Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

by
Juvenile G.B., born in June 2017, appealed a trial court’s order denying his petition to terminate mother’s parental rights and directing the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to prepare a new disposition plan for mother. The Vermont Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of a final judgment. In October 2017, the court held a merits hearing in G.B.’s case. The court found that G.B. was a child in need of care or supervision (CHINS) based on parents’ mental-health issues, substance abuse, failure to consistently engage in parent-child contact, and father’s criminal history. Father did not appear at the hearing; mother was briefly present. The court considered the best-interests factors as to each parent, then granted the petition to terminate father’s rights, concluding that he had not developed a relationship with G.B. and would not be able to assume parental duties within a reasonable period of time. As to mother, the court acknowledged that mother’s relapse resulted in her not being able to play a constructive role in G.B.’s life for seventeen months. The court concluded, however, that mother was ready, willing, and able to resume a constructive role in G.B.’s life and that she “should be given the opportunity over the next six months to reunify with G.B.” Therefore, the court denied the petition to terminate mother’s rights. The court explained that the case was “still at disposition” and directed DCF to prepare a new disposition plan in light of the court’s decision. G.B. appealed the denial to terminate mother’s rights. To the Supreme Court, G.B. argued the trial court failed to view the question of whether mother would be able to parent within a reasonable period of time from the perspective of the juvenile. The Supreme Court determined the order G.B. sought to appeal in this case—the denial of the petition to terminate mother’s rights—was not final because it was neither a final judgment nor a disposition order. The order denying termination of mother’s rights did not finally resolve the status of mother’s parental rights and therefore was not a final judgment. View "In re G.B., Juvenile" on Justia Law

by
Mother and her four minor children were undocumented immigrants from Angola living in Vermont. Mother is married to the children’s father. At one time, father indicated that he would join the family in North America but he had not. Mother alleged that father had not contacted or supported the family since 2013. She also testified that there was no place for the children in Angola. In February 2018, mother sought relief under 15 V.S.A. 291, seeking award of sole legal and physical parental-rights-and-responsibilities (PRR) based on father’s abandonment of the family. Mother also asked the court to make special findings that would allow the children to apply for “special immigrant juvenile” (SIJ) status with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Father was served by publication in Angola. The trial court concluded that it was in the children’s best interests that mother have sole PRR, both legal and physical. It did not order any parent-child contact with father. The court denied mother’s request for SIJ findings, concluding it lacked authority to make SIJ findings because they were not necessary to its parental-rights-and-responsibilities (PRR) decision. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that given the primacy of a child’s best interests in cases like this and the court’s broad discretion in determining those interests, the trial court did have the authority to make such findings. “It should make such findings when it is in a child’s best interests to do so and where such findings are supported by the evidence.” The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded the trial court’s decision to allow it to engage in this analysis. Because one of the juveniles would turn eighteen on July 13, 2019, the Supreme Court issued the mandate immediately and directed the court to issue its findings forthwith. View "Kitoko v. Salomao" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Jeffrey Severson appealed the trial court’s decision to grant appellees’ the City of Burlington (the City) and the Burlington Conservation Board (the Board) motion to dismiss pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6). The Burlington Town Center Project (the Project) was a large real estate project that proposed to redevelop the downtown district of the City. The Board met several times to review various aspects of the Project’s permit application. In early October 2017, nearly ten months after the meeting, Severson emailed the Board’s chair and raised concerns over a January 9 meeting. He asserted that the meeting had violated the Open Meeting Law because it had occurred behind locked doors. Severson requested that the Board cure the violation by holding a meeting in compliance with the Open Meeting Law to conduct a review of the most current version of the Project’s plan and to ratify the other, non-Project related Board actions taken at the January 9 meeting. The Board met on November 13, during which it reviewed a memorandum prepared by the City’s legal counsel and the relevant facts of Severson’s allegations, including information on the staffing procedure of the library on nights when public meetings were scheduled there. The Board determined that no Open Meeting Law violation had occurred. Severson filed suit, and when his case was dismissed, he appealed, arguing the trial court erred when it determined he, as a member of the Board, did not have standing because he did not allege an injury that was actionable under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. The Vermont Supreme Court found that dismissal of Severson’s claim was proper, and thus affirmed. View "Severson v. City of Burlington & Burlington Conservation Board" on Justia Law

by
The Washington South Education Association was the representative of all licensed teachers within the Northfield schools. The Northfield School Board and the Association negotiated and entered into the CBA, which was in effect from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018. Paul Clayton was a middle-school physical-education teacher at the Northfield Middle High School (the School) and was a member of the Association. Therefore, Clayton’s employment was subject to the CBA. In late fall 2017, administrators at the School received complaints about Clayton’s workplace conduct. The complaints alleged that Clayton created a hostile work environment by intimidating his colleagues and advised a student (his daughter) to punch another student in the face. In response to the allegations, Clayton was placed on paid leave while the administrators investigated the complaints and interviewed a number of the School’s staff. Upon the conclusion of their investigation, the administrators wrote a letter to the School’s superintendent describing their findings and noting that while they gave Clayton the opportunity to respond, Clayton declined to respond in a follow-up meeting and then a second meeting scheduled to receive his rebuttal a few days later. After receiving the administrators’ letter, the superintendent wrote a letter to Clayton offering him an opportunity to meet with her to discuss the matter, and attached to the letter a summary of the allegations against Clayton. About a week later, the superintendent met with Clayton and his Association representation. Clayton did not file a notice of appeal of his ultimate suspension. Shortly thereafter, Clayton and the Association, now represented by the Vermont affiliate of the National Education Association (Vermont-NEA), submitted a grievance alleging a violation the CBA. The Board declined to accept the grievance, noting Clayton did not follow the prescribed termination procedures outlined in the CBA. Vermont-NEA thereafter invoked the CBA's arbitration procedures. A trial court agreed with the Board, and Clayton and the Association appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Clayton and the Association failed to exhaust statutory remedies as required by 16 V.S.A. 1752, thus the trial court properly enjoined arbitration. View "Northfield School Board v. Washington South Education Association" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner and her spouse adopted their son through Department for Children and Families in 2003. As part of the adoption process, petitioner entered into an adoption-assistance agreement with DCF, which provided for a daily subsidy payment of $50.69. Per the agreement’s terms, both the adoptive parent and DCF had to agree to any changes. Shortly before the child turned eighteen, DCF notified petitioner the existing agreement would terminate on the child's birthday. In the February 2017 notification letter, DCF explained that the child might be eligible for an “Over Age 18 Adoption Assistance Agreement” if the child had been diagnosed with a lifelong physical or mental disability, and it described the application process. In a March 2017 letter, DCF offered petitioner what it characterized as a “separate” and “over-age-18” adoption-assistance agreement at a daily rate of $27.59. The new rate was the maximum available standard rate for children in foster care. Petitioner appealed the amount of the subsidy to the Board, arguing federal law prohibited DCF from unilaterally modifying the amount of the adoption-assistance subsidy when the child turned eighteen. Petitioner maintained that DCF had to negotiate the amount with the adoptive parents. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded federal law did not preclude DCF from adopting a policy, and entering into adoption-assistance agreements that offered reduced adoption-assistance subsidies to adoptive parents of qualifying children over eighteen. View "In re Appeal of McSweeney" on Justia Law

by
This matter stemmed from a trial court order finding defendant-appellant Richard Daniels liable for the release of hazardous waste on his property, granting summary judgment in favor of the State, and issuing an injunction compelling defendant to investigate and conduct remedial action on the property site. On appeal, defendant contested the award of summary judgment to the State and the scope of the injunction ordered by the court, and he contended the court erred in denying his motion to revisit his statute-of-limitations defense. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont Agency of Natural Resources v. Parkway Cleaners et al." on Justia Law

by
Mother appealed an order concluding that her children were children in need of care or supervision (CHINS) due to educational neglect. In April 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that B.C., born in January 2007, Bo.B., born in May 2012, and Br.B., born in April 2013, were CHINS for lack of proper education necessary for their well-being. B.C. had been referred to an educational support team because she was not meeting certain achievement levels in her educational program. In prior years, there had been three educational neglect/truancy assessments involving B.C. In January 2018, the assistant principal reported to the Department for Children and Families (DCF) that B.C. had missed twenty-two days and Bo.B. had missed thirty-two days of school and all absences were unexcused. By March 2018, B.C. and Bo.B. had missed thirty-eight and fifty days of school, respectively. DCF contacted mother, who asserted that the absences were occurring because she was not receiving sufficient support from the school, the children were often absent due to illness, and transportation was a barrier. When asked, mother did not appear to understand the details of Bo.B.’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). DCF set up a plan to implement services through NCSS in March, however, mother cancelled the meeting. The court found that the three children were CHINS due to the parents’ inability to provide for the children’s educational needs. The court found that the children’s absences resulted in missed educational opportunities that put them at risk of harm, especially in light of their needs. On appeal, mother argued: (1) the court erred in not requiring the State to demonstrate that the children’s absences were without justification; (2) the evidence did not support the court’s finding that missing school caused the children harm; (3) the existence of IEPs for the two young children, who were not legally required to attend school, did not support a finding of educational neglect; and (4) the court erred in admitting the school attendance records. The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to B.C. and reversed and remanded the CHINS determinations as to Bo.B. and Br.B. "[T]he evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that Bo.B. and Br.B. were at risk of harm for educational neglect given that they were not required to attend school and mother could discontinue the services related to their IEPs without any presumption of neglect." View "In re B.B., B.C., and B.B., Juveniles" on Justia Law

by
N.L. was born in August 2014. In January 2016, she was taken into state custody because both parents were using illicit substances, father was facing jail time on a charge alleging domestic abuse against mother, and mother was unable to care for the child due to her drug addiction and homelessness. N.L. spent several months in foster care. A conditional custody order (CCO) returned N.L. to mother’s care after mother completed a substance-abuse program, and they resided for several months in a residential treatment program at Lund Family Center. The CCO remained in effect until February 27, 2017, when the Department for Children and Families (DCF) closed the case. The underlying case was initiated based on an incident that occurred in August 2017, at which time DCF was investigating reports of drug use and domestic violence in the home. The family division of the superior court granted a petition to terminate mother’s parental rights to her child, N.L., but denied the petition concerning father. Mother appealed the termination of her parental rights, and N.L. appealed the court’s decision not to terminate father’s parental rights. After careful review of the trial court record, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed termination of mother’s parental rights and reversed the court’s order declining to terminate father’s parental rights. The matter was remanded for the limited purpose of directing the family division to grant the petition to terminate father’s parental rights. View "In re N.L." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Jay Bernasconi appealed the grant of summary judgment to defendant City of Barre. Plaintiff fell into a hole and injured his knee while visiting family graves at Hope Cemetery, which the City owned. He contends that the City’s negligent maintenance of the Cemetery caused his injury. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiff could not establish that any breach of the City’s duty of care caused his injuries, and affirmed summary judgment against him. View "Bernasconi v. City of Barre: Hope Cemetery" on Justia Law

by
During road-construction operations, a truck owned or operated by Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD, which was participating in the construction activity, struck and killed a flagger for Green Mountain Flaggers. The truck hit the flagger when the driver began backing it up in the southbound breakdown lane on Route 7 in Middlebury, Vermont. In response to the accident, the Commissioner of Labor investigated and ultimately cited Eustis for two alleged violations of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601: a failure to ensure that the vehicle’s backup alarm was audible above the surrounding noise level; and a failure to assure the safety devices were in a safe condition at the beginning of each shift. The Commissioner assessed $11,340 in fines ($5670 for each violation). Eustis appealed the civil division’s affirmance of the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Act (VOSHA) review board’s determination that Eustis failed to meet VOSHA’s motor-vehicle requirements and the resulting assessment of a fine for the violations. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the evidence and findings did not support the board’s conclusion that Eustis was on notice of the violation and accordingly reverse and strike the citation alleging a violation of 29 C.F.R. 1926.601(b)(14) and associated penalty. View "Commissioner of Labor v. Eustis Cable Enterprises, LTD" on Justia Law