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Skaskiw v. Vermont Agency of Agric.

Supreme Court of Vermont

December 19, 2014

Sue Skaskiw and Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society
v.
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Department for Children and Families, Kristin Haas, Kathleen Smith and Carol Maloney

Page 1278

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Page 1281

Editorial Note:

This Opinion is subject to motion for reargument or formal revision before publication. See V.R.A.P. 40

On Appeal from Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division. Helen M. Toor, J.

Affirmed.

Samantha C. Balmes, Beaverton, Oregon, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Danforth Cardozo, III, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Defendants-Appellees.

Present: Reiber, C.J., Dooley and Skoglund, JJ., and Pearson and Durkin, Supr. JJ., Specially Assigned.

OPINION

Page 1282

Dooley, J.

[¶1] Plaintiffs Sue Skaskiw and Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society appeal the trial court's decision to grant the motion to dismiss of defendants Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Department for Children and Families, Kristin Haas, Kathleen Smith, and Carol Maloney on Skaskiw's claims of defamation, violation of due process, economic interference, and failure to discharge a mandatory duty. We affirm.

[¶2] The Vermont Spay/Neuter Incentive Program (VSNIP) was created in 2006 to subsidize dog, cat, and wolf-hybrid sterilization procedures for low-income Vermonters. Sue Skaskiw and the organization she directs, Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society (VVSA), administered the VSNIP program from its inception in 2006 until the expiration of Skaskiw's contract in October 2012. Defendant Vermont Agency of Agriculture initially managed the program but responsibility was transferred to defendant Department for Children and Families (DCF), a department within the Agency of Human Services, in 2011. Defendant Haas is an employee of the Agency of Agriculture; defendants Smith and Maloney are employees of DCF.

[¶3] Sometime after the program's inception, the Agency of Agriculture contracted with Skaskiw to run VSNIP. She still held the contract when responsibility shifted to DCF in 2011, but at that time DCF put the contract out for a competitive bid. Two bidders, Skaskiw and VT-CAN!, submitted proposals, and VT-CAN! won the contract. Skaskiw subsequently filed this lawsuit.

[¶4] In her complaint, Skaskiw pleaded one count of defamation against Smith and DCF; one count of violation of due process against Smith; one count of tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage against all defendants based on conduct by Haas, Smith, and Maloney; and one count of failure to discharge a mandatory duty against DCF. The thrust of Skaskiw's complaint is that Smith made libelous statements to coworkers about her ability to run the program and that these libelous statements prejudiced the bid selection committee against her; that Haas, Smith, and Maloney manipulated the bid selection process to disadvantage her; that DCF administered the bidding process in ways that disadvantaged her; that VT-CAN! had a " known conflict of interest" with DCF and was improperly using VSNIP to benefit its own veterinary practice; and that DCF continues to mismanage the VSNIP program to Skaskiw's detriment.

[¶5] In response to Skaskiw's complaint, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The trial court granted defendants' motion and dismissed Skaskiw's claims. This appeal followed.

[¶6] We review decisions on a motion to dismiss de novo under the same standard as the trial court and will uphold a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim if " it is beyond doubt that there exist no ...


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