Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
by
Plaintiff lived in Stowe, Vermont with her husband C.D. and their teenage daughter. Plaintiff and her husband co-founded a business, Transegy, LLC, that provided leadership development and executive coaching. Plaintiff worked from a home office and used her personal cell phone number as the contact number for the business. C.D. previously worked at a company called Inntopia. Defendant lived in Stowe, Vermont as a writer, political strategist and media consultant who had a “reputation as an aggressive operator in his professional pursuits.” He was in a romantic relationship with L.S., who also lived in Stowe and had a teenage son who attended high school in the same class as plaintiff’s daughter. Sometime in 2017, C.D. had a sexual encounter with L.S., who had been exploring potential employment opporunities with Inntopia. Shortly after the incident, L.S. reported to defendant that C.D. sexually assaulted her. L.S. filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against C.D. and Inntopia, which settled in May 2017. As part of the settlement, L.S. signed a nondisclosure agreement. Plaintiff was unaware of L.S.’s allegations and her husband’s infidelity until the lawsuit settled. Shortly before the settlement, plaintiff began receiving numerous calls from a number with no caller ID. Evidence at trial showed that between April 2017 and March 2018, defendant called her cell phone twenty-six times from a masked number. Defendant also called C.D.’s cell phone repeatedly during this period. In total, he called or texted plaintiff’s and C.D.’s cell phones a total of 151 times. Many of the phone calls took place in the evening, including calls after ten or eleven p.m. Ultimately, plaintiff filed a complaint for Order Against Stalking against defendant. Defendant appealed a final stalking order requiring him to stay 300 feet away from plaintiff. He argued that his conduct of: (1) calling plaintiff’s cell phone repeatedly from a number with no caller ID; (2) sending three shipments of books addressed to her husband to the house she and her husband shared, including primarily books about rape; and (3) watching her in a coffee shop for an unspecified period of time, could not be considered stalking under the civil stalking statute, 12 V.S.A. 5131. Construing the terms of section 5131 narrowly because it mirrored the criminal stalking statute, the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that defendant’s conduct in this case did not rise to the level of stalking, and therefore reversed. View "Hinkson v. Stevens" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Christopher Sullivan appeals a trial court order granting summary judgment to the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) on his Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 75 petition challenging the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough. Petitioner was convicted of one count of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor with death resulting, and one count of leaving the scene of a fatal accident. While serving a resulting incarcerative sentence, he sought Civil Rule 75 review of the DOC’s decision to deny him reintegration furlough and earned time toward such furlough, arguing that this denial was predicated on unlawful consideration of his convictions as indicative of a history of violent behavior The Vermont Supreme Court found the DOC could authorize reintegration furlough or an award of earned time toward reintegration furlough only where these decisions were made in accordance with rules promulgated by the DOC pursuant to the grant of authority at 28 V.S.A. 808c(c). During the pendency of this appeal, the DOC moved to dismiss the case as moot, contending that, because petitioner reached his minimum sentence on August 5, 2019, and was paroled on August 14, 2019, the requested relief could no longer be granted. Petitioner responded that the DOC failed to prove that this situation will not reoccur, observing that he could be reincarcerated and subsequently denied furlough on the basis of the same two convictions, which would remain on his record. In the alternative, he urged the Supreme Court to adopt a public-interest exception to the mootness doctrine. The Supreme Court concluded the case was moot, declined to adopt such an exception, and dismissed. View "Sullivan v. Menard" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Reed Doyle witnessed an incident involving Burlington Police Department (BPD) officers in a public park. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff submitted a citizen’s complaint form to the BPD to voice concerns about alleged officer misconduct and unreasonable use of force during the incident. Plaintiff subsequently requested to inspect body camera footage, among other records, related to the incident. The BPD denied his request. After filing a complaint in the civil division against the BPD, plaintiff moved for a partial judgment on the pleadings. He argued that the BPD violated the Public Records Act when charged a fee for costs that would be incurred by complying with his request. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion. The Vermont Supreme Court determined that based on the plain language of the Act, the BPD could not charge for staff time spent in complying with requests to inspect public records. Accordingly, the Court reversed. View "Doyle v. City of Burlington Police Department" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-appellant James Ingerson sued the Department of Corrections (DOC) for negligence in investigating allegations that plaintiff was being sexually exploited by a DOC employee while he was an inmate at a DOC correctional facility. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, holding that plaintiff’s claim was barred by the discretionary function exception to the Vermont Tort Claims Act (VTCA), 12 V.S.A. 5601(e)(1). Plaintiff appealed the summary judgment ruling to this Court. Finding no error, however, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ingerson v. Pallito" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Jeffrey-Michael Brandt was an inmate in the custody of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC). He filed this action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting defendants (DOC officials) from interfering with his mail correspondence. The parties had previously entered into a Stipulation and Agreement of Dismissal (the Stipulation) in which DOC agreed not to prohibit plaintiff’s correspondence with other inmates not in the custody of DOC on the basis that this would violate 28 V.S.A. 802 and VTDOC Directive 409.5. However, plaintiff was prevented from corresponding with an inmate in another jurisdiction’s custody when he was housed in a state-run Pennsylvania facility, subject to the Interstate Corrections Compact (ICC). The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion seeking to be transferred to a non-ICC facility where the Stipulation would be enforced. Yet, during this appeal defendants transferred plaintiff to a non-ICC facility in Mississippi. The Vermont Supreme Court remanded this matter for a hearing to determine whether plaintiff’s mail correspondence privileges were restricted in Mississippi, and, if so, to what extent and on what basis they were restricted. View "Jeffrey-Michael Brandt" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Elizabeth Lawson alleged she incurred damages as the result of an emergency room nurse informing a police officer that she was intoxicated, had driven to the hospital, and was intending to drive home. The trial court granted defendant Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC) summary judgment based on its determination that nothing in the record supported an inference that the nurse’s disclosure of the information was for any reason other than her good-faith concern for plaintiff’s and the public’s safety. In this opinion, the Vermont Supreme Court recognized a common-law private right of action for damages based on a medical provider’s unjustified disclosure to third persons of information obtained during treatment. Like the trial court, however, the Supreme Court concluded CVMC was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, viewing the material facts most favorably to plaintiff and applying the relevant law adopted here, no reasonable factfinder could have determined the disclosure was for any purpose other than to mitigate the threat of imminent and serious harm to plaintiff and the public. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. View "Lawson v. Central Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
Cheryl Brown and Matthew Denis were involved in a traffic accident, when Denis’s truck bumped into Brown’s car from behind. Denis claimed the accident happened when he inadvertently took his foot off the brake as he turned to roll the rear window down to provide fresh air to his dog, who was riding in the back seat. Denis’s truck, which was positioned behind Brown’s car, rolled forward five to six feet, striking her rear bumper. The collision took place in stop-and-go traffic. Denis, a sergeant with the Vermont State Police, estimated his speed at impact to be two miles per hour and did not believe there was any damage caused to Brown’s vehicle from the collision. Brown claimed the impact caused a scratch on her rear bumper. The truck Denis was driving did not have any markings indicating it was a police vehicle. Brown filed suit against the State of Vermont alleging it was responsible for injuries she sustained in the accident due to Denis’s negligence. Brown also raised constitutional claims, alleging: (1) due process and equality of treatment violations under the Vermont Constitution’s Common Benefits Clause, and (2) an equal protection, and possibly a due process, claim under the United States Constitution. Brown did not name Denis as a defendant in her suit. Brown’s constitutional claims were based on her assertion that Denis received favorable treatment because he was not prosecuted for causing the accident or leaving the scene without providing identifying information. Before trial, the court dismissed the due process and equal protection claims under the United States Constitution on the basis that Brown had only sued the State, and not Denis personally, and that the State was not a “person” for claims arising under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court further ruled that Brown lacked standing to assert any claim based on the State’s failure to prosecute Denis. The court also dismissed the Common Benefits Clause claim because Brown lacked any cognizable interest in the prosecution or discipline of Denis. Lastly, the court held that, to the extent a due process claim had been raised, it was undisputed that Brown received the information required to be exchanged in the event of a car collision shortly after the accident, and her ability to file suit against the State as a result of the accident showed her due process rights were not impeded. On appeal, Brown alleged several errors in pre-trial and trial rulings, as well as in the failure to grant her a new trial. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
The Vermont Human Rights Commission and three female employees of the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) filed suit against the State (the DOC and the Vermont Department of Human Resources (DHR)) claiming that the DOC violated the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act (VFEPA) by paying a male employee in the same position as the female plaintiffs as much as $10,000 more annually without a legally defensible, gender-neutral reason. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that although plaintiffs established a prima facie case, the undisputed facts established that the wage disparity was due to legitimate business reasons and not gender-based. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed dismissal of plaintiffs' case. View "Vermont Human Rights Comm'n v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Daniel Brown appealed a superior court decision granting summary judgment to the State on his claim of employment discrimination in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. He argued that summary judgment was improper because genuine material issues of fact remained as to whether his membership in the Vermont National Guard was a motivating factor in the State's decisions not to promote him, and ultimately to terminate him from his position. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Brown v. Vermont" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the constitutional rights of a putative biological father who seeks an order of parentage when a court has already issued a parentage order determining the minor child's parents. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Vermont's parentage statute does not authorize a court to allow a second parentage action involving a particular child brought by or against a different putative parent unless constitutional considerations require the court to entertain the second parentage case. In this case, even if plaintiff was the genetic parent of the minor child, he did not have constitutionally-protected parental rights. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's decision denying plaintiff's motion for genetic testing and dismissed his complaint for establishment of parentage. View "Columbia v. Lawton" on Justia Law