Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Plaintiff-appellant James Ingerson sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for negligence in investigating allegations that plaintiff was being sexually exploited by a DOC employee while he was an inmate at a DOC correctional facility. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, holding that plaintiff’s claim was barred by the discretionary function exception to the Vermont Tort Claims Act (VTCA), 12 V.S.A. 5601(e)(1). Plaintiff appealed the summary judgment ruling to this Court. Finding no error, however, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ingerson v. Pallito" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Jeffrey-Michael Brandt was an inmate in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). He filed this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting defendants (DOC officials) from interfering with his mail correspondence. The parties had previously entered into a Stipulation and Agreement of Dismissal (the Stipulation) in which DOC agreed not to prohibit plaintiff’s correspondence with other inmates not in the custody of DOC on the basis that this would violate 28 V.S.A. 802 and VTDOC Directive 409.5. However, plaintiff was prevented from corresponding with an inmate in another jurisdiction’s custody when he was housed in a state-run Pennsylvania facility, subject to the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC). The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion seeking to be transferred to a non-ICC facility where the Stipulation would be enforced. Yet, during this appeal defendants transferred plaintiff to a non-ICC facility in Mississippi. The Vermont Supreme Court remanded this matter for a hearing to determine whether plaintiff’s mail correspondence privileges were restricted in Mississippi, and, if so, to what extent and on what basis they were restricted. View "Jeffrey-Michael Brandt" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Elizabeth Lawson alleged she incurred damages as the result of an emergency room nurse informing a police officer that she was intoxicated, had driven to the hospital, and was intending to drive home. The trial court granted defendant Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) summary judgment based on its determination that nothing in the record supported an inference that the nurse’s disclosure of the information was for any reason other than her good-faith concern for plaintiff’s and the public’s safety. In this opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court recognized a common-law private right of action for damages based on a medical provider’s unjustified disclosure to third persons of information obtained during treatment. Like the trial court, however, the Supreme Court concluded CVMC was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, viewing the material facts most favorably to plaintiff and applying the relevant law adopted here, no reasonable factfinder could have determined the disclosure was for any purpose other than to mitigate the threat of imminent and serious harm to plaintiff and the public. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Lawson v. Central Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Human Rights Commission and three female employees of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) filed suit against the State (the DOC and the Vermont Department of Human Resources (DHR)) claiming that the DOC violated the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (VFEPA) by paying a male employee in the same position as the female plaintiffs as much as $10,000 more annually without a legally defensible, gender-neutral reason. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that although plaintiffs established a prima facie case, the undisputed facts established that the wage disparity was due to legitimate business reasons and not gender-based. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs' case. View "Vermont Human Rights Comm'n v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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Claimant Roxanne Moran appealed a superior court's dismissal of her complaint for lack of jurisdiction. Claimant, a former employee of the Vermont State Hospital, separated from state service and applied for ordinary disability-retirement benefits in November of 2011. The Medical Review Board denied benefits, and claimant requested an evidentiary hearing after which benefits were again denied. Claimant then pursued an appeal to the superior court under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75. The court dismissed the action for lack of jurisdiction, and claimant appealed. On appeal, claimant argued that because the superior court had jurisdiction over the appeal the Rule 75 action should not have been dismissed. In the alternative, claimant argued that, even if the superior court did not have jurisdiction to review the Board's decision, her timely filed Rule 75 complaint was sufficient to preserve the Supreme Court's jurisdiction under Vermont Rules of Appellate Procedure 3 and 4. In addition to its brief directly responding to claimant's arguments on appeal, the State also filed a motion to dismiss a portion of the appeal as untimely. Finding no reversible error and that the superior court indeed lacked jurisdiction to hear claimant's appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Moran v. Vermont State Retirement Board" on Justia Law

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Respondent T.S.S. appealed a Superior Court decision granting the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health's application for a continued order of non-hospitalization (ONH) compelling T.S.S. to continue undergoing mental-health treatment. T.S.S. argued that the superior court erred in interpreting 18 V.S.A. 7101(16) and applying it to the evidence. T.S.S. suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. T.S.S. "has demonstrated a clear pattern that for a short period of time, despite denying that he has a mental illness, he, on orders of non-hospitalization, will take medications and improve significantly. But when he is off the order of non-hospitalization, he quickly goes off medications and deteriorates." Over the fifteen-year history testified to at the hearing, there was no evidence that T.S.S. exhibited assaultive behavior or posed a danger to others. There was evidence, however, that at times T.S.S. posed a danger to himself. In June 2013, the commissioner filed an application for continued treatment. T.S.S. did not contest the application and stipulated to entry of the order. On May 27, 2014, the superior court granted the commissioner's application. T.S.S. appealed. Upon review of the Superior Court's interpretation of 7101(6), the Supreme Court concluded that the superior court applied the wrong legal standard to the evidence, and that the evidence and findings did not support a continued ONH in this case. View "In re T.S.S." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Ralph Nelson, the former town manager of St. Johnsbury, appealed a trial court decision granting partial summary judgment to defendants, the Town of St. Johnsbury and its individual selectboard members (collectively "the Town"), on his claims of wrongful termination; violation of procedural due process under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1983; violation of Chapter I, Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution; and promissory estoppel. In September 2010, the selectboard formally hired plaintiff as town manager after he served briefly on an interim basis. According to plaintiff, the Town's attorney advised him on three separate occasions that he could be removed only for serious misconduct, which the attorney assured was "an extremely high bar." As town manager, plaintiff undertook a major project to renovate and lease the Town's Pomerleau Building. He gained voter approval on a renovation budget and negotiated a lease with a potential tenant. The selectboard contended plaintiff made certain misrepresentations about the proposed lease, which plaintiff denied. Selectboard chair James Rust informed plaintiff that the board had concerns about his performance and gave him a letter stating that the board would be conducting an inquiry. Rust called plaintiff and notified him that the selectboard would be meeting but that plaintiff was not obligated to attend (plaintiff nonetheless attended). When the meeting convened that evening, the selectboard immediately recessed to executive session. After forty-five minutes, the board asked plaintiff to join them, at which time they discussed the lease. The selectboard asked plaintiff if he wanted to resign, and he declined. Consequently, the board returned to public session and passed a vote of "no confidence." According to plaintiff, he did not understand until that time that the selectboard was terminating his employment. Upon review of the parties' arguments on appeal, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded on the trial court's dismissal of the wrongful termination, Civil Rights Act, and state constitutional claims. The Court affirmed the court's dismissal of the promissory estoppel claim and its grant of summary judgment on the qualified immunity defense. View "Nelson v. Town of St. Johnsbury" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Daniel Brown appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to the State on his claim of employment discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. He argued that summary judgment was improper because genuine material issues of fact remained as to whether his membership in the Vermont National Guard was a motivating factor in the State's decisions not to promote him, and ultimately to terminate him from his position. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the constitutional rights of a putative biological father who seeks an order of parentage when a court has already issued a parentage order determining the minor child's parents. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Vermont's parentage statute does not authorize a court to allow a second parentage action involving a particular child brought by or against a different putative parent unless constitutional considerations require the court to entertain the second parentage case. In this case, even if plaintiff was the genetic parent of the minor child, he did not have constitutionally-protected parental rights. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying plaintiff's motion for genetic testing and dismissed his complaint for establishment of parentage. View "Columbia v. Lawton" on Justia Law