Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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Plaintiff David Demarest filed suit against the Town of Underhill, seeking a declaration that he had a right of vehicle access over a Town trail, and appealing the Selectboard’s decision denying his request for highway access to a proposed new subdivision on his property. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the Town, concluding that plaintiff’s request for declaratory relief was barred by claim preclusion and that the Town acted within its discretion in denying the permit. On appeal, plaintiff argued the trial court erred in applying claim preclusion, and that the Town exceeded its authority under the statute in denying his request for access. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed judgment. View "Demarest v. Town of Underhill" on Justia Law

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Daughter Deborah George appealed the civil division’s determination that her father, decedent Theodore George, was the sole owner of a vehicle at the time of his death and that the vehicle was properly included in his estate. Decedent purchased the vehicle at issue, a 1979 Cadillac Eldorado, in 1992. The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued a Certificate of Title to decedent in 1994 in his name only. The copy of the title in the record contained no assignment of ownership to daughter. In 2006, decedent submitted a Vermont Registration, Tax, and Title Application to the DMV. Decedent’s name was listed in the space provided for the owner, and daughter’s name was listed in the adjacent space provided for a co-owner. Next to daughter’s name, a handwritten annotation said, “add co-owner.” The form directed applicants to select rights of survivorship if more than one owner was listed and provides that “if no box is checked joint tenants will be selected.” Decedent made no indication. At the bottom of the form, decedent signed the application; the line for the co-owner’s signature was left blank. No bill of sale accompanied the 2006 Registration Application. The DMV issued registration certificates naming both decedent and daughter for 2012-2013, 2014-2015, and 2017-2018. On appeal of the civil division's determination, daughter argued that decedent’s act in changing the registration to reflect joint ownership effectively transferred an interest in the vehicle to her. Alternatively, she argued that decedent’s act demonstrated his intent to make a gift of joint ownership. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded there was insufficient evidence that decedent transferred an interest in the vehicle to daughter under either theory and affirmed. View "In re Estate of Theodore George" on Justia Law

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Therese and Timothy Holmes appealed a Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) decision granting Acorn Energy Solar 2 a certificate of public good (CPG) to build and operate a solar net-metering system. The Holmeses argued the PUC erred in concluding that: (1) Acorn’s application was complete under the PUC Rules; (2) several proposed changes constituted minor amendments; (3) the project would be located on a preferred site; (4) the project would comply with setback requirements; and (5) the project would not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, orderly development, wetlands, air pollution, greenhouse gases, and traffic. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC's decision. View "In re Petition of Acorn Energy Solar 2, LLC (Therese & Timothy Holmes, Appellants)" on Justia Law

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Defendant Milton Town School District and plaintiff, a high-school football player who sued the District after being assaulted by team members during an off-campus team dinner at the residence of one of the players, both appealed various trial court rulings and the jury’s verdict in favor of plaintiff following a five-day trial. Plaintiff sued the District in 2017 claiming negligent supervision and a violation of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA) in connection with his assault at the hands of fellow football team members at an on off-campus dinner in the fall of 2012. At that time, Plaintiff was a freshman, and the District was aware that members of the football team had a history of harassment, including sexual assaults and hazing, against underclassmen team members. In October 2012, nine or ten members of the team, including plaintiff, attended a team dinner at one of the player’s parents’ home. At some point that evening, plaintiff was dragged down to the basement and thrown onto a couch, where one player held plaintiff down while another player forcibly inserted a pool cue into plaintiff’s rectum. The school principal spoke to plaintiff and another football player after learning that some incoming freshman did not want to play football because they had heard rumors of team members using broomsticks to initiate new team members. When the principal told plaintiff that she would shut down the football program if the rumors proved to be true, plaintiff denied the rumors because he feared retaliation from other students for causing the football program to be shut down. The principal then directed plaintiff to speak to the incoming freshman and tell him he had lied about the use of broomsticks during the initiation of new team members. When the principal informed the district superintendent about the rumors, the superintendent declined to do anything further. In April 2014, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) opened an investigation into allegations concerning the Milton High School football team. The Chittenden County State’s Attorney later filed criminal charges against five Milton High School football players, including plaintiff’s attackers, all of whom pled guilty to criminal offenses related to harassment, hazing, and assault. After review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Blondin v. Milton Town School District et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner H.H. appealed a Vermont Human Services Board order upholding the Department for Children and Families’ (DCF’s) substantiation of a report that she placed her daughter at risk of harm from sexual abuse. The Board granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that the stipulated findings in a related child-in-need-of-care-or-supervision (CHINS) proceeding precluded petitioner from contesting her substantiation and resulting placement on the Child Protection Registry. Petitioner argued the Board erred in applying collateral estoppel on the basis of the CHINS adjudication. To this, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed, reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Appeal of H.H." on Justia Law

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Defendant Anthony Brunetta appealed the civil suspension of his driver’s license for driving under the influence (DUI), arguing that the criminal division erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence he alleged was obtained based on an illegal stop of his vehicle. Specifically, defendant claimed the officer lacked a reasonable, articulable suspicion of wrongdoing to stop his car as required by the federal and state constitutions. At trial, the State played a dashboard video recording of the stop at issue, and the trooper who stopped defendant testified that he did not observe defendant use a turn signal at the intersection. On cross-examination, the trooper reiterated that defendant did not use his turn signal at the intersection, and that he would have seen the signal if defendant had used it. Defendant did not challenge the criminal division’s finding that he did not use his vehicle’s turn signal before changing direction at the intersection in question. He argued to the Vermont Supreme Court only that the state trooper had no reasonable basis to stop him without first confirming that he did not use a hand signal instead of the vehicle’s turn signal. The Supreme Court found Defendant correctly observed that 23 V.S.A. 1064(a) unambiguously allowed a driver to discharge the responsibility to signal a turn by using a hand signal rather than a mechanical or lighting signal. "But this does not mean that a law enforcement officer who is unable to see a hand signal even if one is given—whether due to darkness, weather conditions, or vantage point relative to the vehicle in question—may never form a reasonable suspicion that section 1064(a) has been violated. ... It follows that, where an officer suspects that a driver failed to signal a turn, but is unable to confirm or rule out the use of a hand signal, the officer may nonetheless have reasonable suspicion of a failure to signal sufficient to stop the car to further investigate the suspected traffic violation." View "Vermont v. Brunetta" on Justia Law

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Robert Grundstein appealed the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners’ determination that he failed to establish his eligibility for admission to the Vermont bar in connection with his 2019 application for admission by examination. He argued that, for numerous reasons, the Board erred in evaluating his application pursuant to the Rules of Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court in effect at the time his application was submitted. After its review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the Board correctly applied the Rules and affirmed. View "In re Grundstein" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff R.L. Vallee, Inc. appealed the Environmental Division’s decision granting an Act 250 permit to the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) for a highway project involving the reconfiguration of an interstate exit. Vallee argued the court applied the incorrect standard in analyzing phosphorus discharges under Act 250 Criterion 1, and improperly evaluated the evidence of phosphorus and chloride discharges under Criterion 1. The Vermont Supreme Court found the Environmental Division applied the correct legal standard to evaluate discharges, and properly considered the evidence before it in determining that the project complies with Criterion 1. View "In re Diverging Diamond Interchange Act 250 (R.L. Vallee, Inc.)" on Justia Law

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Parents appealed the termination of their rights in A.M. and G.M., ages five and four. Parents struggled with substance abuse and were incarcerated periodically during the underlying proceedings. In January 2018, the Department for Children and Families (DCF) filed a petition alleging the children were in need of care or supervision (CHINS) based on parental neglect, including squalid living conditions, and parental substance-abuse concerns. The children were initially placed with their maternal grandmother pursuant to a conditional custody order (CCO), and then with mother pursuant to a CCO. In April 2018, with parents’ agreement, custody of the children was transferred to DCF. Parents stipulated that the children were CHINS, and following a June 2018 disposition hearing, the parties stipulated to continued DCF custody and to DCF’s disposition case plan, which contemplated reunification by November 2018 or adoption. Parents were required to take various action steps to achieve reunification. The children did not see mother after June 2018 and they stopped seeing father before that time. As of September 2018, the children were placed together in the same foster home. Appealing the ultimate termination of the parental rights to their children, Parents challenged the trial court's treatment of voluntary guardianship petitions filed during the pendency of the juvenile proceedings. Mother also argued the court erred in terminating her rights. Finding no abuse of discretion or other reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed termination. View "In re A.M. & G.M." on Justia Law

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Vermont National Telephone Company (VNT) appealed the state Commissioner of Taxes’ determination that, pursuant to Department of Taxes Regulation section 1.5833-1, the capital gain VNT earned from the 2013 sale of two Federal Communications Commission telecommunications licenses was subject to Vermont Tax. Additionally, VNT argued the penalty the Commissioner assessed for VNT's failure to report the 2013 sale violated 32 V.S.A. section 3202(b)(3) and the state and federal Constitutions. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the Commissioner. View "Vermont National Telephone Company v. Department of Taxes" on Justia Law