Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Several carpenters, including one single-member LLC, an installer of cement siding, and a painter contended they were employees of Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc. for the purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. Bourbeau challenged that classification, contending that it was not liable for unemployment taxes on monies paid to a carpenter operating as a single-member LLC because an LLC was not an “individual” under the unemployment tax statute and therefore not subject to the ABC test established by 21 V.S.A. 1301(6)(B). Second, Bourbeau argued the Employment Security Board erred in applying the ABC test with respect to all of the workers whose remuneration is the subject of this appeal. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with Bourbeau on the first point and held that an LLC was not an “individual” for the purposes of assessing unemployment taxes. However, the Court affirmed the Board’s determination that the remaining four individuals were employees for purposes of Vermont’s unemployment compensation system. View "In re Bourbeau Custom Homes, Inc." on Justia Law

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This case focused on whether the Department for Children and Families (DCF) could deny an applicant temporary housing assistance under General Assistance (GA) Rule 2652.3 for having left her housing in response to a notice of termination without cause from her landlord. DCF argued that applicant Dezarae Durkee caused her own loss of housing and therefore was ineligible for assistance. The Human Services Board upheld this determination. Applicant argued that leaving in response to a notice of termination without cause does not constitute causing her own lack of housing and sought a declaration of such damages. The Vermont Supreme Court granted the declaratory judgment but concluded damages were not appropriate relief. View "In re Appeal of Dezarae Durkee" on Justia Law

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This appeal tested the limits of a town’s authority to enforce a noise ordinance against a sport shooting range’s historically established operations. Plaintiff North Country Sportsman’s Club received multiple citations from defendant Town of Williston for allegedly violating the Town’s noise ordinance. The Club sought a declaration that under state law and the Town ordinance that the Town lacked authority to enforce the ordinance against the Club for a use consistent with its historical usage. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Club and reversed in part and affirmed in part, holding that the as long as the Club’s operations were consistent with its historical operation of the range, the Town could not cite the Club for violating the Town’s noise ordinance. The Town could attempt to apply its noise ordinance to shooting at the range that exceeds the Club’s historical use unless the activity was exempt pursuant to an agreement voluntarily executed between the Town and Club as to its hours of operation. View "North Country Sportsman's Club v. Town of Williston" on Justia Law

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Neighbors for Healthy Communities (neighbors) appealed the Environmental Division’s decision to grant North East Materials Group, LLC, (NEMG) an Act 250 permit for operating an asphalt plant. Neighbors specifically challenged the court’s findings and conclusions under Criterion 5 and Criterion 8 of Act 250, claiming that conditions imposed by the court pursuant to these two criteria repeat existing requirements that NEMG did not or could not comply with and, thus, were insufficient to meet Act 250’s criteria. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "In re North East Materials Group, LLC Amended Act 250 Permit" on Justia Law

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Can a prison superintendent order a second administrative hearing when a hearing panel finds a prisoner not guilty of violating a prison rule at an initial hearing because of a clerical mistake in the prison’s evidence? Petitioner, an inmate in Vermont State prison charged with fighting, appealed summary judgment decision validating a superintendent’s authority to order a second hearing under these factual circumstances. The hearing officer found petitioner not guilty of the charged violation. The disciplinary committee unanimously agreed with the hearing officer. The superintendent then ordered a new hearing on the charge against petitioner. As he did in his motion for summary judgment, petitioner argues on appeal that the principle of collateral estoppel operates to bar a second hearing on the charge that was tried in his initial hearing. While the Supreme Court was unwilling to rule broadly on the superintendent’s power to order a new hearing, the Court held that the new hearing ordered here was appropriate when it was clear that the original decision was based on a mistake in the recording of the date of the incident underlying the disciplinary action. View "McLaughlin v. Pallito" on Justia Law

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A group of landowners (neighbors) adjacent to a proposed planned unit development (PUD) challenged the Environmental Division’s affirmance of the PUD permit. On appeal, neighbors argued that the Environmental Division improperly required them to amend their original statement of questions and then erred by refusing to consider all of the issues raised by neighbors’ Amended Statement of Questions. Neighbors also claimed that the court erred as a matter of law when it concluded that adequate notice was posted of the public hearing on the PUD permit. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part. The court did not err when it required neighbors to file an amended statement of questions under Environmental Proceedings Rule 5(f). The Supreme Court did concluded, however, that, after requiring neighbors to file a new statement of questions, the court was obligated to resolve all of the issues raised by the Amended Statement of Questions. “The court limited its decision on the merits to those issues specifically relating to PUD regulations. This was error. By declining to specifically address these regulations, the court left open issues presented by the Amended Statement of Questions.” Because the parties presented evidence on the regulations and the regulations were before the court, the Environmental Division should have addressed them in its decision. The Supreme Court concluded the Environmental Division did not err when it determined that Atwood satisfied the notice requirements to obtain approval of the project. View "In re Atwood Planned Unit Development" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the taxable status of Schulmaier Hall, a building owned by the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), two-thirds of which VCFA rented to agencies of the State of Vermont (State) during the 2013 and 2014 tax years. The City Assessor of the City of Montpelier (City) found the property nonexempt for those tax years. In response, VCFA brought a motion for declaratory judgment in the trial court, and both parties moved for summary judgment. Granting summary judgment for the City, the court found: (1) that VCFA had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before moving for declaratory judgment but also (2) that the property was not exempt on the merits. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont College of Fine Arts v. City of Montpelier" on Justia Law

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Mother appealed a superior court decision denying her motion to set aside a previous order terminating her parental rights to her daughter, P.K. Mother voluntarily relinquished her parental rights in the same proceeding in which she entered into a postadoption-contact agreement with P.K.’s paternal grandmother, with whom the child had been placed by the Department for Children and Families (DCF). After DCF removed P.K. from the paternal grandmother’s home and placed her with another pre-adoptive foster family, mother moved to set aside the termination order. The trial court found that mother agreed, at the termination hearing, that "all parties agreed that it was in P.K.’s best interest that custody be transferred to DCF, without limitation as to adoption." Mother argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the superior court erred by not employing available legal remedies to safeguard her ongoing relationship with P.K., which the court necessarily found to be in P.K.'s best interest in approving the postadoption-contact agreement. She contended that relief was available based on changed circumstances, in this case, the changed circumstances of the paternal grandmother's removal as a preadoptive parent. Finding no reversible error in the superior court’s denial of mother’s motion, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re P.K." on Justia Law

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Petitioners Representative Donald Turner, Jr. and Senator Joseph Benning, sought to enjoin respondent Governor Peter Shumlin (whose last day in office was January 5, 2017), from appointing a successor to the office held by Associate Justice John Dooley, whose term was set to expire April 1, 2017. Justice Dooley did not file a declaration with the Office of the Secretary of State indicating that he would seek retention for another term beyond March 31, 2017, the last day of his then-current six-year term. On December 21, 2016, Representative Turner filed a petition for quo warranto contesting the Governor's authority to appoint Justice Dooley's successor, asserting that although the Vermont Constitution authorized the Governor to fill a vacancy on the Court, no vacancy would exist until Justice Dooley left office nearly three months after Governor Shumlin left his office. The Supreme Court concluded that the Vermont Constitution did not authorize the Governor to appoint an Associate Justice in anticipation of a vacancy that was not expected to occur until the expiration of the justice's term of office, which would occur months after the Governor left office. "In so holding, we emphasize that our decision today rests entirely upon the meaning and purpose of the Vermont Constitution. We reach our decision having in mind the overarching principles of our democracy: the integrity of our governing institutions and the people's confidence in them. The particular identity of the parties or potential nominees to the Office of Associate Justice have no bearing on our decision. Our sole responsibility in this, as in any, case is to apply the law evenhandedly, regardless of the identity of the litigants, the sensitivity of the issues, or the passing political interests of the moment." View "Turner v. Shumlin" on Justia Law

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The Employment Security Board (ESB) affirmed a Department of Labor audit of appellant, Great Northern Construction (GNC). The Department's auditor concluded that GNC had improperly classified two of its workers as independent contractors rather than employees for the purposes of unemployment insurance taxes. In accordance with Vermont's Unemployment Compensation Law, the Department issued GNC an assessment for unpaid taxes from 2011 to 2014 plus interest and a penalty. GNC sought review of the assessment before an administrative law judge, who upheld the Department's tax assessment, and GNC appealed that decision to the ESB. The ESB concluded that the workers in question were not independent contractors but employees according to Vermont's statutory definition of the term. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the ESB concerning one worker, but reversed as to the other. View "Great Northern Construction, Inc. v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law