Justia Vermont Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Government Contracts
Human Rights Commission v. Vermont, et al.
Plaintiff Vermont Human Rights Commission, on behalf of plaintiff Latonia Congress, appealed a trial court’s decision granting summary judgment to defendant Centurion of Vermont LLC on the Commission’s claims of discrimination under the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA). Congress was incarcerated at a prison owned and operated by the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). The DOC contracted with Centurion to provide all medical services for inmates at the prison. Under the previous provider, Congress was seen by an audiologist, who determined that she had substantial bilateral hearing loss, and she was given hearing aids for both ears. In December 2016, Congress reported that the hearing aids were not working, and Centurion planned to send them “to Audiology for check of functioning.” Later in December 2016, a doctor examined Congress’s ears and did not find any indication of an obstruction or other problem that might be affecting her hearing. Congress delivered her hearing aids to the medical unit to be sent out for testing. They were returned to her without having been tested. The record established that no one knew what happened to the hearing aids during that time; they were apparently misplaced. Through 2017 and early 2018, Congress attempted numerous times to obtain functioning hearing aids. Because Congress was deemed “functional” for some period of time despite her reported difficulty in hearing conversations, she was not eligible for hearing aids under Centurion’s policies. Eventually, in March 2018, an audiologist concluded Congress had moderate to severe bilateral hearing loss, which was worse in one ear, and recommended hearing aids. She was provided with one hearing aid in April 2018, which improved her hearing in that ear. Congress was released from prison in October 2019. In March 2020, the Commission filed a complaint against Centurion, the DOC, and other state defendants, alleging, as relevant here, that they discriminated against Congress in violation of the VPAA by failing to provide her with functioning hearing aids and thereby denying her equal access to certain benefits and services offered at the prison. Finding no reversible error in the grant of summary judgment in favor of Centurion, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Human Rights Commission v. Vermont, et al." on Justia Law
Hoffer v. OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, d/b/a OneCare Vermont
In February 2021, the Vermont State Auditor of Accounts, Douglas Hoffer, filed a complaint alleging that defendant OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, had breached various provisions in its contract with the Department for Vermont Health Access (DVHA) by denying the Auditor’s requests for OneCare’s employee payroll and benefits records for fiscal years (FY) 2019 and 2020. The civil division granted OneCare’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the Auditor lacked contractual or statutory authority to demand the records, and the Auditor appealed. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Hoffer v. OneCare Accountable Care Organization, LLC, d/b/a OneCare Vermont" on Justia Law
Human Rights Defense Center v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC et al.
Between 2010 and 2015, pursuant to a contract with the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC), Wellpath, LLC assumed responsibility for providing medical care to every person in state custody within Vermont. Pursuant to the Vermont’s Public Records Act (PRA), plaintiff Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) requested from Wellpath any records relating to legal actions and settlements arising from this care. Wellpath declined to furnish the requested records, arguing that, as a private contractor, it was not subject to the PRA’s disclosure requirements. HRDC brought the instant suit, and the trial court entered judgment for Wellpath. The Vermont Supreme Court found the language of the PRA was unambiguous: "where the state contracts with a private entity to discharge the entirety of a fundamental and uniquely governmental obligation owed to its citizens, that entity acts as an 'instrumentality' of the State. ... But because here, for five years, Wellpath was the sole means through which the constitutional imperative that the DOC provide healthcare to those it incarcerates was carried out, Wellpath became an 'instrumentality' of the state, and was thus subject to the disclosure obligations of the PRA." Judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Human Rights Defense Center v. Correct Care Solutions, LLC et al." on Justia Law
W.M. Schultz Construction, Inc. v. Vermont Agency of Transportation
The Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) appealed the Transportation Board’s order granting judgment to W.M. Schultz Construction, Inc. in this contract dispute. Schultz entered into a contract with VTrans in December 2013 to replace four bridges destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene. Three bridges were completed without incident. This dispute centered on the fourth bridge, referred to as “Bridge #19.” The Bridge #19 project involved the construction of a single-span steel-girder bridge over the White River in Rochester, Vermont. The west abutment was to be placed on a deep pile foundation and the east abutment (Abutment #2) was to be placed on ledge. The work was to begin in April 2014 and be completed in a single construction season. The Board concluded that Schultz encountered “differing site conditions” in carrying out its bridge-construction project and that it was entitled to an equitable adjustment for costs it incurred as a result. VTrans appealed, arguing the Board misread the contract materials and otherwise erred in granting judgment to Schultz. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "W.M. Schultz Construction, Inc. v. Vermont Agency of Transportation" on Justia Law
Wool v. Menard
Plaintiff-inmate Kirk Wool appealed the dismissal of his claim that the Vermont Department of Corrections violated a statutory obligation to negotiate and award a contract to provide telephone services to inmates serving in state correctional facilities in a manner that provided for the lowest reasonable cost to inmates. After review, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for money damages, but reversed the dismissal of plaintiff’s claim for mandamus relief and remanded for further proceedings. As plaintiff alleged, DOC was required by Vermont law, albeit not specifically and exclusively by the statute he identified in his complaint, to use a competitive bidding process in contracting for telephone services for inmates. The Court found plaintiff’s allegations were sufficient to confer standing and give fair notice to DOC of the claim and the grounds upon which it rested. View "Wool v. Menard" on Justia Law
Skaskiw v. Vermont Agency of Agriculture
The Vermont Spay/Neuter Incentive Program (VSNIP) was created in 2006 to subsidize dog, cat, and wolf-hybrid sterilization procedures for low-income Vermonters. Sue Skaskiw and the organization she directed, Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society (VVSA), administered the VSNIP program from its inception in 2006 until the expiration of Skaskiw's contract in October 2012. Defendant Vermont Agency of Agriculture initially managed the program but responsibility was transferred to defendant Department for Children and Families (DCF), a department within the Agency of Human Services, in 2011. Defendant Kristin Haas was an employee of the Agency of Agriculture; defendants Kathleen Smith and Carol Maloney were employees of DCF. Sometime after the program's inception, the Agency of Agriculture contracted with Skaskiw to run VSNIP. She still held the contract when responsibility shifted to DCF in 2011, but at that time DCF put the contract out for a competitive bid. Two bidders, Skaskiw and VT-CAN!, submitted proposals, and VT-CAN! won the contract. Skaskiw subsequently filed this lawsuit. Skaskiw appealed the trial court's decision to grant the motion to dismiss of defendants Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Department for Children and Families, Haas, Smith, and Maloney on Skaskiw's claims of defamation, violation of due process, economic interference, and failure to discharge a mandatory duty. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Skaskiw v. Vermont Agency of Agriculture" on Justia Law
City of Newport v. Village of Derby Center
In 1997, the Village of Derby Center and the City of Newport entered into a contract whereby the Village would supply 10,000 gallons of water per day to the City. The City claimed that the contract did not authorize the Village to adopt a new rate schedule in 2006 that included a ready-to-serve fee on top of actual water usage charges. The Village counterclaimed, alleging that the City connected customers who were not authorized under the contract, and that the City’s water use was chronically underreported due to equipment malfunction. After a trial, the superior court ruled for the City on its contract claim, holding that the ready-to-serve fee was not authorized by either contract or statute. As to the Village’s counterclaims, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to support the unauthorized-connection claim, and referred the water-usage-reconstruction claim to mediation. The Village appealed on all counts. The Supreme Court found: the plain language of the agreement authorized the use of a ready-to-serve fee to support the Village’s maintenance of its facilities. "The court erred in concluding otherwise." With respect to the Village's counterclaims, the Supreme Court found that the trial court indicated that it was clear, based on the billing periods showing a reading of zero usage by the City, that there were some erroneous readings, but it referred the Village’s claims to mediation without further resolution. After the City brought suit, the Village filed a motion to allow its counterclaim as to the underreported usage, which the trial court granted. The trial court’s decision to refer the Village’s counterclaim to mediation in its order, after it had already granted the Village’s motion to allow the counterclaim at trial, served only to create greater delay and expense to the parties, thus undermining the purpose of the alternative dispute resolution clause. "Even if the trial court would ordinarily have discretion over whether to send a counterclaim to mediation, under these circumstances the trial court could not properly rescind its decision, relied on by the parties, to allow the counterclaim after the trial had already taken place. Therefore, we remand the Village’s counterclaim for resolution by the trial court." View "City of Newport v. Village of Derby Center" on Justia Law
Vermont v. Prison Health Services, Inc.
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a contract dispute between the State of Vermont and Corizon Health, Inc., formerly known as Prison Health Services, Inc. (PHS). The State appealed a declaratory judgment ruling that PHS was not contractually obligated to defend the State and its employees against certain claims brought by the estate of an inmate who died while in the custody of the Department of Corrections. Upon review of the contract in question, the Supreme Court reversed, concluding that PHS had a duty to defend.View "Vermont v. Prison Health Services, Inc." on Justia Law
Luck Brothers v. Agency of Transportation
In 2011, the Agency of Transportation advertised for bids to reconstruct a half-mile section of North Main Street in downtown Barre. Luck Brothers submitted the low bid and was awarded the contract for the project, which it started in the summer of 2011. In June 2012, Luck Brothers submitted a claim to the Agency seeking approximately $855,000 in additional compensation beyond the bid amount based on alleged differing site conditions from those assumed in the contract. One year later, Luck Brothers submitted a supplemental claim, making the total claim approximately $1.1 million. Less than three months after submitting its $855,000 claim, Luck Brothers filed a complaint against the Agency in superior court seeking, among other things, declaratory relief and compensatory damages. Specifically, the complaint alleged breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of an implied warranty on the part of the Agency, and sought penalties under the Prompt Pay Act. Luck Brothers appealed the superior court’s decision to grant the Agency’s motion to dismiss Luck Brothers’ lawsuit on grounds that the company failed to exhaust its administrative remedies before pursuing a remedy in the superior court. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court’s decision, but clarified the standard of review in appeals to the Vermont Transportation Board from Agency determinations under the claims process for construction contracts. View "Luck Brothers v. Agency of Transportation" on Justia Law
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office v. St. Albans City Police Department
The Franklin County Sheriff's Office appealed the trial court's judgment in favor of the St. Albans City Police Department. The Sheriff's Office contended that the City Police Department engaged in an unfair method of competition with the intent to harm competition under the Vermont Consumer Fraud Act's (VCFA) predatory pricing provision. Specifically, the Sheriff's Office argued that the City Police Department submitted an "artificially low" bid in response to the Town of St. Albans's request for proposals for law enforcement services. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed. "Here, the 'competitors' are all statutorily created entities, meaning that one entity cannot lower its prices so as to put another out of business, nor can potential entrants be deterred from entering the 'market' because the statutory scheme allows no new entrants. Although there is competition within a limited sphere as between the statutorily empowered entities, there is no threat of monopolization by any one of them. Thus, the Sheriff's Office's injuries alleged in the complaint do not fall within the zone of interests to be protected by Vermont's predatory pricing statute. . . .the Sheriff's Office was not denied something in which it had a legally protected interest, nor is its claim within the zone of interests protected by the statute, and it therefore lack[ed] constitutional and prudential standing." View "Franklin County Sheriff's Office v. St. Albans City Police Department" on Justia Law