Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
In re Grievance of Michael Welch
Both the Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) and the State of Vermont appealed a Labor Relations Board decision sustaining and dismissing in part a grievance filed by the VSEA on behalf of grievant Michael Welch, an employee of the Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC). Between 2007 and 2015, grievant worked as a state transport deputy sheriff with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD). In 2015, he was hired by the DLC as a liquor-control investigator. The State determined that while working as a transport deputy, grievant had been a county employee, and therefore he was not eligible for salary and leave benefits available under the CBA to certain prior State employees beginning another State job. The VSEA then filed the instant grievance alleging that the State violated the CBA by failing to pay grievant at the contractually required step and failing to calculate his leave accrual at the contractually required rate. After considering the parties’ positions, the Board concluded that, for purposes of compensation and benefits, transport deputies are State employees exempt from the classified service. As a result, it found that the State violated Articles 30, 31, and 62 of the CBA in denying grievant compensation and leave benefits to which he was entitled. However, the Board determined that the State did not violate Article 45 because the promotional pay rate available thereunder applied only to those transferring between positions in the State classified service. The grievance alleged ongoing violations by the State of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement (CBA). After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed as to Articles 30, 31 and 62, but reversed as to Article 45. The matter was remanded for calculation fo the amount that grievant was owed under Article 45 of the CBA. View "In re Grievance of Michael Welch" on Justia Law
Green Mountain Fireworks, LLC, et al. v. Town of Colchester et al.
In May 2018, appellants Green Mountain Fireworks, LLC and its owner Matthew Lavigne, began selling fireworks from a retail store in Colchester, Vermont. As described in their complaint, the “intended purpose” for the store was “to sell retail fireworks to consumers.” In relation to the retail store, appellants obtained a license from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as a “Type 53 - Dealer of Explosives.” They also got a building permit and a certificate of occupancy from the Town Zoning Administrator. These zoning permits were the only two permit applications appellants submitted to the Town. The issue this appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review centered on whether 20 V.S.A. 3132(a)(1) authorized municipalities to grant permits for the general retail sale of fireworks to consumers who do not hold valid permits to display those fireworks. Appellants appealed the superior court's dismissal of two actions: (1) their appeal of the Town of Colchester selectboard’s denial of their application for a permit to sell fireworks pursuant to 20 V.S.A. 3132(a)(1); and (2) their request for a declaratory judgment that, even without that distinct permit, they had “all possible and applicable permits” and were permitted under section 3132 to sell fireworks in the manner described in their complaint. The Supreme Court concluded that section 3132(a)(1) required a distinct permit for the sale of fireworks, but did not authorize a permit for the general retail sale of fireworks along the lines proposed by appellants. The only fireworks sales authorized by statute were sales to the holder of a display permit for the purpose of the permitted display. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgments. View "Green Mountain Fireworks, LLC, et al. v. Town of Colchester et al." on Justia Law
Martinez v. Town of Hartford
Taxpayer Gabriel Martinez appealed a Property Valuation and Review Division (PVR) hearing officer's decision setting the fair market value of his property for purposes of the 2017 Town of Hartford grand list. Taxpayer argued the hearing officer erred in estimating fair market value based on sales of comparable properties because the value was conclusively established by the price taxpayer paid for the property in a contemporaneous arms-length transaction. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court held that, although the recent arms-length sale price constituted strong presumptive evidence of the fair market value of the property, the hearing officer did not commit legal error in considering other evidence of fair market value. In addition, the Court concluded the appraisal was rationally derived from the findings and evidence. View "Martinez v. Town of Hartford" on Justia Law
Sutton et al. v. Vermont Regional Center et al.
Plaintiff-investors appealed the dismissal of their claims against the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) and current and former state employees arising from the operation of a federally licensed regional center in the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) EB-5 program. USCIS designated ACCD as a regional center in 1997, and ACCD began operating the Vermont Regional Center (VRC). It was not the only state-affiliated regional center, but it was the only one that represented itself as a “state-run agency.” The VRC billed itself as an attractive option for development and foreign investment due to its superlative “oversight powers,” the overwhelming investor confidence that came from its “stamp of approval,” and the State of Vermont’s backing that would result in a “faster path to approval.” ACCD employees represented to prospective investors, including plaintiffs, that the added protections of state approval and oversight made the "Jay Peak Projects" a particularly sound investment. They told prospective investors that the VRC conducted quarterly reviews to ensure that projects complied with all applicable laws and regulations and “engag[ed] in the financial monitoring and auditing of projects to ensure legitimacy,” and they represented that MOUs imposed “strict covenants and obligations on the project to ensure compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.” Unbeknownst to the investors, but known to the VRC officials, no such state oversight by the VRC existed. The VRC never issued any of the quarterly reports contemplated in the MOUs. In April 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit alleging securities fraud, wire fraud, and mail fraud against the Jay Peak Projects developers. On the basis of these and other allegations, plaintiffs, all foreign nationals who invested in the Jay Peak Projects, filed a multi-count claim against ACCD and several individual defendants. The trial court granted plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaint for a third time to a Fourth Amended Complaint, and then dismissed all thirteen counts on various grounds. Plaintiffs appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims of negligence against ACCD, gross negligence against defendants Brent Raymond and James Candido, and breach of contract and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing against ACCD. The Court affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs' remaining claims. View "Sutton et al. v. Vermont Regional Center et al." on Justia Law
In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)
Katherine Hall appealed an Environmental Division decision granting summary judgment to Chittenden Resorts, LLC and RMT Associates, d/b/a Mountain Top Inn & Resort (the Resort). The Environmental Division concluded the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit to run a rental program where, pursuant to a contractual agreement, the Resort rented out private homes near the Resort. On appeal, Hall argued that the Environmental Division erred in determining that the Resort did not need an amended Act 250 permit. Specifically, she argued the Resort needed an amended Act 250 permit because under 10 V.S.A. 6001(14)(A), the Resort and owners of the homes involved in the rental program were a collective "person." Alternatively, she argued the Resort exercised "control" over the rental homes within the meaning of section 6001(3)(A)(i). The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed with Hall's characterization of the Resort and home owners as a collective "person." Further, the Court found the Resort did not control the rented homes contemplated by section 6001(3)(i). Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the Environmental Division's judgment. View "In re Mountain Top Inn & Resort, JO 1-391 (Hall, Appellant)" on Justia Law
Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al.
Plaintiffs, a number of independent school districts, school boards, parents, students, and citizens, challenged the implementation of Act 46, as amended by Act 49, regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. The Vermont Legislature enacted those laws in 2015 and 2017, respectively, to improve educational outcomes and equity by designing more efficient school governance structures in response to long-term declining student enrollment and balkanized educational governance and delivery systems. In separate decisions, the civil division dismissed several counts of plaintiffs’ amended complaint and then later granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the remaining counts. In two consolidated appeals, plaintiffs argued that: (1) the State Board of Education and the Agency of Education failed to carry out the plain-language mandate of Act 46; and (2) the Board’s implementation of the law, as manifested in its final order, violated other statutes in Title 16 and several provisions of the Vermont Constitution. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the Agency’s and Board’s implementation of the law was consistent with the challenged Acts and other statutes in Title 16, did not result from an unlawful delegation of legislative authority, and did not violate any other constitutional provisions. Accordingly, the civil division’s decisions were affirmed. View "Athens School District et al. v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law
Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al.
Plaintiff Huntington School District appealed the civil division’s order dismissing its complaint on motion of the two state defendants and granting defendant Mount Mansfield Modified Unified Union School District's motion for judgment on the pleadings. This case was one of several lawsuits challenging the implementation of Act 46 (as amended by Act 49) regarding the involuntary merger of school districts. Plaintiff raised four issues on appeal; three of those were resolved by the Vermont Supreme Court in a contemporaneously issued opinion concerning another challenge to the implementation of Acts 46 and 49, Athens Sch. Dist. et al. v. State Board of Education, 2020 VT 52. In this opinion, the Supreme Court set forth only the law and procedural history relevant to plaintiff’s single claim of error not decided in Athens School District: that the State Board of Education exceeded its delegated authority under Act 46 “by designating Huntington as a member of Mount Mansfield and purporting to subdelegate to Mount Mansfield the power to merge Huntington.” In relevant part, plaintiff alleged in its complaint that because Mount Mansfield was a union school district receiving incentives under Acts 153 and 156, the Board could not order Huntington to merge or otherwise alter its governance structure pursuant to Act 46, section 10(b). Plaintiff also alleged that the Board acted beyond its authority by calling for Mount Mansfield to vote on merger pursuant to 16 V.S.A. 721, while at the same time not allowing plaintiff to veto the merger by its own vote under the same statute. The state defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a viable claim for relief, and Mount Mansfield moved for judgment on the pleadings. The Supreme Court found "unavailing" plaintiff's argument that Act 46 as amended did not authorize the Board to order Huntington to merge with Mount Mansfield, conditioned upon the consent of coters in Mount Mansfield's member districts. Nor did the Court found any merit to plaintiff's argument that the Board's authority was unlawfully subdelegated. As we stated with respect to the plaintiffs in Athens School District, plaintiff in this case did not demonstrate the Board failed to apply any Title 16 provisions in circumstances in which they were applicable. View "Huntington School District v. Vermont State Board of Education et al." on Justia Law
In re Lewis Y. Birt
Applicant Lewis Birt successfully completed Vermont’s Law Office Study (LOS) Program in April 2000. Thereafter, applicant sat for the Vermont bar exam four times between 2002 and 2004, failing each time. In July 2019, applicant filed an application with the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) to sit for the February 2020 bar exam. Licensing Counsel reviewed the application and raised concerns about both the length of time between applicant’s completion of the LOS Program, the 2019 application, and the number of applicant’s prior unsuccessful examination attempts. In light of those concerns, Licensing Counsel asked applicant if he wished to go forward with the application. Applicant elected to do so, and, in November 2019, supplied additional information directed at the concerns Licensing Counsel raised. At its December 2019 meeting, the BBE decided to deny applicant’s request to sit for the 2020 bar examination. In doing so, it relied on Rule of Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court 9(b)(1), which requires an applicant to sit for the bar exam within five years of completing the LOS Program unless the time is extended for good cause, and Rule 9(b)(4), which limits an applicant to four attempts to pass the examination unless the BBE waives the limitation upon a proper showing. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the BBE's finding that there was no cause to extend the five-year limit. Since his last exam in 2004, applicant worked as a musician, church residential real-estate manager, paralegal studies teacher for a for=profit school, and as a court reporter. Absent a waiver, applicant was deemed ineligible to sit for the 2020 bar examination because he did not meet the requirements of Rule 9(b)(1), and the Supreme Court concurred his application was properly denied. View "In re Lewis Y. Birt" on Justia Law
In re Hopkins Certificate of Compliance (Boudreau, Appellant)
Bernard Boudreau appealed the environmental division’s dismissal of his appeal of a Manchester Development Review Board (MDRB) decision for lack of jurisdiction. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded that Boudreau’s appeal was a collateral attack on a zoning decision barred by the exclusivity-of-remedy provision in 24 V.S.A. 4472, and therefore affirmed. View "In re Hopkins Certificate of Compliance (Boudreau, Appellant)" on Justia Law
Fortieth Burlington, LLC v. City of Burlington
Plaintiff Fortieth Burlington, LLC filed suit to challenge the City of Burlington’s decision that there was a reasonable need to lay out a portion of roadway for part of a project known as the Champlain Parkway. The superior court granted the City summary judgment, concluding that Fortieth lacked standing under the relevant statute and general standing principles because Fortieth did not have a legal interest in any of the properties from which legal rights would be taken. On appeal, Fortieth argued it had standing to challenge the City’s necessity decision, that it did not receive proper notice of the necessity hearing, and that the City did not properly assess the necessity of the project. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Fortieth Burlington, LLC v. City of Burlington" on Justia Law