LaFlamme v. Essex Junction School Dist., No. 97-493.

Docket NºNo. 97-493.
Citation750 A.2d 993
Case DateJanuary 21, 2000
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

750 A.2d 993

Stanley LaFLAMME
v.
ESSEX JUNCTION SCHOOL DISTRICT and Essex Junction Prudential Committee

No. 97-493.

Supreme Court of Vermont.

January 21, 2000.

Motion for Reargument Denied May 2, 2000.


750 A.2d 994
Edwin L. Hobson, Burlington, for Plaintiff-Appellee

Douglas C. Pierson and Thomas M. Higgins of Pierson, Wadhams, Quinn & Yates, Burlington, for Defendants-Appellants.

Present AMESTOY, C.J., DOOLEY, MORSE and SKOGLUND, JJ., and ALLEN, C.J.(Ret.), Specially Assigned.

MORSE, J.

Defendants Essex Junction School District and Essex Junction Prudential Committee (school board) appeal a jury verdict awarding plaintiff Stanley LaFlamme damages for violation of his right to procedural due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Because the evidence was insufficient to support such a claim as a matter of law, we reverse.

This controversy arose when the Essex Junction Prudential Committee, which functions as the school board for the Village of Essex Junction, publicly "censured" LaFlamme, who had been elected to the Prudential Committee in May 1994. Conflict and tension between LaFlamme and other committee members plagued his tenure. For example, members considered LaFlamme difficult to work with and disruptive of committee proceedings. The committee particularly took umbrage at LaFlamme's participation in a May 1995 meeting of the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees, at which the formation of a union high school was discussed. During the meeting, LaFlamme offered opinions that, in the Prudential Committee's

750 A.2d 995
view, were inaccurate, offensive, and belied its position

In February 1995, the Chair of the Prudential Committee, Leslie Mooney, sought advice concerning the committee's working relationship with LaFlamme from the Executive Director of the Vermont School Board Association. According to Mooney, the committee considered the possibility of censuring LaFlamme because the members had been unsuccessful in their several attempts to discuss with him issues concerning his committee membership.

The committee held a special meeting on May 30, 1995, which LaFlamme did not attend. While in executive session, the members discussed the ramifications of censure. They agreed to publicly censure LaFlamme during the next regularly scheduled meeting, subject to the approval of the committee's legal counsel.

Following the meeting, Mooney discussed with the committee's counsel the logistics for censuring LaFlamme. Counsel informed Mooney that the committee was not required to publicly warn LaFlamme of the upcoming censure. She and another member drafted the censure motion and marked it on the agenda as a code of ethics discussion to avoid attracting attention and turning the matter into a "circus."

On June 12, 1995, the Prudential Committee held a regularly scheduled meeting, which LaFlamme attended. The committee, again in executive session, presented him with the censure motion. Its substance read in pertinent part:

After viewing the tape of the Village Trustees meeting of May 23, the consensus of the members present ... was to protect the public's interest by censuring Stan LaFlamme for violating [Vermont School Boards Association] and [National School Boards Association] Code of Ethics, district policy, and standards of good boardsmanship. The board has previously attempted to discuss these concerns with Mr. LaFlamme in executive session, but he was unwilling to do so.
I [James Riley, who read the motion] make a motion that Stan LaFlamme be reprimanded for failing to uphold the following tenets of the codes of ethics:
1. Attend all regularly scheduled board meetings insofar as possible, and become informed concerning the issues to be discussed at those meetings. Mr. LaFlamme failed to attend several meetings, has left meetings before adjournment, and has failed to attend executive sessions at which information critical to sound decision-making was presented. He has indicated to two board members that he does not intend to attend any further executive sessions.
2. Abide by board decisions regardless of how individuals voted. Mr. LaFlamme spoke publicly against the board-approved draft budget. He also supported the village trustees in opposing the Union High School at their May 23 meeting despite the unanimous vote of the Prudential Committee to support the Union.
3. Listen to legal counsel and constructive criticism to protect the board and the school system from liability. Mr. LaFlamme has made public unsubstantiated allegations which have exposed the district to liability.
4. Accept the responsibility to secure facts before arriving at conclusions. Mr. LaFlamme corroborated the inaccurate data presented at the trustees meeting, and his statements about teacher job security were not factual.
5. Board policies BBAA Board member Authority and BBFA Conflict of Interest state in part that "an individual board member, including the Chairman, shall have power only when the board, by vote, has delegated authority to him or her." Mr. LaFlamme invited the trustees to make their presentation at [t]he Prudential Committee hearing without authorization from the Board. Under procedure BD-R, board
750 A.2d 996
meeting agendas are established by the Chair and the Superintendent.
6. Good boardsmanship requires that each member take on a fair share of the workload, including committee assignments. Mr. LaFlamme has not fulfilled his responsibilities around sub[-]committee work.

(Emphasis in original.)

Mooney explained to LaFlamme that, unless he was willing to discuss the committee's concerns, it was prepared to vote on the censure motion during the regular meeting. LaFlamme responded by noting that the motion could not properly be brought during executive session. At that point, the executive session ended and the Prudential Committee resumed its meeting in public.

Committee member James Riley read the motion in its entirety, after which LaFlamme spoke in his own defense. LaFlamme took issue with many of the allegations made in the motion, and challenged in several respects the information upon which the allegations rested. After hearing LaFlamme, the committee granted the motion to censure by a vote of four to one.

On July 21, 1995, LaFlamme sued defendants and the members of the Prudential Committee individually. The superior court dismissed the suit against the individuals on the basis of immunity afforded to municipal officers under 24 V.S.A. § 901(a). While this lawsuit was pending, LaFlamme served on the Prudential Committee a second year before resigning. During that year he made an unsuccessful bid for election to the Village Trustees.

LaFlamme raised three claims: (1) failure to accommodate handicap under 9 V.S.A. § 4502, (2) denial of the right to free speech, and (3) denial of the right to procedural due process. He withdrew a fourth claim alleging defamation.

The jury found in favor of defendants on the handicap accommodation and free speech claims, but awarded LaFlamme $75,000 compensatory and $25,000 punitive damages for violation of his right to procedural due process. In essence, the claim upon which the verdict was rendered, as evidenced by the jury instructions, was that the Prudential Committee damaged LaFlamme's reputation so severely "that his opportunity and ability to associate with others were significantly limited and that the damage resulted without due process of law." Defendants appeal on the ground that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Before reviewing the merits of the appeal, we explain the concept of censure as a method of discipline. In Vermont, school boards derive their power from statute. See Cole v. Town of Hartford School Dist., 131 Vt. 464, 467, 306 A.2d 101, 103 (1973). There is no statutory provision expressly vesting school boards with the authority to censure one of its members. School boards may, however:

approve or disapprove rules and
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8 practice notes
  • Skaskiw v. Vt. Agency of Agric., No. 14–041.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 19, 2014
    ...Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972) ; cf. LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 484, 750 A.2d 993, 1000 (2000) (stating that mere unilateral hope of becoming elected village trustee does not rise to level of entitlement).¶ 21. Skaskiw's inte......
  • Stone v. Town of Irasburg, No. 13–125.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 25, 2014
    ...show that he was deprived of interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 480, 750 A.2d 993, 997 (2000). Once a deprivation is established, it must be determined what process is due. Hegarty v. Addison Cnty. Humane Soc'y, 2004 VT 33, ......
  • Sue Skaskiw & Vt. Volunteer Servs. for Animals Humane Soc'y v. Vt. Agency of Agric., No. 2014-041
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 19, 2014
    ...for it." Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972); cf. LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 484, 750 A.2d 993, 1000 (2000) (stating that mere unilateral hope of becoming elected village trustee does not rise to level of entitlement). ¶ 21. Skaskiw's in......
  • McKiernan v. Amento, CV010453718S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • October 2, 2003
    ...prevail on its due process claim by way of her right to free speech. See LaFlamme v. Essex Junction School District, 170 Vt. 475, 482, 750 A.2d 993 (2000) ("with regard to the infringement of his free speech, [the plaintiff] presented that issue to the jury and lost. He cannot prevail on a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Skaskiw v. Vt. Agency of Agric., No. 14–041.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • December 19, 2014
    ...Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972) ; cf. LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 484, 750 A.2d 993, 1000 (2000) (stating that mere unilateral hope of becoming elected village trustee does not rise to level of entitlement).¶ 21. Skaskiw's inte......
  • Stone v. Town of Irasburg, No. 13–125.
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 25, 2014
    ...show that he was deprived of interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.” LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 480, 750 A.2d 993, 997 (2000). Once a deprivation is established, it must be determined what process is due. Hegarty v. Addison Cnty. Humane Soc'y, 2004 VT 33, ......
  • Sue Skaskiw & Vt. Volunteer Servs. for Animals Humane Soc'y v. Vt. Agency of Agric., No. 2014-041
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • December 19, 2014
    ...for it." Bd. of Regents of State Colls. v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577 (1972); cf. LaFlamme v. Essex Junction Sch. Dist., 170 Vt. 475, 484, 750 A.2d 993, 1000 (2000) (stating that mere unilateral hope of becoming elected village trustee does not rise to level of entitlement). ¶ 21. Skaskiw's in......
  • McKiernan v. Amento, CV010453718S.
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Connecticut
    • October 2, 2003
    ...prevail on its due process claim by way of her right to free speech. See LaFlamme v. Essex Junction School District, 170 Vt. 475, 482, 750 A.2d 993 (2000) ("with regard to the infringement of his free speech, [the plaintiff] presented that issue to the jury and lost. He cannot prevail on a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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