Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company
An interlocutory appeal came before the Supreme Court, involving an issue of the “stream-of-commerce” doctrine of personal jurisdiction. Defendant Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc. (TPRI) challenged a superior court decision denying its motion to dismiss, for lack of personal jurisdiction, plaintiff State of Vermont’s complaint. The State alleged that TPRI, along with twenty-eight other defendants, contaminated the waters of the state by introducing into those waters a gas additive called methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Vermont v. Atlantic Richfield Company" on Justia Law
Agency of Natural Resources v. Persons
Defendants Timothy Persons and the Trust A of Timothy Persons appealed an Environmental Division decision holding that certain excavation work performed on their property violated the state Wetlands Protection and Water Resources Management laws and the state Wetlands Rules. Among other things, defendants contended they were not given adequate notice that portions of the lands in question contained a protected wetland, and therefore, should not have been subjected to fines. The Supreme Court found no merit to defendants' contentions, and affirmed the Environmental Division. View "Agency of Natural Resources v. Persons" on Justia Law
In re Green Mountain Power Corp.
In consolidated appeals, the Lowell Mountains Group, Inc. (LMG), and the Towns of Albany and Craftsbury, challenged several Public Service Board orders related to the construction of a wind-electric-generation facility and associated facilities on Lowell Mountain in Lowell, Vermont. In May 2010, petitioners Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP), Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc. (VEC), and Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc. and Vermont Transco LLC (VELCO) requested a certificate of public good (CPG) to construct a wind-electric-generation facility on Lowell Mountain. On May 31, 2011, following testimony, site visits, a public hearing, and hearings, the Board issued a final order granting a CPG subject to forty-five conditions. Appellants and several other parties moved for reconsideration. On July 12, 2011, the Board modified its final order in certain respects. The Towns and LMG appealed that final order with modifications. The parties also raised compliance issues with the final order that the Board ultimately overruled. Upon review of the Board's orders, the Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion, and deferred to the Board's decisions with regard to the final order. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Board. View "In re Green Mountain Power Corp." on Justia Law
City of Montpelier v. Barnett
Defendants Richard Barnett and Cedric and Leslie Sanborn appealed a judgment which ruled that the City of Montpelier may prohibit boating, fishing, and swimming in Berlin Pond, a public body of water located outside the City and used as the City's drinking water supply. The City contended that the restrictions were supported by both a state health order and the powers granted to the City by the State. The trial court agreed and issued a permanent injunction preventing Defendants from engaging in the listed recreational activities and from trespassing upon land surrounding the pond that is owned by the City. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court: "[The Court's] decision reflects the fact that, under the laws of this state, the recreational use of Berlin Pond is a matter of state concern requiring a resolution at the state level. . . . [The Court] determine[d] only that the City's current powers are limited to preventing trespass upon its property." View "City of Montpelier v. Barnett" on Justia Law
Rueger v. Natural Resources Bd.
Plaintiffs Russell and Mary Ann Rueger and John Moyers appealed a trial courts grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants Natural Resources Board and the District #9 Environmental Commission of Vermont. The matter arose from an Access to Public Records Act request. The court concluded that certain records held by Defendants reflected deliberations of an agency acting in a quasi-judicial role, and those were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs argued on appeal that the court erred in interpreting the Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the documents in question fell within the plain language of the Act, and were indeed exempt. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants. View "Rueger v. Natural Resources Bd." on Justia Law
In re Petition of Cross Pollination for a Certificate of Public Good
Appellant John Madden appealed the Public Service Board's order granting a certificate of public good for Appellee Cross Pollination, Inc.'s planned construction of a solar energy farm in the Town of New Haven. Appellant claimed that the Board erred in applying 30 V.S.A. 248, which regulates the construction of electric generation facilities, and should not have issued the certificate because the solar farm will have an "undue adverse effect" on the aesthetics of the natural landscape as defined by 30 V.S.A. 248(b)(5). Appellant's issue on appeal was the Board's use of the "Quechee test" so named from the Supreme Court's decision in "In re Quechee Lakes Corp.," 580 A.2d 957 (1990)): that the Board erred in applying the Quechee test and should have concluded that under 30 V.S.A. 248(b)(5) the project would have an "undue adverse effect" on the aesthetics of the land, and as a result, no certificate of public good should have issued. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Board's findings in this case, and held that its decision was based on a correct reading of the law and is supported by its findings. View "In re Petition of Cross Pollination for a Certificate of Public Good" on Justia Law
In re SP Land Co., LLC
This appeal arose from a dispute over an administrative amendment to the master development plan for Killington Resort Village granted to its co-applicants, the current owners of Killington Resort Village and SP Land Company. The District One Environmental Commission originally granted this administrative amendment authorizing the creation of fifteen subdivided lots over approximately 368 acres of Killington Resort Village for transfer to SP Land Company for "future development purposes" pursuant to Act 250 Rule 34(D). Mountainside Properties, LLC, an adjoining property owner, appealed the Environmental Court's denial of its motion to alter and amend the grant of summary judgment in favor of SP Land. Mountainside argued that the Environmental Court erred because: (1) administrative amendments under Rule 34(D) require an underlying Act 250 land use permit, and (2) co-applicants' fifteen-lot subdivision cannot be approved without demonstrating compliance with all Act 250 criteria under 10 V.S.A. 6086(a), as required by 10 V.S.A. 6081(a). Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with Mountainside's argument and reversed the Environmental Court's ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Bradford Oil Co. v. Stonington Insurance Co.
The issue on this appeal centers on who should bear responsibility for the cost of cleaning up petroleum contamination caused by releases from a gas station's underground storage tanks. The controversy in this appeal was between the State of Vermont, which runs the Vermont Petroleum Cleanup Fund (VPCF) and Stonington Insurance Co. (Stonington), which insured Bradford Oil, the owner of the underground storage tanks, for approximately a three-and-a-half-year period. The State appealed the trial court's judgment limiting Stonington's liability to a 4/27 share of past and future cleanup costs and awarded the State $45,172.05. On appeal, the State argued: (1) the Supreme Court's application of time-on-the-risk allocation in "Towns v. Northern Security Insurance Co." did not preclude joint and several liability under all standard occurrence-based policy language; (2) the circumstances here, including the reasonable expectations of the insured and the equity and policy considerations, support imposing joint and several liability on Stonington for all of the State's VPCF expenditures; and (3) even if time-on-the-risk allocation would otherwise be appropriate, Stonington was not entitled to such allocation because it failed to show sufficient facts to apply this allocation method in this case. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that "Towns" was the controlling case law here, and the Court was unconvinced by the State's reasonable expectations, equity, and policy arguments to distinguish the "Towns" decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the lower court's decision.
In re JLD Properties of St. Albans, LLC
This appeal represented "the latest skirmish" in a long-running dispute over plans to develop a Wal-Mart discount retail store on an undeveloped 100-acre parcel of land in the Town of St. Albans. Appellants were interested individuals and groups opposed to the project. They appealed an Environmental Court decision that granted the site plan, conditional use, subdivision, and Act 250 permits for the development. They contended the trial court erred in: (1) approving site plan and conditional use permits despite the alleged conflict of interest of several members of the Town's development review board; (2) finding that the subdivision was compatible with adjacent land uses; and (3) concluding that the developer could reapply for an Act 250 permit despite an earlier denial. Upon review of the lower court's record and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision.
In re Times and Seasons, LLC
Applicant Times and Seasons, LLC, appealed the Environmental Court's grant of summary judgment to the Natural Resources Board and the corresponding denial of Applicant's "Act 250" permit application to construct and operate a gift shop and deli with related improvements in the Town of Royalton. On appeal, Applicant argued that it could avail itself of the definition of "primary agricultural soils" in 10 V.S.A. 6001(15) as it was amended during the course of its litigation to secure compliance with the only Act 250 criterion for which it did not receive approval. Upon review of the legislative history of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court found that a reconsideration application is a continuation of an original Act 250 permit application. Accordingly, the submission of a reconsideration application is not a separate vesting event: "[c]ontrary to applicant's proposed interpretation, an applicant on reconsideration may not simultaneously take advantage of the laws in effect at the time of the initial application and those in effect at the time of the reconsideration application. It is not a two-way street." The Court affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment against Applicant.