Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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Claimant Lydia Diamond appeals the summary judgment decision of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor denying her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. In April 2001, claimant was injured in a motor vehicle collision while delivering newspapers for employer. The crash exacerbated claimant’s preexisting right carpal tunnel syndrome. She underwent right carpal tunnel release surgery in February 2002, and had a surgical release of her left carpal tunnel in January 2003. After the surgeries, it became clear that claimant had unresolved neck pain relating to the work accident. Her doctor diagnosed disc herniations in her cervical spine and in September 2003 performed discectomies at the C5-6 and C6-7 levels of her cervical spine and a two-level cervical fusion at C4-C6. The issue this case presented for the Vermont Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a workers’ compensation award of permanent partial disability (PPD) benefits based on damage to the C4-6 levels of claimant’s cervical spine precluded a subsequent award of PPD benefits, more than six years later, for damage to the C3-4 levels of claimant’s spine that arose, over time, from the same work injury. Claimant appealed the grant of summary judgment by the Commissioner of the Department of Labor that denied her claim for PPD benefits associated with the C3-4 levels of her spine. The Commissioner determined that claimant’s request for the additional PPD benefits amounted to a request to modify the prior PPD award and was time-barred. The Supreme Court concluded, based on the specific language of the initial PPD award, it did not purport to encompass injury to other levels of claimant’s cervical spine beyond the C4-6 levels. Accordingly, claimant was not seeking to modify the prior PPD award but, rather, sought PPD benefits for physical damage not encompassed within a previous PPD award. Her claim was therefore timely, and accordingly the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Diamond v. Burlington Free Press" on Justia Law

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This case involved a challenge under the Compelled Support Clause of the Vermont Constitution to the Town of Cabot’s grant of federally derived but municipally managed funds for the purpose of repairs to a historic church. Relying on Chapter I, Article Three of the Vermont Constitution, plaintiffs challenged the Town of Cabot’s award of a grant to fund repairs to the United Church of Cabot, and sought a preliminary injunction enjoining the grant. Defendants moved to dismiss the case on the ground that plaintiffs lacked standing. With respect to the Town’s motion to dismiss, the trial court concluded that plaintiffs did have standing on two independent bases: (1) as municipal taxpayers; or (2) alternatively, under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the federal Constitution. The court rejected the argument that municipal taxpayer standing did not apply because the funds at issue originated from federal coffers. Just as federal taxpayers have standing to pursue certain Establishment Clause claims, as recognized in Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 85 (1968), state taxpayers have standing to advance Compelled Support claims under the Vermont Constitution. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded plaintiffs had standing to challenge the grant. However, the Court determined the evidence did not support the issuance of an injunction. The Court therefore affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Taylor v. Town of Cabot" on Justia Law

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A former employee of the Vermont Department of Labor (Department) appealed a judgment on the pleadings denying his suit against the Department seeking unpaid overtime pay. Employee argued he was entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of forty hours per week because, through a 1994 revision to 21 V.S.A. 384(b)(7) that refers to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Vermont Legislature intended to provide state employees not only with minimum wage-and-hour rights, but also with a statutory private right of action to enforce those rights. Employee also argued state employees also had a private right of action to enforce those claimed rights through Article 4 of the Vermont Constitution. Vt. Const. ch. I, art. 4. Finding no error in the dismissal of employee’s claims, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Flint v. Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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Claimant Kimberly Haller was an employee of Champlain College when she suffered a work-related injury. Claimant had taken numerous courses at Champlain College pursuant to its “Tuition Benefits” policy. In the twenty-six weeks prior to her injury, claimant completed over ten credits of classwork at the College. The issue presented to the Department of Labor on cross-motions for summary judgment was whether the value of these tuition benefits should be included in the calculation of claimant’s average weekly wage for the purposes of her permanent partial disability benefit. The Commissioner concluded the tuition benefits was an “other advantage” that constituted part of claimant’s wages. The College argued on appeal the tuition benefit was not an "other advantage," nor did it amount to "remuneration" as defined in the applicable workers' compensation laws. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the Commissioner that where the non-health-insurance benefits at issue had actual monetary value and were actually received by the employee, they fell within the broad “other advantages” language. The Court concluded the Commissioner's determination was not unreasonable and affirmed. View "Haller v. Champlain College" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Vermont Supreme Court in this appeal was whether land dedicated to a public use could be condemned for another public use when the new use did not materially interfere with the prior use. Intervenors, a group of Hinesburg residents who use Geprags Park, appealed the Public Service Board’s order authorizing Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. (VGS) to condemn an easement through the park for the purpose of installing a natural gas pipeline. They argued the Board erred in authorizing the condemnation in light of the fact that the park was already dedicated to a public use, and in concluding that the condemnation was necessary under 30 V.S.A. section 110(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the Board’s decision, but remanded for a minor correction to the order relating to the terms of the easement. View "In re Vermont Gas Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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J.C. Penney Corporation (employer) sought interlocutory review of the Commissioner of the Department of Labor’s denial of its motion for summary judgment in this workers’ compensation matter. Specifically, employer argued that the Commissioner lacked authority to invalidate an approved settlement agreement that the parties entered into pursuant to a previous claim. Brandy Clayton (claimant) has worked for employer for several years as a hair stylist. In February 2011, she filed a workers’ compensation claim for heel and arch pain in her left foot after suffering a work-related injury in March 2010 described as a result of standing all day on the job. Employer accepted the claim as compensable. Under the terms of the agreement, claimant received a lump sum payment “in full and final settlement of all claims for any and all benefits, injuries, diseases, illnesses, conditions, and/or symptoms and any and all sequelae allegedly sustained as a result of” her March workplace injury. The agreement included a clause stating that it was “intended to be a general release of all claims of the employee against the employer and the insurance carrier arising from employee’s employment with employer.” On March 17, 2015, approximately six months after the settlement was approved, claimant filed a new notice of injury, this time alleging a March 10, 2015 injury to her right foot. Employer filed a form denial on March 26, 2015, stating that claimant’s new, right-foot claim was denied as a preexisting condition and unrelated to employment. Employer also filed a letter with the Department, arguing that the claim should be dismissed for two reasons: first, that it was barred by the prior settlement agreement; and second, because the right-foot claim was reasonably discoverable and apparent at the time the settlement agreement was executed. Claimant appealed employer’s denial of her claim. The sole issue before the Commissioner was whether the parties’ September 2014 settlement agreement barred claimant’s second claim for workers’ compensation benefits. he Commissioner found that the settlement agreement “convey[ed] a clear and unambiguous message” and that the terms in the settlement agreement that released employer from claims related to the March 26, 2010 injuries were valid and enforceable. However, the Commissioner voided the remainder of the settlement agreement on public policy grounds. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed the Commissioner lacked authority to void the parties’ settlement agreement on public policy grounds, and reversed. View "Clayton v. J.C. Penney Corporation" on Justia Law

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The City of Rutland appealed a superior court decision that two buildings owned by the Rutland County Parent Child Center (RCPCC) were exempt from property taxation. The City argued neither property met the requirements of the public use tax exemption in 32 V.S.A. 3802(4). RCPCC is one of fifteen parent-child centers in Vermont. Under the statutory definition, a parent-child center is a “community-based organization established for the purpose of providing prevention and early intervention services." The superior court determined on summary judgment that RCPCC’s properties did not qualify for the public school tax exemption but, after a bench trial, decided that RCPCC’s use of the properties in question met the three-prong public use exemption test from American Museum of Fly Fishing, Inc. v. Town of Manchester, 110, 557 A.2d 900 (1989), and that, accordingly, both properties were exempt from property tax assessment. The Vermont Supreme Court found that RCPCC's use of the buildings met all elements of the American Museum of Fly Fishing's test, and affirmed the superior court's judgment. View "Rutland County Parent Child Center, Inc. v. City of Rutland" on Justia Law

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Allco Renewable Energy Limited and PLH LLC (collectively, “Allco”) appealed the Public Service Board’s order denying their motion to reconsider. Allco argued the Board was required to award standard-offer contracts to several solar projects because they provided “sufficient benefits” to the operation of Vermont’s electric grid, as set forth in 30 V.S.A. 8005a(d)(2). The standard-offer program is a component of Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program; section 8005a authorizes the Public Service Board with authority to offer power-purchase contracts to new renewable-energy plants if the proposed plants satisfy certain criteria. Because Allco’s claims relating to the correct application of section 8005a(d)(2) were neither raised nor decided at trial, the Vermont Supreme Court declined to address them on appeal. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the Board did not err in denying Allco’s motion for reconsideration, and affirmed. View "In re Programmatic Changes to Standard-Offer Program & Investigation into Establishment of Standard-Offer Prices (Allco Renewable Energy, Ltd.)" on Justia Law

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This appeal involved a dispute between two neighbors over the construction of a pergola on the shore of Lake Champlain in Swanton. The Environmental Division consolidated three related proceedings concerning this dispute and concluded that the Town of Swanton was equitably estopped from enforcing its zoning regulations and that the pergola, which did not comply with those regulations, could remain. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "In re Langlois/Novicki Variance Denial" on Justia 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