Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
Energy Policy Advocates v. Attorney General’s Office
Plaintiff Energy Policy Advocates challenged a trial court’s conclusion that certain communications between different state attorney general offices were protected from disclosure under a public-records request, and further, that the trial court erred in declining to grant in-camera review of these documents. Additionally, plaintiff argued the trial court improperly granted only half of its fees despite substantially prevailing. The Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) cross-appealed the trial court decision granting plaintiff any fees, arguing plaintiff was not entitled to fees as it did not substantially prevail. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court decision with respect to the withheld documents and reversed regarding the award of attorney’s fees. View "Energy Policy Advocates v. Attorney General’s Office" on Justia Law
Mahmutovic v. Washington County Mental Health Services, Inc.
Claimant Semir Mahmutovic appealed a Vermont Department of Labor decision concluding that claimant’s prior employer was not obligated to reimburse claimant for lost wages under 21 V.S.A. § 640(c), and that the statute was not unconstitutional as applied to claimant. The Vermont Supreme Court determined that claimant conceded that the Commissioner properly interpreted § 640(c), and further concluded that claimant did not have standing to challenge the constitutionality of § 640(c). View "Mahmutovic v. Washington County Mental Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law
In re J.N.
J.N. was born in August 2013. On the eve of J.N.’s eighth birthday in August 2021, the State filed a petition alleging that J.N. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to lack of proper parental care (CHINS- B) after an incident during which mother had dragged J.N. by her arms, causing bruises. The court transferred temporary custody to the Department for Children and Families (DCF). After a series of subsequent incidents at school and home, a trial court issued a disposition order that continued custody of J.N. with DCF, with a goal of reunification with her mother by June 2023. Mother appealed the CHINS disposition, Mother argued the State essentially used a CHINS petition to advance a claim of abuse, and that by accepting that framing, the trial court deprived her of notice and interpreted the statute in a manner that was unconstitutionally over broad. The Vermont Supreme Court determine the trial court’s findings did not fit the theory charged by the State. To the extent the State asked the Supreme Court to affirm the CHINS determination based on a theory of abuse, the Court agreed with Mother that this would create a problem of notice. Accordingly, the disposition was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "In re J.N." on Justia Law
Vermont Journalism Trust v. Agency of Commerce & Community Development
In August 2020, plaintiff Vermont Journalism Trust (VJT) sought from the State emails to or from former Secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller related to the Jay Peak EB-5 fraud scandal. The State denied the request, citing the Public Records Act's (PRA) litigation exception. Following an unsuccessful agency appeal, VJT filed this suit in October 2020. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, which the court granted and denied in part. It found that the requested records were covered by the litigation exception but that outside circumstances had partially overtaken the case. In October 2021, VJT moved to compel the State to produce a "Vaughn" index of the remaining withheld records under 1 V.S.A. § 318(b)(2). VJT argued that the State had do so because it continued to withhold documents. During the pendency of this appeal, the State produced all records responsive to VJT’s public-records request, including those previously withheld. Because no live controversy remains, the Vermont Supreme Court dismissed this appeal as moot. View "Vermont Journalism Trust v. Agency of Commerce & Community Development" on Justia Law
City of Burlington v. Sisters & Brothers Investment Group, LLP
Defendant-landowner Sisters & Brothers Investment Group, LLP (SBIG) appealed an environmental-division enforcement order: enjoining it from using real property in the City of Burlington; ordering it to address site-improvement deficiencies as required by an agreement executed by a prior owner and the City; and imposing $66,759.22 in fines. SBIG purchased the subject property in 2004, which was then in use as a gas and service station, a preexisting, nonconforming use permitted under the City’s zoning ordinance. The property had eighteen parking spaces that were required to be used in connection with the service-station business. Following an unappealed 2002 notice of violation (NOV), the prior owner and the City signed an agreement on June 16, 2004—one day before SBIG purchased the property—which set out specific requirements to cure those violations. The agreement required the prior owner to take certain steps if it wished to sell the property and provided that the agreement was “specifically enforceable and . . .binding upon the successors and assigns of” the previous owner. The City did not enforce compliance with the agreement before this action. At some point after 2004, SBIG began renting out a small number of parking spaces to private individuals. This was not a permitted use under the zoning ordinance. In July 2017, the gas and service station closed, and SBIG thereafter increased the number of parking spaces it rented out to private individuals. Following complaints about the private-parking use and graffiti, the City contacted SBIG in 2018 about bringing the property into compliance with the zoning ordinance. SBIG took no remedial action, and the City issued an NOV. In June 2019, the Development Review Board (DRB) affirmed the NOV with respect to the change-of-use violation, finding the nonconforming use as a gas and service station had been discontinued for more than one year, which constituted abandonment of that use. In March 2020, the City filed a complaint in the environmental division to enforce the decision and sought fines. The Vermont Supreme Court determined the trial court erroneously found that SBIG knew or should have known about the 2004 agreement, therefore, it reversed the judgment order, directed the trial court to strike the condition requiring SBIG to address the site-improvement deficiencies in the agreement, and remanded for the court to recalculate fines without considering whether SBIG violated the agreement’s terms. View "City of Burlington v. Sisters & Brothers Investment Group, LLP" on Justia Law
In re C.C.
Mother appealed a trial court’s determination that C.C. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). She argued that the court erred in admitting certain hearsay statements by C.C. concerning alleged sexual abuse by mother’s boyfriend. The Vermont Supreme Court did not reach mother’s arguments because, even excluding this evidence, the court’s decision was amply supported by its remaining findings. Therefore, judgment was affirmed. View "In re C.C." on Justia Law
Wells et al. v. Spera
Brothers Newton and Jason Wells (plaintiffs) and their mother Beverly Wells, filed suit in September 2017 seeking to partition real property they held as tenants in common with defendant Pall Spera in Stowe, Vermont. The court granted plaintiffs’ summary-judgment motion on the question of whether they were entitled to partition as a matter of law, and issued an order of appointment of commissioners and order of reference by consent of the parties. The order appointed three commissioners and directed them to determine whether the property could be divided, assigned to one of the parties, or sold. They were ordered to determine the fair market value of the property and each person’s equitable share. Neither party reserved the right to object to the commissioners’ report. Ultimately, the commissioners concluded that physical division would cause great inconvenience to the parties. Finding division inequitable, the commissioners awarded defendant first right of assignment due to his ability to buy out plaintiffs’ interest immediately, while plaintiffs required a loan to do so, and because partition would constitute the dissolution of the partnership agreement, which defendant had wished to continue. Plaintiffs filed a motion objecting to the report, citing Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 53(e)(2)(iii). Plaintiffs’ main argument was that the commissioners exceeded their mandate as provided by the order of reference in concluding that partition would result in zoning violations, and the commissioners erred on that question as a matter of law. In the alternative, they argued the equities favored assigning the property to them. The court denied the motion, including plaintiffs’ request for a hearing, and adopted the report without qualification. It reasoned that plaintiffs had not reserved their right to object to the report as required by the plain language of Civil Rule 53(e)(2)(iii). Finding no reversible error in this decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wells et al. v. Spera" on Justia Law
Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al.
Plaintiffs were three sets of parents of schoolchildren who resided in school districts which maintained a public school for at least some grades and did not provide the opportunity for children to attend the public or independent school of their parents’ choice for all grades at the state’s expense. They raised a facial constitutional challenge to Vermont statutes that allowed school districts to choose whether to maintain a public school, permit children to attend an out-of-district public school or an independent school at the state’s expense, or some combination of both. The civil division dismissed parents’ complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Finding no reversible error in that decision, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vitale et al. v. Bellows Falls Union High School et al." on Justia Law
In re Grievance of Marc Abbey et al.
The State of Vermont appealed a decision of the Vermont Labor Relations Board sustaining a grievance filed by the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) on behalf of several classified employees. The Board determined that the State violated the employees’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA) when it appointed another employee to a vacant position before the application deadline for that position had expired. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Board correctly interpreted the CBA and therefore affirmed. View "In re Grievance of Marc Abbey et al." on Justia Law
Ferry, et al. v. City of Montpelier
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