in general, provided a well-reasoned and detailed decision. Accordingly, the decision was affirmed. View "Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow" on Justia Law

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The Chittenden County, Vermont Sheriff’s Department (CCSD) appealed the Vermont Employment Security Board’s ruling that the CCSD was not entitled to relief from several weeks of unemployment compensation benefits which it paid to a former CCSD employee, Michael Major, due to an alleged erroneous determination by a Board claims adjudicator. The CCSD and the State both appealed a claims adjudicator’s decision to an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), who, following a hearing, reversed the claims adjudicator’s determination and found that Major had voluntarily quit and was therefore not entitled to unemployment benefits. As part of that determination, the ALJ waived any requirement that Major repay the benefits he had received because the ordered payments were not a result of any nondisclosure or material misrepresentation on his part. The ALJ also refused to allow the CCSD or the State relief from benefits already paid to Major as a result of the claims adjudicator’s determination. Although the ALJ concluded the State was Major’s last employing unit, the ALJ further determined that neither Major nor the sheriff made any distinction between Major’s employment by the State or the CCSD and that, in practice, Major’s position as a State transport deputy and his duties from the CCSD were one and the same. The ALJ refused to allow the CCSD and the State to be relieved of benefits they had paid to Major because both employers had chosen not to pay quarterly unemployment insurance tax, but instead elected to make reimbursement payments to the unemployment compensation fund for benefits they were ordered to pay. As a result of being a reimbursing employer, rather than a contributing one, the CCSD was liable to reimburse the unemployment fund, and could not be relieved of those charges. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed, finding the plain language of 21 V.S.A. 1321(f) made it “abundantly clear to all eligible employers” that, should they select reimbursing status, they would assume responsibility for benefits paid but denied on appeal. “Having availed itself of this advantage, the CCSD cannot now avoid the financial obligations, including the risk of liability for benefits paid in error, it accepted in exchange.” View "Chittenden County Sheriff's Department v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Parents appeal the termination of their parental rights to son C.L.S. C.L.S. was born in February 2018. During mother’s last trimester of pregnancy, hospital staff reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that mother had repeatedly tested positive for illicit unprescribed substances. She missed numerous prenatal and medication-assisted-treatment appointments during her pregnancy. She declined inpatient treatment or a referral to a substance-abuse clinic. Parents were unmarried but lived together prior to C.L.S.’s birth. At birth, C.L.S. weighed less than five pounds, had an underdeveloped esophagus, and was in withdrawal from having illegal drugs in his system. He initially required a feeding tube. Mother tested positive for numerous unprescribed illegal drugs. DCF took C.L.S into custody on an emergency basis on the day he was born and filed a petition alleging that C.L.S. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). A temporary care hearing began the following day. The parents denied that C.L.S. was CHINS, sought a conditional order giving custody to father, and requested a contested temporary care hearing. The court continued custody with DCF but permitted parents to have unsupervised contact with C.L.S. while he remained in the hospital. C.L.S. was subsequently discharged to a foster home and father filed a motion requesting parent-child contact and unsupervised visitation. In September 2018, after a contested hearing, the court issued a disposition order continuing DCF custody and adopted a case plan calling for concurrent goals of reunification with either parent or adoption. Neither party appealed the disposition order. In January 2019, the State filed petitions to terminate mother’s and father’s parental rights. On appeal, neither parent challenged the court’s findings or conclusions in the termination order. Rather, they asserted the court committed various errors at the temporary care hearings that required reversal of the merits determination and subsequent disposition orders. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "In re C.L.S." on Justia Law

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Defendant Adam Provost appealed a civil division determination that plaintiff Burlington School District could disclose, in response to a newspaper’s public records request, an unredacted copy of a Resignation Agreement reached by the District and Provost concerning his employment with the District. Provost argued the civil division: (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider the District’s request for declaratory relief regarding a matter within the exclusive purview of the Public Records Act (PRA); and (2) erred by granting the District’s request for declaratory relief based on its conclusion that Provost had waived any objection to release of the agreement, even assuming it had jurisdiction to consider the request. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the District and Provost entered into a contract acknowledging the obligation of the District, as a public entity subject to the PRA, to release the Resignation Agreement "under the provisions of applicable law." The District and Provost had reached a legal stalemate over whether release of an unredacted copy of the Agreement would violate not only the PRA, but also their Agreement, which would expose the District to a breach-of-contract claim. Under these circumstances, it was entirely appropriate for the superior court to exercise its general jurisdiction to adjudicate the District’s request for declaratory relief. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Burlington School District v. Provost" on Justia Law

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The issue presented to the Vermont Supreme Court in this case involved a state water-quality certification made pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), issued by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) for the operation of hydroelectric dams. ANR certified three dams operated by Morrisville Water and Light (MWL) and imposed conditions, including those to control the minimum amount of water released from each dam to support habitat for fish. MWL appealed these conditions to the Environmental Division. American Whitewater and Vermont Paddlers’ Club (collectively the Paddlers) also appealed, arguing that the conditions at one facility did not allow for whitewater boating. The Environmental Division rejected ANR’s flow rates and imposed MWL’s proposed flow rates, affirmed ANR’s conditions regarding a winter drawdown for one site, and imposed scheduled releases of water as requested by the Paddlers. ANR appeals and MWL cross appeals. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Environmental Division erred in rejecting ANR’s interpretation of its antidegradation policy and methodology for calculating flow rate, and affirmed the Environmental Division on the winter drawdown and timed releases for the Paddlers at the Green River facility. View "In re Morrisville Hydroelectric Project Water Quality" on Justia Law