Curran v. Marcille

Decision Date04 August 1989
Docket NumberNo. 87-389,87-389
Citation152 Vt. 247,565 A.2d 1362
PartiesJacqueline D. CURRAN, Individually and as Guardian for Thomas W. Curran v. Roger John MARCILLE; A. James Walton, Comm'r, Dep't of Corrections; William Conway, Comm'r, Dep't of Motor Vehicles and State of Vermont.
CourtVermont Supreme Court

DeBonis, Wright & Winpenny, P.C., Poultney, for plaintiff-appellant.

S. Stacy Chapman, III, and Joseph P. Jiloty of Webber, Costello & Chapman, Ltd., Rutland, for defendants-appellees.

Before ALLEN, C.J., and PECK, GIBSON and DOOLEY, JJ., and KEYSER, J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned.

ALLEN, Chief Justice.

Plaintiff alleges that her ward was injured on October 11, 1981 as a result of being struck by an automobile operated by Roger J. Marcille, a prisoner in state custody who was then on furlough. Plaintiff sued: A. James Walton, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, for failing to exercise appropriate care in furloughing the prisoner; William Conway, Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, for failing to revoke Marcille's vehicle registration despite numerous DUI convictions; and the State of Vermont. The trial court granted the defendants' motions for summary judgment, based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity. On appeal, the plaintiff challenges the trial court's failure to find a waiver of sovereign immunity by the defendants under 29 V.S.A. § 1403. In the alternative, plaintiff argues that she has pleaded sufficient facts to avoid the statutory exception to liability set out in 12 V.S.A. § 5602(1). We affirm.

With regard to defendants Conway and Walton, the trial court's grant of summary judgment was not error since both defendants are entitled to absolute immunity as a matter of law under the doctrine of "official immunity." See Levinsky v. Diamond, 151 Vt. 178, ----, 559 A.2d 1073, 1078 (1989). In Libercent v. Aldrich, 149 Vt. 76, 84, 539 A.2d 981, 985 (1987), this Court noted that "[b]ecause the terms of 12 V.S.A. §§ 5601 and 5602 refer only to liability of the state, these statutes have no application to claims brought against state officers and employees." Official immunity, instead, shields state officials and employees under certain circumstances. Id. at 80, 539 A.2d at 983. Two degrees of official immunity have been recognized in this state: absolute immunity for "judges, legislators and the state's highest executive officers in cases where the acts complained of were performed within their respective authorities," and qualified immunity for lower-level officers, employees and agents "(1) acting during their employment and acting, or reasonably believing they are acting, within the scope of their authority; (2) acting in good faith; and (3) performing discretionary, as opposed to ministerial, acts." Levinsky, 151 Vt. at ----, 559 A.2d at 1078.

Defendants Conway and Walton, by virtue of their positions as Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles and Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, are among the state's highest executive officers and were acting within the scope of their authority when releasing the defendant, Marcille, on furlough and when issuing or failing to revoke his registration. Both defendants are, therefore, entitled to absolute immunity for the acts complained of in this case. Although the trial court found that both defendants were immune to the present suit under the exceptions provision of the statutory waiver of sovereign immunity, 12 V.S.A. § 5602(1), rather than under the doctrine of official immunity, we still affirm the court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants. "This Court may sustain the ruling of a trial court upon any legal ground even though the trial court may have based its ruling upon another ground." State v. Greenia, 147 Vt. 596, 597, 522 A.2d 242, 243 (1987).

The State of Vermont's immunity to suit, on the other hand, falls under the realm of sovereign immunity. Levinsky, 151 Vt. at ----, 559 A.2d at 1078. Under 12 V.S.A. § 5601, the State of Vermont has generally waived its sovereign immunity. The State's waiver, however, is subject to the exceptions set forth in 12 V.S.A. § 5602, including § 5602(1), which states:

The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to:

(1) Any claim based upon an act or omission of an employee of the state exercising due care, in the execution of a statute or regulation, whether or not such statute or regulation be valid, or based upon the exercise or performance or failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a state agency or an employee of the state, whether or not the discretion involved be abused;....

The trial court found that the acts or omissions of defendants Conway and Walton fell within the exceptions language of § 5602(1), so that § 5601 did not effect a waiver of sovereign immunity.

Notwithstanding § 5602, 29 V.S.A. § 1403 allows suits against the State to the extent the State has purchased liability insurance. The State argues, however, that under Lomberg v. Crowley, 138 Vt. 420, 415 A.2d 1324 (1980), § 1403 did not effect a waiver with respect to the acts set forth in § 5602(1). The trial court agreed. While the Legislature has amended § 1403 to expressly overrule Lomberg, 1981, No. 213 (Adj. Sess.), § 1 (effective July 1, 1982), the accident in question occurred prior to the effective date of the amendment, and the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
12 cases
  • Abdel-Fakhara v. State
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Vermont
    • September 6, 2022
    ... ... 76, 81, 539 A.2d 981, 984 (1987). State ... agency commissioners “are among the state's highest ... executive officers.” Curran v. Marcille, 152 ... Vt. 247, 249, 565 A.2d 1362, 1363 (1989). “Such ... officers are entitled to absolute immunity even when their ... ...
  • Leise v. Vt. Human Rights Comm'n
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Vermont
    • March 24, 2023
    ...were entitled to absolute immunity “as the ‘highest executive officers' in their respective governmental units”); Curran v. Marcille, 565 A.2d 1362, 1363 (Vt. 1989) (holding Commissioner of Department of Motor Vehicles and Commissioner of Department of Corrections entitled to absolute immun......
  • Klein v. Wolf Run Resort, Inc.
    • United States
    • Vermont Supreme Court
    • April 14, 1995
    ...the contrary, "a statute affecting legally existing rights should not be construed to operate retrospectively." Curran v. Marcille, 152 Vt. 247, 250, 565 A.2d 1362, 1364 (1989); 1 V.S.A. § 214(b). Many jurisdictions, however, have recognized an exception to this general rule when a usury st......
  • Travelers Ins. Co. v. Carpenter
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • December 13, 2002
    ...any can be, where the question of its enforcement is open to contention and litigation. Id. at 719-20; see also Curran v. Marcille, 152 Vt. 247, 250, 565 A.2d 1362, 1364 (1989) (mentioning vested rights in the context of New York common law on retroactive application of statutes but omittin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT