Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 16, 2019

VT Supreme Court Holds Objector to Real Estate Project Lacked Standing Under the Open Meeting Law

This post was authored by Matthew Loeser, Esq.

The Burlington Town Center Project was a large real estate project that proposed to redevelop the downtown district of the City of Burlington. Appellant Jeffrey Severson cast the only vote against the project, and the City granted zoning approval. While several residents of the City appealed the City’s approval to the Environmental Division of the Superior Court, they settled the appeal with the project’s developer. Severson emailed the Board’s chair and asserted that the meeting had violated the Open Meeting Law because it had occurred behind locked doors. When the Board determined that no Open Meeting Law violation had occurred, Severson filed suit against the Board and the City, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted the City and the Board’s motion to dismiss, and held that Severson did not allege an injury that was actionable under the Open Meeting Law.

The court found that although it determined that Severson, as a member of the public body that could qualify as “any person aggrieved” entitled to seek enforcement of the Open Meeting Law in the wake of the public body’s refusal to recognize and correct the alleged violation, the trial court did not err when it granted the Board and the City’s motion to dismiss Severson’s suit seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Here, Severson’s complaint failed to allege injuries that were sufficient to confer standing under the Open Meeting Law because his allegations were of speculative injuries arising from the potential exclusion of unknown members of the public. Furthermore, Severson did not provide any evidence that a member of the public was actually deprived access to the meeting, or was deterred from attending the meeting. Accordingly, the trial court’s determination that Severson lacked standing under the Open Meeting Law was affirmed.

Severson v. City of Burlington, 2019 WL 2399640 (VT 6/7/2019)

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