Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
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In 2018, City of Montpelier voters approved a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that would allow noncitizens to vote in its local elections. The Legislature authorized the amendment in 2021, overriding the Governor’s veto. Plaintiffs included two Montpelier residents who were United States citizens and registered to vote in Montpelier, eight Vermont voters who were United States citizens and resided in other localities in the state, the Vermont Republican Party, and the Republican National Committee. They filed a complaint in the civil division against the City and the City Clerk in his official capacity, seeking a declaratory judgment that Montpelier’s new noncitizen voting charter amendment violated Chapter II, § 42 of the Vermont Constitution, and an injunction to prevent defendants from registering noncitizens to vote in Montpelier. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the complaint alleged facts to establish standing at the pleadings stage for plaintiffs to bring their facial challenge to the statute. However, the Supreme Court concluded that the statute allowing noncitizens to vote in local Montpelier elections did not violate Chapter II, § 42 because that constitutional provision did not apply to local elections. The Court accordingly affirmed the trial court’s grant of the City’s motion to dismiss. View "Ferry, et al. v. City of Montpelier" on Justia Law

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A Vermont trial court determined that both the Town of Isle La Motte and the road commissioner Shelby Turner were entitled to qualified immunity and granted their motions for summary judgment after concluding that decisions regarding road alterations were discretionary, “involv[ing] an element of judgment or choice,” rather than ministerial, meaning “prescribe[d].” The underlying tort action in this appeal followed an August 2016 motor vehicle accident in the Town: Plaintiff Paul Civetti was driving a propane truck on Main Street when he lost control of the vehicle causing it to roll over and come to rest on its roof. Plaintiff argued defendants were negligent in failing to widen Main Street in accordance with Vermont Town Road and Bridge Standards, causing his accident. The State of Vermont promulgated Town Road and Bridge Standards to serve as guidance for municipalities when they decide to construct or alter a town highway. Plaintiff filed a negligence claim against defendants the Town of Isle La Motte and Turner, in his capacity as road commissioner, seeking damages for plaintiff’s injuries. The parties disputed what authority, if any, the Town Selectboard delegated to the road commissioner to construct, lay out, and alter Town roadways. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that deciding whether to widen Main Street was discretionary, thus entitling both the Town and the road commissioner to qualified immunity. The Court therefore affirmed. View "Civetti v.Town of Isle La Motte, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Vermont Human Rights Commission, on behalf of plaintiff Latonia Congress, appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant Centurion of Vermont LLC on the Commission’s claims of discrimination under the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA). Congress was incarcerated at a prison owned and operated by the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC contracted with Centurion to provide all medical services for inmates at the prison. Under the previous provider, Congress was seen by an audiologist, who determined that she had substantial bilateral hearing loss, and she was given hearing aids for both ears. In December 2016, Congress reported that the hearing aids were not working, and Centurion planned to send them “to Audiology for check of functioning.” Later in December 2016, a doctor examined Congress’s ears and did not find any indication of an obstruction or other problem that might be affecting her hearing. Congress delivered her hearing aids to the medical unit to be sent out for testing. They were returned to her without having been tested. The record established that no one knew what happened to the hearing aids during that time; they were apparently misplaced. Through 2017 and early 2018, Congress attempted numerous times to obtain functioning hearing aids. Because Congress was deemed “functional” for some period of time despite her reported difficulty in hearing conversations, she was not eligible for hearing aids under Centurion’s policies. Eventually, in March 2018, an audiologist concluded Congress had moderate to severe bilateral hearing loss, which was worse in one ear, and recommended hearing aids. She was provided with one hearing aid in April 2018, which improved her hearing in that ear. Congress was released from prison in October 2019. In March 2020, the Commission filed a complaint against Centurion, the DOC, and other state defendants, alleging, as relevant here, that they discriminated against Congress in violation of the VPAA by failing to provide her with functioning hearing aids and thereby denying her equal access to certain benefits and services offered at the prison. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment in favor of Centurion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Human Rights Commission v. Vermont, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, the developer of a solar electric generation facility and the owner of the project site, appealed the dismissal of their complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). Plaintiffs sought a ruling that two guidance documents and a plant-classification system created by ANR were unlawful and therefore could not be relied upon by ANR or the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in determining whether to issue a certificate of public good for a proposed facility under 30 V.S.A. § 248. The civil division granted ANR’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims, concluding that the guidance documents and classification system were not rules and did not have the force of law, and that the proper forum to challenge the policies was in the PUC proceeding. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Otter Creek Solar, LLC, et al. v. Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, et al." on Justia Law

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Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (Blue Cross) appealed the Green Mountain Care Board’s (GMCB) decision modifying its proposed health-insurance rates for 2022. The GMCB approved Blue Cross’s proposed rates with several exceptions, one of which was relevant here: its contribution to reserves (CTR). Blue Cross had sought a base CTR rate of 1.5%, but the GMCB ordered Blue Cross to lower it to 1.0%, thereby diminishing overall insurance rates by 0.5% and reducing health-insurance premiums. The GMCB found that a 1.5% base CTR was “excessive” because Blue Cross was expected to be above its target Risk Based Capital (RBC) range by the end of 2021, “individuals and small businesses are still struggling financially after a year-long economic slowdown,” and a 1.0% CTR would allow its “reserves to sit comfortably within the company’s RBC target range.” Blue Cross moved for reconsideration, arguing that the term “excessive” was strictly actuarial in nature, and that the GMCB misconstrued it by weighing non-actuarial evidence— testimony concerning affordability—as part of its examination of whether the proposed rate was excessive. On appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court, Blue Cross raised essentially the same issue. Because none of the actuarial experts who testified concluded that Blue Cross’s proposed CTR was excessive, Blue Cross argued, the GMCB could not properly conclude that it was. Blue Cross conceded that health-insurance rates for 2022 could not now be changed, but it urged the Supreme Court to rule on the merits, arguing that this matter was not moot because the CTR rate for this year will disadvantage Blue Cross in future rate-review proceedings. The Supreme Court determined Blue Cross did not demonstrate that this kind of case was capable of repetition yet evading review or subjected it to continuing negative collateral consequences. Therefore, Blue Cross failed to meet the exceptional thresholds necessary for the Court to reach the merits in a moot case. View "In re Blue Cross and Blue Shield 2022 Individual & Small Group Market Filing" on Justia Law

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Mother challenged the denial of her request that a child-support order be made retroactive and that she be awarded the arrearage. A magistrate judge found that mother assigned her right to any past-due support to the Office of Child Support (OCS) as a condition of receiving benefits on behalf of her child and that the State waived any arrearages. The family division affirmed. Mother argued on appeal that she did not assign OCS her right to past-due support. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family division. View "OCS/Dionne v. Anthony" on Justia Law

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Claimant Joseph Worrall challenged an Employment Security Board decision finding him ineligible for unemployment compensation and liable to the Vermont Department of Labor for an overpayment. In November 2020, a claims adjudicator found that claimant was disqualified from receiving benefits as of the week ending May 2, 2020, because he left his employment voluntarily without good cause attributable to his employer. The claims adjudicator determined that claimant was obligated to repay $15,028 in overpaid benefits. Claimant argues on appeal that the Board erred in finding him disqualified for benefits. According to claimant, the Board accepted that he undertook efforts to relocate out of state before receiving a return-to-work notice. Based on this premise, claimant asserts that he was “unavailable for work” at the time his employer offered him the opportunity to return and that he was therefore entitled to benefits. Finding no error in the Board's decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Worrall v. Department of Labor (Snowfire Ltd., Employer)" on Justia Law

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Applicants Christian and Clark Katzenbach appealed the Environmental Division’s decision granting but imposing certain conditions on an Act 250 permit for operating their sand- and gravel-extraction project. Applicants challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250. The Vermont Supreme Court found no clear error in the trial court's findings under both criteria, but concluded one condition imposed under Criterion 5 was unreasonable in light of the trial court’s findings. The Supreme Court therefore struck that one Criterion 5 condition and affirmed in all other respects. View "In re Katzenbach A250 Permit #7R1374-1" on Justia Law

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The Benoits sought to set aside a 2008 judgment under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5). The Benoits owned real property in the City of St. Albans, Vermont, which they purchased from the Hayfords in 2003. The property had a main building with multiple rental units and a separate building in the rear of the property. In 1987, the Hayfords converted the rear building to an additional residential unit without first obtaining a zoning permit or site-plan approval, as required by the applicable zoning regulations. The City adopted new zoning regulations in 1998, which made the property more nonconforming in several respects. Both the denial of the certificate of occupancy and a subsequent denial of the Hayfords’ request for variances were not appealed and became final. In 2001, the zoning administrator issued a notice of violation (NOV), alleging that only four of the six residential units on the property had been approved. The Hayfords appealed to the Development Review Board and again applied for variances. The Board upheld the NOV and denied the variance requests based on the unappealed 1998 decision. The Hayfords then appealed to the environmental court, which in 2003 decision, the court upheld the variance denial and upheld the NOV with respect to the sixth residential unit in the rear building. The Hayfords, and later the Benoits, nonetheless “continued to rent out the sixth residence in the rear building despite the notice of violation.” In 2004, the City brought an enforcement action against the Benoits and the Hayfords. The Benoits and Hayfords argued that the actions were barred by the fifteen-year statute of limitations in 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a). The environmental court concluded that “although the Hayfords’ failure to obtain a permit and site-plan approval in 1987 occurred more than fifteen years before the instant enforcement action, a new and independent violation occurred in 1998 when the City adopted its new zoning regulations.” It ordered the Hayfords and the Benoits to stop using the rear building as a residential unit and imposed fines. Appealing the 2004 judgment, an order was issued in 2008, leading to the underlying issue on appeal here: the Benoits contended that decision was effectively overruled by a later case involving different parties. The Environmental Division denied their request and the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed its decision. View "In re Benoit Conversion Application" on Justia Law

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Neighbors appealed an Environmental Division order vacating a municipal notice of violation (NOV) alleging owners were using a two-unit building as an unpermitted duplex. The Environmental Division concluded that a 2006 amendment to the City of Burlington’s zoning ordinance did not automatically reclassify the status or use of the building from a duplex to a single-family home with an accessory dwelling. It also held that a 2014 interior reconfiguration by owners did not change the property’s use, and the zoning statute of limitations, 24 V.S.A. § 4454(a), barred the City’s enforcement action in any case. Finding no reversible error in this judgement, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Burns 12 Weston Street NOV" on Justia Law