Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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Taxpayer TransCanada Hydro appealed a superior court decision that valued flow easements that taxpayer owned over land in the Town of Newbury at $1,532,211 for property tax purposes. Taxpayer owned and operated the Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River in Hartford, Vermont, downstream from Newbury, and the flow easements gave taxpayer the right to flood land abutting the river in Newbury. Taxpayer argued the valuation was unsupported by the admissible evidence and the court’s reasoning. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s valuation, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "TransCanada Hydro Northeast, Inc. v. Town of Newbury" on Justia Law

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The Environmental Division approved a conditional use permit for Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC’s proposed community therapeutic residence in Thetford. A group of neighbors appealed the decision, arguing the Environmental Division improperly concluded that Confluence’s therapeutic community residence (the Project) was a health care facility, and thus was an allowed conditional use under the Thetford zoning ordinance. Neighbors also argued the Project’s residential use required separate permitting and that it impermissibly established a nonconforming use. Finding no abuse of discretion or reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Confluence Behavioral Health, LLC Conditional Use Permit" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Ltd. (Allco) appealed the denial of its motion to intervene, and its renewed motion to intervene, in a certificate-of-public-good (CPG) proceeding for a solar electric generation facility. The applicant, GMPSolar–Richmond, LLC (GMPSR), was an affiliate of Green Mountain Power Corp. (GMP), an electricity utility, owned by GMP and an investor. Allco was developing a number of solar electric generation facilities in Vermont. A hearing officer denied Allco’s request for intervention as of right and permissive intervention; the Public Service Board (PSB) also denied the motion for reconsideration. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Allco argued PSB used the wrong framework in reviewing its request and incorrectly applied the intervention criteria. Finding no reversible error, however, the Supreme Court affirmed the PSB. View "In re Petition of GMPSolar-Richmond, LLC" on Justia Law

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Two consolidated appeals challenged the Environmental Division’s decisions concerning applications for site-plan approval and an Act 250 permit for the proposed construction of a Hannaford’s supermarket in the Town of Hinesburg. In challenging the trial court’s site-plan approval, Neighbors argued: (1) the trial court erred in declining to enforce a setback limit reflected in the final plat plan for the subdivision as approved in 1987; (2) Hannaford’s site-plan application violated “front yard” parking restrictions set forth in the Town’s 2009 zoning regulations; (3) the east-west swale proposed in the site-plan application will not control and treat stormwater as predicted by Hannaford’s expert; and (4) Hannaford did not satisfy its burden regarding stormwater control because part of the discharge system was proposed to be located on land outside of its control. In cross-appeals, Hannaford and the Town challenged the trial court’s condition requiring Hannaford to install a traffic signal before the project may be completed, and the Town challenged the court’s elimination in its amended decision of a condition requiring Hannaford to perform a post-development traffic study. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded Hannaford’s proposed site plan violated the setback limit in the final plat plan approved in 1987; and Hannaford’s parking scheme did not violate the site-plan approval standards in the applicable zoning regulations. The Court did not reach issues raised in that appeal concerning the east-west swale and traffic control. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Environmental Division’s approval of the site plan. Regarding the Act 250 appeal, the Court concluded the project did not violate a requirement in the original approved subdivision permit that development be primarily “small scale,” and that the proposed project would not materially interfere with the public’s use and enjoyment of the canal path. The case was remanded for further development of evidence concerning the east-west swale and traffic issues. View "In re Hinesburg Hannaford Act 250 Permit / In re Hinesburg Hannaford Site Plan Approval" on Justia Law

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In May 2008, the Town of Granville established an Ancient Roads Committee and Process for identifying “ancient roads,” all roads that were at one time established as public highways and had not been officially discontinued. In August 2009, the Committee recommended that certain roads, including Sabin Homestead Road, be added to the Town Highway Map. Sabin Homestead Road crosses defendant Joseph Loprete’s land for about 100 feet. In December 2009, after notice to defendant and several public hearings, the selectboard adopted the Committee’s revised recommendation to add Sabin Homestead Road back to the Town Highway Map. The road appeared on the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s official Town Highway Map. In late 2012, defendant blocked Sabin Homestead Road by putting a large storage container in the right-of-way. He refused to move the container, even after the selectboard asked him to do so. Plaintiffs then filed a declaratory judgment action asking the court to declare Sabin Homestead Road an existing town highway and public road that was properly established in 1850 following the statutory procedures required at that time. The Town moved for summary judgment, arguing that the undisputed facts established that in 1850 the selectboard took official action to lay out the road and that they created and recorded a survey. The trial court denied summary judgment based on the Town’s failure to demonstrate that it met the third requirement: that in connection with the creation of the road, the town had filed a certificate of opening. The parties subsequently agreed that the court could decide this question based on undisputed facts and they filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The parties agreed that no certificate of opening could be found. Defendant argued that this disposed of the case. However, the court concluded that the Town’s circumstantial evidence, along with the explanations provided by the Town’s affiants for the inability to locate an actual certificate of opening in the town records, supported a finding that a certificate of opening was in fact created and recorded, but had since been lost or destroyed. It thus determined that the road had been properly created and granted summary judgment to the Town. Defendant argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the Town was required, and failed, to produce sufficient evidence that the Town certified the road as open for public travel in 1850. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Town met its burden of proof, and it was entitled to summary judgment in its favor. View "Town of Granville v. Loprete" on Justia Law

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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This case involved a challenge under the Compelled Support Clause of the Vermont Constitution to the Town of Cabot’s grant of federally derived but municipally managed funds for the purpose of repairs to a historic church. Relying on Chapter I, Article Three of the Vermont Constitution, plaintiffs challenged the Town of Cabot’s award of a grant to fund repairs to the United Church of Cabot, and sought a preliminary injunction enjoining the grant. Defendants moved to dismiss the case on the ground that plaintiffs lacked standing. With respect to the Town’s motion to dismiss, the trial court concluded that plaintiffs did have standing on two independent bases: (1) as municipal taxpayers; or (2) alternatively, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution. The court rejected the argument that municipal taxpayer standing did not apply because the funds at issue originated from federal coffers. Just as federal taxpayers have standing to pursue certain Establishment Clause claims, as recognized in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 85 (1968), state taxpayers have standing to advance Compelled Support claims under the Vermont Constitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs had standing to challenge the grant. However, the Court determined the evidence did not support the issuance of an injunction. The Court therefore affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Town of Cabot" on Justia Law

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A former employee of the Vermont Department of Labor (Department) appealed a judgment on the pleadings denying his suit against the Department seeking unpaid overtime pay. Employee argued he was entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week because, through a 1994 revision to 21 V.S.A. 384(b)(7) that refers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Vermont Legislature intended to provide state employees not only with minimum wage-and-hour rights, but also with a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. Employee also argued state employees also had a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4. Finding no error in the dismissal of employee’s claims, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Flint v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Claimant Kimberly Haller was an employee of Champlain College when she suffered a work-related injury. Claimant had taken numerous courses at Champlain College pursuant to its “Tuition Benefits” policy. In the twenty-six weeks prior to her injury, claimant completed over ten credits of classwork at the College. The issue presented to the Department of Labor on cross-motions for summary judgment was whether the value of these tuition benefits should be included in the calculation of claimant’s average weekly wage for the purposes of her permanent partial disability benefit. The Commissioner concluded the tuition benefits was an “other advantage” that constituted part of claimant’s wages. The College argued on appeal the tuition benefit was not an "other advantage," nor did it amount to "remuneration" as defined in the applicable workers' compensation laws. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Commissioner that where the non-health-insurance benefits at issue had actual monetary value and were actually received by the employee, they fell within the broad “other advantages” language. The Court concluded the Commissioner's determination was not unreasonable and affirmed. View "Haller v. Champlain College" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this appeal was whether land dedicated to a public use could be condemned for another public use when the new use did not materially interfere with the prior use. Intervenors, a group of Hinesburg residents who use Geprags Park, appealed the Public Service Board’s order authorizing Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to condemn an easement through the park for the purpose of installing a natural gas pipeline. They argued the Board erred in authorizing the condemnation in light of the fact that the park was already dedicated to a public use, and in concluding that the condemnation was necessary under 30 V.S.A. section 110(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision, but remanded for a minor correction to the order relating to the terms of the easement. View "In re Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law