Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Applicant Marilyn Clifford appealed the denial of long-term home-care benefits under the Medicaid-funded Choices for Care program, arguing that a second home on an adjacent piece of property should have been excluded from the financial-eligibility calculation. Given the language of the regulation, the legislative history that led to its promulgation, and the policy considerations attending the Medicaid program, the Supreme Court concluded that the Secretary correctly interpreted the home-exclusion rule when he reinstated the determination of the Department of Children and Families denying the benefits. Thus, the Court found no compelling indication of error in the Secretary’s determination and affirmed. View "In re Marilyn Clifford" on Justia Law

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The State of Vermont appealed a trial court's dismissal of a civil driver's license suspension complaint.  The trial court found that the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court, finding that indeed, the statutory requirements for civil suspension had not been met. View "Vermont v. Spooner" on Justia Law