Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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The Town of North Hero appealed the Property Valuation and Review (PVR) Division hearing officer’s decision to impose a $2000 discovery sanction against the Town in a property-tax-reappraisal appeal brought by the Williams Living Trust. The hearing officer imposed the sanction as a result of a claimed discovery violation by the Town concerning disclosure of an electronic Excel spreadsheet file requested by the Trust. The Trust disagreed with the reappraisal of its property and challenged it through the statutory appeals process. In the notice of appeal, the Trust requested that the Town’s listers provide the Trust with a specific Excel spreadsheet file in “native format” and “unprotected.” The Town had provided the Excel spreadsheet in PDF format, not in the electronic format later requested. The Trust sent additional email requests to the Town asking for the Excel file. The Trust ultimately moved to compel production of the file in the requested format; the Town responded it did not have the file and could not produce “what does not exist.” The PVR hearing officer issued a decision on the Trust’s motion to compel, ordering the Town to make one last effort to obtain a copy of the file requested and giving the Town ten days to comply. In compliance with the hearing officer’s order, the Town conducted another search and located the file and produced it in the format originally requested. The Trust filed a motion describing the Town’s conduct concerning the file request as “blatant misconduct during discovery” and seeking monetary sanctions of $2500 and other sanctions as the hearing officer deemed proper for the Town’s failure to produce the file earlier. The hearing officer imposed a monetary sanction against the Town of $2000 for false statements made by Town officials and the “expenses, effort, and time” the Trust spent as a result of the Town’s failure to produce the file until ordered to do so. No evidence was provided concerning how much time, effort, and expense was incurred by the Trust, and there was no way to determine how the hearing officer determined $2000 to be the appropriate sanction amount. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the sanction, finding the Town had fully complied with the order compelling discovery, making imposition of a monetary sanction against the Town an abuse of discretion. View "Williams v. Town of North Hero" on Justia Law

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Applicant LK Holdings, LLC appealed the Public Utility Commission’s dismissal of its application for a certificate of public good for a proposed group net-metered photovoltaic electric power system. The Commission dismissed the petition as incomplete because applicant failed to provide notice to adjoining landowners that its application had been filed. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Petition of LK Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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The State appealed a Vermont Labor Relations Board decision interpreting a collective bargaining agreement between the State and the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA). The question at issue was whether a change made to the agreement’s family-leave provisions in 1999 limited an employee’s right to use more than six weeks of accrued, paid sick leave while on family leave because of the employee’s own serious illness. The Board found that, although the agreement itself was ambiguous, extrinsic evidence showed that the parties did not intend to limit the use of sick leave. The State argued on appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court that the contract was not ambiguous and that the limitation on use of sick leave applies. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board. View "In re Grievance of Kobe Kelley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Coalition for a Livable City (CLC) appealed the denial of its Public Records Act (PRA) and its request to the City of Burlington for an unredacted financial feasibility study provided by a private developer to a contractor hired by the City of Burlington to help the City assess the viability of the developer’s plans. The development plans included some public improvements to be financed with tax dollars. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the redacted information fell under the PRA trade-secrets exemption, and as such, was exempt from disclosure. View "Long v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law

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Claimant Lionel Beasley appealed a decision of the Employment Security Board, which denied him unemployment compensation benefits because it found that he performed services for an educational institution and was considered to have a reasonable assurance to perform services in a similar capacity for the next regularly scheduled academic term under 21 V.S.A. 1343(c)(1). Claimant was first employed by Champlain College as an adjunct professor during the 2015-2016 academic year. He taught three classes during both the fall and spring terms. At the end of the spring 2016 term, claimant applied for unemployment compensation benefits. Although his claim was initially denied by a claims adjudicator, on appeal, an administrative judge reversed and granted benefits. In granting benefits, the administrative judge noted that because claimant had not received an employment offer letter for the upcoming academic term and had been notified that at least one of his classes may not be offered due to low enrollment, “the uncertainties for the upcoming term are sufficiently great that [claimant] cannot be said to have a reasonable assurance of returning to the same or similar work that he performed in the previous academic term.” However, at the end of the spring 2017 term, he again applied for unemployment compensation benefits and was denied. The claims adjudicator found he had a reasonable assurance of employment during the following term. The administrative judge agreed with the claims adjudicator that claimant had reasonable assurance to perform the same services during the next academic term and noted that claimant “and his attorney want[ed] to interpret the term ‘reasonable assurance’ as an absolute guarantee of employment, and that simply is not the correct interpretation.” The administrative judge commented that “the Department [of Labor] must only find that it is highly probable that the same job is available, and the credible facts in the record show[ed] that to be the case in this instance.” Claimant appealed the administrative judge’s decision to the Employment Security Board. After hearing and review, the Board issued a decision upholding the denial because it found the administrative judge’s conclusions “factually supported and legally correct.” Finding no reversible error in the Board's adjudication, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed denial of benefits. View "Beasley v. Department of Labor (Champlain College, Inc., Employer)" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Limited (Allco) appealed the Vermont Public Utility Commission’s (PUC) denial of Allco’s motion to intervene as a party in proceedings concerning whether Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP) could purchase power generation facilities outside of Vermont. Allco argued that it should have been allowed to intervene because it meets the criteria for intervention set out in the PUC’s own rules. In particular, Allco argued it had a substantial interest in the proceedings both as a ratepayer and as a competing supplier of power. Allco also appealed the PUC’s eventual decision to allow the purchases. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the PUC’s denial of Allco’s motion to intervene and accordingly dismissed Allco’s second appeal. View "In re Petition of Green Mountain Power Corp. for Approval to Invest in Hydroelectric Generation Facilities Located Outside Vermont (Allco Renewable Energy Limited, Appellant)" on Justia Law

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Richard Joyce appealed the decision of an appellate officer within the Office of Professional Regulation dismissing his appeal for failure to file a statement of questions for consideration on appeal and complete the record for appellate review by ordering a transcript. Joyce has been a licensed surveyor since 1969. In 2014, Joyce completed a survey of the boundary between two adjoining properties. One of the property owners filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Regulation, Board of Land Surveyors (OPR) regarding Joyce's compliance with professional surveying standards. OPR opened an investigation into the complaint and, after review ultimately dismissed the complaint. Months later, OPR sent Joyce a letter stating that "[n]ew evidence ha[d] been brought to [its] attention . . . that warrant[ed] further investigation and reconsideration." OPR did not disclose the nature or origin of the new evidence. OPR sent Joyce a letter notifying him that "[t]he State Prosecuting Attorney ha[d] filed the enclosed charges and ha[d] asked the Office of Professional Regulation to take disciplinary action against [his surveying] license." A hearing on the charges was held in June 2017; OPR fined Joyce $750 and placed a two-year condition on his surveying license, requiring that he complete additional surveying training within 180 days of the entry of the order. The order noted Joyce's right to file an appeal with an OPR appellate officer within thirty days of the entry of the order. The order also contained instructions on how to request forms for proceeding in forma pauperis, including a statement that in forma pauperis status would make Joyce eligible to receive a transcript of the June hearing without cost. In his filing, Joyce's attorney reiterated that the appeal presented two legal issues, both raised in the attorney's notice of appeal, and that a transcript was unnecessary for resolution of the appeal. Neither Joyce nor his attorney filed a statement of questions, ordered a transcript of the June 2017 hearing, or filed a brief. The Vermont Supreme Court found that because Joyce provided the appellate officer with neither a statement of questions nor a transcript, per OPR rules, the record was not complete, and the appellate officer was effectively unable to conduct a review of the proceedings below. The appellate officer correctly considered the factors relevant to the decision not to review Joyce's filings in a summary manner and to dismiss Joyce's appeal, specifically, the procedural irregularities in the appeal that essentially foreclosed appellate review. View "In re Richard H. Joyce" on Justia Law

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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