Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Petitioner Mark Clark appealed pro se the dismissal of his complaint regarding his eligibility for prison work camp. Petitioner is an inmate under the custody and control of the DOC. He pled guilty to driving under the influence, fourth offense, in July 2016 pursuant to a plea agreement. The plea agreement included a “recommendation to work camp.” The DOC subsequently deemed petitioner ineligible for work camp because petitioner had an earlier conviction that involved a violent assault against a law enforcement officer. Petitioner grieved this decision within the DOC, and his grievances were denied. The trial court concluded that it lacked authority to review this Department of Corrections (DOC) programming decision. Vermont case law "makes clear that it is for the DOC to assess petitioner’s eligibility for work camp." The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court and thus affirmed its decision. View "Clark v. Menard" on Justia Law

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Sung-Hee Chung (neighbor) appealed the Environmental Division’s grant of summary judgment to Lori and Richard Mathez (applicants). The appeal concerned whether the District Commission exceeded its authority by issuing a second notice for a final Act 250 permit when, due to applicants’ failure, neighbor did not receive notice of the permit before it became final, and neighbor failed to timely appeal. Applicants sought an Act 250 permit to build a 75’ by 100’ steel building for a commercial vehicle repair and body shop, a “minor application” under the Act. Finding that the Environmental Division had jurisdiction over the appeal, and that the District Commission had no authority to issue a second notice of a final permit, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded the court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of applicants. View "In re Mathez Act 250 LU Permit (Sung-Hee Chung, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Grievant Edward von Turkovich appealed a Vermont Labor Relations Board decision denying his motion to enlarge the time for him to file a notice of appeal. Grievant filed an employment grievance with the Board in January 2017. Grievant’s employer filed an answer and a motion to dismiss the next month. Grievant filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss in late March 2017. On the same day, the attorney representing grievant (attorney) moved offices. Prior to the move, attorney’s law firm notified the United States Postal Service (USPS) that it should forward the firm’s mail to the new address, but attorney did not update the firm’s address with the Board, as required by Board rule. On June 13, 2017, the Board dismissed the grievance. That same day, the Board mailed the order dismissing the grievance to the address attorney had provided, which was attorney’s former address. The Board’s envelope read “return service requested,” which led the USPS to return the order to the Board rather than forwarding it to attorney. The USPS took thirty-four days to do so, returning the mail on July 17, 2017. It is unknown what caused the delay in returning the mail. When returning the mail, the USPS provided the Board with attorney’s forwarding address. The Board mailed the order to attorney a second time on July 18, 2017, this time to the current address, as provided by the USPS, and attorney received it on July 20, 2017. The Board also posted the decision on its website three days after it issued the order. The Board denied the request, concluding there was no showing of excusable neglect or good cause, and therefore there was no basis to permit an extension of time. Attorney conceded he made a mistake and could not show good cause. Therefore, the only issue on appeal was whether the Board erred in finding the failure to file was not due to excusable neglect. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the denial: "The delayed notice was within attorney’s control and is analogous to a breakdown in internal office procedures, which we repeatedly have found is not excusable neglect." View "In re Grievance of Edward Von Turkovich" on Justia Law

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Claimant Joanne Perrault appealed the Commissioner of Labor’s decision on summary judgment denying her workers’ compensation benefits. On appeal, claimant argued she was an employee of defendant Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) for the purposes of workers’ compensation and, therefore, was entitled to benefits. Claimant applied to be a driver in CCTA’s volunteer program in 2014. Once through the application process, a volunteer driver was governed by CCTA’s volunteer manual. This manual, in addition to explaining certain restrictions and requirements, also stated that the manual should not be understood to mean that any employment contract existed between CCTA and the volunteer driver. Drivers received money from CCTA based on the miles driven in a given period and calculated at the federal mileage rate. The CCTA manual referred to this monetary payment as reimbursement, and stated that CCTA would perform random checks to verify the accuracy of mileage submissions. This was the only monetary or other exchange between CCTA and drivers in the volunteer program. CCTA provided insurance on drivers’ vehicles on a secondary basis and encouraged drivers to carry more than the minimum required insurance and to name CCTA as an additional insured on their personal vehicle insurance policies. Drivers in the program were required to meet standards set by CCTA and were subject to certain restrictions, which were similar to the restrictions governing CCTA’s regular drivers. On December 1, 2015, claimant had an automobile accident. At the time of the accident, she was driving a CCTA rider to an appointment. Claimant sustained significant injuries in the accident, including a broken neck at the third and fourth vertebrae, a fractured spine, and broken ribs. She subsequently sought workers’ compensation benefits. The Vermont Supreme Court held that, because claimant did not receive wages, she could not be considered a statutory employee as that term was defined for the application of workers’ compensation. View "Perrault v. Chittenden County Transportation Authority" on Justia Law

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Appellant Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) asked the Vermont Supreme Court to review a Vermont Public Utility Commission order altering technology allocations in the standard-offer program for renewable energy projects. The Supreme Court determined what REV sought was an advisory opinion and therefore dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "In re Investigation into Programmatic Adjustments to the Standard-Offer Program (Renewable Energy Vermont, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Katherine Heffernan appealed the trial court’s decision dismissing her complaint, which sought indemnification from the State on a default judgment she obtained against a state employee and which claimed that the State was vicariously liable for the employee’s conduct. The State determined that the acts alleged by Heffernan were outside the scope of the employee’s official duties and that, therefore, the State did not have a duty to defend the employee against Heffernan’s action. Heffernan, unable to locate the employee to make service of process, eventually served him through process by publication. Heffernan notified the State that she had served the employee, and the State again declined to take any action. The employee did not appear or offer any defense in Heffernan’s suit, and the trial court eventually issued a default judgment against him. The court subsequently held a hearing on damages and awarded Heffernan both punitive and compensatory damages. The Vermont Supreme Court found that while Heffernan presented complex arguments, its decision regarding both of her theories of State liability was controlled by the plain language of Vermont’s statutory scheme concerning each issue. Pursuant to the clear limitations on liability in Vermont’s Tort Claims Act, the State retains sovereign immunity relative to the actions alleged in Heffernan’s complaint. As such, the trial court did not err in dismissing her case. View "Heffernan v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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From 2006 to 2016, Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) operated under an “alternative regulation” plan (ARP). Pursuant to the ARP, VGS’s rates were automatically adjusted every quarter based on changes in gas costs. In 2011, VGS proposed amending its ARP by establishing the System Expansion and Reliability Fund (SERF) as a means of facilitating the expansion of its service into Addison County, Vermont, and perhaps beyond, while maintaining a smooth rate trajectory. At the time of the proposal, VGS would have been required under the ARP’s automatic rate adjustments to reduce customer rates for the spring 2011 quarter by approximately $4.4 million, which would have been the ninth rate reduction in the previous ten quarters. Instead of reducing rates for existing customers pursuant to the provisions of the ARP, VGS proposed depositing that amount annually into SERF to smooth out rate increases resulting from future expansion of services. Under the proposal, VGS’s rates would remain the same rather than be reduced by an automatic adjustment. In this ratemaking proceeding, AARP appealed an order of the Vermont Public Utility Commission that incorporated a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached by the Department of Public Service and VGS. Among other things, the incorporated MOU set VGS’s firm non-gas rates for the tax year beginning October 1, 2016; allowed VGS to use a specified amount from a fund previously authorized by the Commission to mitigate the rate effects of any system expansion; and established both the penalty for VGS’s imprudent costs associated with the Addison Natural Gas Project (ANGP) and its return on equity. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded the matter for the Commission to make further findings regarding VGS’s ANGP-related imprudent costs and, if necessary, to reconsider the penalty imposed for those costs under the incorporated MOU. View "In re Investigation into Petiton of Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (AARP, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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The question this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review was whether steep increases in project cost estimates for the Addison Natural Gas Project, combined with changes in energy markets, created a “substantial change” such that Vermont Gas System, Inc. (VGS) had to secure an amended certificate of public good under Public Utility Commission Rule 5.408. In ruling on Conservation Law Foundation’s (CLF) separate petition for declaratory relief, distinct from post-judgment review of the Commission’s certificate of public good, the Commission held that increased cost estimates for VGS’s natural gas pipeline project, coupled with changes in the energy markets, were not a “substantial change” under Rule 5.408. The Supreme Court deferred to the Commission’s reasonable interpretation of Rule 5.408 and accordingly affirm. View "In re Petition of Conservation Law Foundation" on Justia Law

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The District 5 Commission denied Korrow Real Estate LLC’s as-built application for an Act 250 permit to construct a barn on property alongside the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, finding the project failed to comply with Act 250 Criteria 1(D) and 1(F). In doing so, the Commission construed key terms as defined by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). On appeal, the Environmental Division reversed the decision and remanded the matter to the Commission with instructions to grant an as-built permit for the project. The Vermont Natural Resources Board appealed the decision, arguing the court failed to accord proper deference to the ANR’s statutory authority and expertise, and that the project failed to comply with the necessary Act 250 permitting criteria. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Supreme Court found the ANR determined the Korrow project was within the Act 250 “floodway” based on the project’s location relative to the FEH area surrounding the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers. The Environmental Division erred when it determined that the methodology applied by Korrow’s expert, or the methodology of the court, was superior to that employed by the ANR. In applying the ANR definition, the Supreme Court found Korrow’s project was within the “floodway” under 10 V.S.A. 6001(6), triggering analysis of project compliance with Act 250 Criterion 1(D). Even though the court erroneously found that the project was located outside the “floodway,” there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). With respect to Criterior 1(F), the Supreme Court found two flaws in the lower court’s findings: (1) interpreting the scope of land “adjacent” to the rivers was essential to determining whether a project was on a “shoreline,” no definition of “adjacent” was provided; and (2) even applying the court’s contextual, rather than distance-based, analysis of the project’s location in relation to the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, the court’s conclusion that the project was not on the “shoreline” was based on insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court could not determine, based on the trial court record, whether the project at issue here was constructed on a “shoreline” and, if so, whether the project complied with the subcriteria required by statute. As such, the Environmental Division’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(F) was reversed and this issue remanded to the court for further findings. Because the question of what was meant by “adjacent” was critical to the shoreline determination and had not been briefed or argued, the parties were directed upon remand to brief this issue for the court. The Supreme Court reversed the Environmental Division’s ruling defining the term “floodway,” but affirmed its conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). The Court reversed and remanded to the Environmental Division for further proceedings to determine whether this project involved a “shoreline” and, if so, the project’s compliance with Criterion 1(F). View "In re Korrow Real Estate, LLC Act 250 Permit Amendment Application" on Justia Law

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The District 5 Commission denied Korrow Real Estate LLC’s as-built application for an Act 250 permit to construct a barn on property alongside the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, finding the project failed to comply with Act 250 Criteria 1(D) and 1(F). In doing so, the Commission construed key terms as defined by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). On appeal, the Environmental Division reversed the decision and remanded the matter to the Commission with instructions to grant an as-built permit for the project. The Vermont Natural Resources Board appealed the decision, arguing the court failed to accord proper deference to the ANR’s statutory authority and expertise, and that the project failed to comply with the necessary Act 250 permitting criteria. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The Supreme Court found the ANR determined the Korrow project was within the Act 250 “floodway” based on the project’s location relative to the FEH area surrounding the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers. The Environmental Division erred when it determined that the methodology applied by Korrow’s expert, or the methodology of the court, was superior to that employed by the ANR. In applying the ANR definition, the Supreme Court found Korrow’s project was within the “floodway” under 10 V.S.A. 6001(6), triggering analysis of project compliance with Act 250 Criterion 1(D). Even though the court erroneously found that the project was located outside the “floodway,” there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). With respect to Criterior 1(F), the Supreme Court found two flaws in the lower court’s findings: (1) interpreting the scope of land “adjacent” to the rivers was essential to determining whether a project was on a “shoreline,” no definition of “adjacent” was provided; and (2) even applying the court’s contextual, rather than distance-based, analysis of the project’s location in relation to the Dog and Stony Brook Rivers, the court’s conclusion that the project was not on the “shoreline” was based on insufficient evidence. The Supreme Court could not determine, based on the trial court record, whether the project at issue here was constructed on a “shoreline” and, if so, whether the project complied with the subcriteria required by statute. As such, the Environmental Division’s conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(F) was reversed and this issue remanded to the court for further findings. Because the question of what was meant by “adjacent” was critical to the shoreline determination and had not been briefed or argued, the parties were directed upon remand to brief this issue for the court. The Supreme Court reversed the Environmental Division’s ruling defining the term “floodway,” but affirmed its conclusion that the project complied with Criterion 1(D). The Court reversed and remanded to the Environmental Division for further proceedings to determine whether this project involved a “shoreline” and, if so, the project’s compliance with Criterion 1(F). View "In re Korrow Real Estate, LLC Act 250 Permit Amendment Application" on Justia Law