Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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This case involves two consolidated appeals from Northwestern Medical Center and Rutland Regional Medical Center against the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB). The GMCB had approved the proposed budgets of both medical centers for the fiscal year 2024, but with certain conditions. The medical centers challenged the GMCB's imposition of budgetary conditions that capped increases to rates charged to commercial payers. However, the medical centers had not properly raised their claims with the GMCB, leaving them unpreserved for review.The GMCB is an independent board that regulates the health care industry in Vermont. It reviews and establishes hospital budgets annually, with the aim of reducing the per-capita rate of growth in expenditures for health services in Vermont across all payers. The GMCB had released its established benchmarks for the 2024 fiscal year budget submissions, which included a benchmark that limited a hospital’s growth of net patient revenue/fixed prospective payment (NPR/FPP) to 8.6%, effectively capping increases to NPR/FPP growth by that amount. It also included a benchmark for commercial rate increases which provided that the GMCB would “also review and may adjust requested hospital commercial rate increases.”The GMCB approved the budgets of Northwestern and Rutland Regional, subject to certain conditions. These conditions included a cap on increases to commercial rates. However, neither Northwestern nor Rutland Regional had raised their claims with the GMCB, leaving them unpreserved for review.On appeal, Northwestern and Rutland Regional argued that the GMCB deprived them of due process by failing to provide adequate notice that it would impose the Commercial Rate Cap Conditions on their proposed budgets. They also claimed that the GMCB had no authority to impose the Commercial Rate Cap Conditions because the conditions lacked a factual basis and contradicted the GMCB’s initial approval of their proposed budgets. However, the Vermont Supreme Court declined to reach the merits of these claims because they were not preserved for review. The court noted that Northwestern and Rutland Regional had several opportunities to raise their claims with the GMCB before the GMCB issued its final budget decisions, but they failed to do so. Therefore, the court affirmed the decisions of the GMCB. View "In re Northwestern Medical Center Fiscal Year 2024" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Damon Graham and Isiwat Adekoya over the primary parental rights and responsibilities (PRR) and parent-child contact (PCC) schedule for their child. The couple met in February 2021 and had a child in October 2021. After a strained relationship and a series of altercations, Adekoya moved to Texas with the child. Graham filed a parentage complaint in February 2022, and the parties agreed to a temporary PCC schedule of alternating two-week increments. The family court approved this arrangement. However, Graham appealed the family court's decision, arguing that it allowed Adekoya to control his PCC time with the child and that the provision requiring renegotiation of PCC as the child reached school age was premised on Adekoya's decision to enroll the child in preschool.The family court had awarded Adekoya primary PRR and set forth a PCC schedule. It found that the alternating biweekly schedule was in the child's best interests but recognized that maintaining this schedule indefinitely was not feasible due to the considerable physical distance separating the parents. The court ordered that the current PCC schedule would continue until the child entered preschool, at which point the schedule would automatically change. Graham argued that this decision gave Adekoya unilateral control over when the change in PCC would occur.The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the family court's decision. It found that the family court did not suggest that Adekoya could dictate how Graham spends his PCC time with the child or control the child's daily routine or Graham's choice of childcare. The court also found that the family court had an evidentiary basis to conclude that the child's entrance to a certified preschool program was a proper future point for the parties to reconsider the PCC schedule. The court disagreed with Graham's claim that the family court improperly ruled on a future PCC schedule, stating that the language of the PCC order expressly left that task to a future court should the parties fail to agree on a PCC arrangement once the child is in preschool, turns four years old, or alternatively, enters kindergarten. View "Graham v. Adekoya" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The case revolves around an incident involving Michael Miller, a white Correctional Security Operations Supervisor at Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility (CRCF), and a black coworker. Miller asked the coworker if the food he was heating in the microwave was fried chicken, a comment the coworker perceived as racially discriminatory. Following an investigation, the State of Vermont terminated Miller's employment, citing violations of several personnel policies and work rules, including allegations of racial discrimination and harassment.The Vermont Labor Relations Board, however, reversed the State's decision. It found that while Miller's comments were inappropriate and unprofessional, they did not constitute racial discrimination or harassment as defined by the applicable personnel policies. The Board also found that the State failed to prove that Miller was untruthful during the investigation. Consequently, the Board reduced Miller's penalty to a twenty-day suspension.The State appealed the Board's decision to the Vermont Supreme Court, arguing that the Board misinterpreted the meaning of racial discrimination and harassment in the personnel policies. The Supreme Court affirmed the Board's decision, stating that the Board's interpretation of the policies was within its discretion and was supported by analogous definitions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court also noted that the State could amend the language of the policies to more clearly define what constitutes racial discrimination or harassment. View "In re Grievance of Miller" on Justia Law

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The case involves an appeal by the Department of Corrections (DOC) against a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff P. Mark Potanas under the State Employee Whistleblower Act. Potanas, a former superintendent of Southern State Correctional Facility (SSCF), claimed that the DOC fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing activities. These activities included notifying the state about potential savings on a building renovation project and advocating for more mental health staff at SSCF. The DOC argued that Potanas did not engage in any "protected activity" under the Act, and thus, the trial court should have granted its request for judgment as a matter of law.The trial court denied the DOC's motion, finding that Potanas's report of potential waste and his complaints about mental health staffing were sufficient to meet the definition of "protected activity" under the Act. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Potanas, leading to the DOC's appeal.The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court's ruling, agreeing with the DOC that Potanas did not engage in protected activity under the Whistleblower Act. The court held that the Act does not encompass reports about the possibility of future waste and that reporting on a known problem or disagreeing about how to resolve a known problem is not protected activity. The court remanded the case to the trial court to vacate the jury’s verdict and enter judgment for the DOC. View "Potanas v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The case involves RSD Leasing, Inc., a Vermont-based corporation that leases trucks to commercial operators. Between 2008 and 2014, RSD purchased forty trucks manufactured by Navistar International Corp. and Navistar, Inc. from a nonparty dealer. These trucks were equipped with an emission-control system known as an exhaust gas recirculation system. RSD alleged that the system caused the trucks to lose power, break down, and damage other engine components. RSD leased the trucks to other entities for four-to-six-year terms and intended to sell them at the end of the lease term. RSD filed a complaint against Navistar alleging violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (VCPA), among other claims.In the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont, Navistar moved for summary judgment on the VCPA claim, arguing that RSD is not a “consumer” under the VCPA and is therefore barred from recovery. The district court granted summary judgment on the VCPA claim, reasoning that RSD did not qualify as a consumer under the VCPA because it purchased the trucks for resale in the ordinary course of its business. RSD appealed to the Second Circuit, which certified the question of whether RSD qualified as a consumer under the VCPA to the Vermont Supreme Court.The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that RSD is not a consumer under the VCPA. The court found that RSD's intent at the time it purchased the trucks was to lease them out and, after each lease term expired, sell them. The court held that the trucks were purchased for resale in the ordinary course of RSD’s business. Therefore, RSD did not qualify as a consumer under the VCPA. The court answered the certified question from the Second Circuit in the negative. View "RSD Leasing, Inc. v. Navistar International Corporation and Navistar, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2001, the defendant was charged with aggravated domestic assault after shaking his five-week-old daughter, causing her severe neurological injuries. He pleaded nolo contendere to the charge and served ten years of a fifteen-year maximum sentence. The victim was placed in foster care, later adopted, and died in 2016, at age fifteen, from complications resulting from the injuries she received as an infant. In 2022, the State charged the defendant with second-degree murder relating to the victim's death. The defendant moved to dismiss the charge, claiming that the prosecution was barred by the common-law year-and-a-day rule, the Double Jeopardy Clause, and his plea agreement. The trial court dismissed the murder charge based on the year-and-a-day rule.The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court's decision, abrogating the common-law year-and-a-day rule, which stated that no defendant could be convicted of murder unless the victim had died by the defendant’s act within a year and a day of the act. The court concluded that the justifications for the rule were no longer relevant due to advances in medical science and changes in the law. The court also held that the abrogation of the rule applied retroactively to the defendant's case. The court further found that the prosecution was not barred by the Double Jeopardy Clause or the defendant's plea agreement. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "State v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The case involves Aerie Point Holdings, LLC (Aerie Point) and Vorsteveld Farm, LLC (Vorsteveld). Aerie Point owns a property in Panton, Vermont, which is located downhill from Vorsteveld's dairy farm. In 2017, Vorsteveld began installing tile drains in its fields to improve soil quality. The excess water drained from these tiles was discharged into public ditches, then through culverts, and finally towards Lake Champlain over Aerie Point’s property. This led to increased water flow, sediment, and contaminants on Aerie Point's land, causing shoreline erosion and algae blooms in Lake Champlain. In April 2020, Aerie Point filed a lawsuit against Vorsteveld for trespass and nuisance.The civil division found in favor of Aerie Point in March 2022, concluding that Vorsteveld's actions constituted trespass and nuisance. The court issued an injunction in August 2022, preventing Vorsteveld from allowing water from its drain tile system to flow into the public ditches and culverts on Arnold Bay Road. Vorsteveld did not appeal this judgment.In August 2023, Vorsteveld moved for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5) and (6), arguing that postjudgment changes in fact and law justified relief from the injunction. Vorsteveld claimed that an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation regarding filled wetlands on the farm prevented it from complying with the injunction, and that the federal investigation/enforcement action preempted the state injunction. Vorsteveld also argued that changes to Vermont’s Right-to-Farm law justified relief from the injunction. The court denied the motion and the request for an evidentiary hearing.On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Vorsteveld's arguments were attempts to relitigate issues that had been resolved by the judgment. The court also found that Vorsteveld had not demonstrated that there were significant postjudgment changes in factual circumstances or the law that made prospective application of the injunction inequitable. The court concluded that Vorsteveld's arguments relating to the EPA investigation and changes to the Right-to-Farm law were insufficient to merit relief under Rule 60(b). The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Vorsteveld's request for an evidentiary hearing. View "Aerie Point Holdings, LLC v. Vorsteveld Farm, LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over parental rights and responsibilities between a mother and father who filed for divorce. The couple, who married in Vermont in 2006 and had two children, moved to California in 2008. The mother was the primary caregiver, while the father was actively involved in the children's lives. In 2016, they moved back to Vermont. In 2021, due to financial strain and dissatisfaction with his job, the father wanted to move back to California. The mother agreed to look for work in California, but did not commit to staying there. By August 2021, neither party had found work and the mother returned to Vermont with the children. The father returned to Vermont in the fall but moved back to California in the spring of 2022 without informing the mother of his intention to move permanently.The Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Family Division, found that the father's attempt to move the family to California constituted abuse within the statutory meaning, as it risked and actually caused harm to the psychological growth, development, and welfare of the children. The court awarded the mother sole legal and primary physical rights and responsibilities, subject to a parent-child contact schedule that gave the father approximately equal time with the children. The father appealed this decision.The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the father that the finding of abuse was clearly erroneous and struck that finding. However, the court affirmed the rest of the order, stating that the remaining findings were sufficient to support the award of parental rights and responsibilities to the mother. The court found that both parents were able to provide the children with love and guidance and meet their material and developmental needs. However, the court also found that the father had a tendency to be controlling and belittling toward the mother and expressed concern that if the father were given the power to make legal decisions for the children, he might have difficulty putting their interests ahead of his own or supporting the mother's relationship with them. View "Centeno v. Centeno" on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The case involves a mother and father who appealed an order that declared their daughter, M.M., a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS). The State had filed a petition in April 2023, alleging that M.M., then eleven years old, was without proper parental care and that her parents were resisting recommended mental-health services. M.M. was placed in the emergency custody of the Department for Children and Families (DCF) and then returned to her parents' care under a conditional custody order (CCO). In August 2023, a hearing concluded that M.M. was CHINS at the time the petition was filed. In October 2023, DCF recommended that custody be returned to the parents, and the court vacated the CCO, returned custody to the parents without conditions, and closed the case.The parents appealed the CHINS adjudication, arguing that the factual findings were insufficient to support the conclusion that M.M. was CHINS and that the family division referenced an inapplicable legal standard. The State argued that the appeal was moot because the family division’s jurisdiction terminated with the return of unconditional, unsupervised custody to the parents.The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the State, concluding that the case did not present a live controversy or fall within a recognized exception to the mootness doctrine. The court found that the CHINS adjudication had no current impact on the family division’s authority to make orders regarding M.M.’s legal custody. The court also found that the parents had not shown that the CHINS adjudication subjected them to negative collateral consequences or that the issues were capable of repetition but evading review. Therefore, the court dismissed the appeal as moot. View "In re M.M." on Justia Law

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The case involves Shirley Ann Carpin, who sued Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation and Clifton Associates on behalf of her mother's estate for negligence and wrongful death. She alleged that the defendants caused the asbestos exposure that led to her mother's mesothelioma and subsequent death. Her mother, Shirley Hilster, was exposed to asbestos through her husband, who worked as a pipefitter and regularly came home with asbestos-contaminated clothes. Hilster's husband worked for Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp., where Clifton Associates had installed asbestos. Hilster was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure, in July 2020 and died three months later.The Superior Court granted summary judgment to the defendants based on the twenty-year statute of repose under 12 V.S.A. § 518(a), finding the “last occurrence” to which her mother’s mesothelioma was attributed fell outside the repose period. Carpin appealed, arguing that her claims are not barred by § 518(a)’s repose period and, in the alternative, that § 518(a) violates the Vermont Constitution.The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court determined that the “last occurrence” to which Hilster’s mesothelioma was attributed was her last known exposure to asbestos in 1995. The court further concluded that the statute was constitutional. The court rejected Carpin's argument that the “last occurrence” was the cellular changes that resulted in her 2020 mesothelioma diagnosis. The court also rejected Carpin's constitutional challenge, finding that the statute of repose did not arbitrarily disadvantage any part of the community and was a valid legislative prerogative. View "Carpin v. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation" on Justia Law