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Agency of Natural Resources v. Supeno

Supreme Court of Vermont

March 16, 2018

Agency of Natural Resources
Francis Supeno, Barbara Supeno, and Barbara Ernst

         On Appeal from Superior Court, Environmental Division.

          Thomas G. Walsh, J. Thomas J. Donovan, Jr., Attorney General, and Robert F. McDougall, Assistant Attorney General, Montpelier, for Petitioner-Appellee.

          David Bond of Strouse & Bond, PLLC, Burlington, for Respondents-Appellants.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Eaton and Carroll, JJ.

          SKOGLUND, J.

         ¶ 1. Respondents, Francis Supeno, Barbara Supeno, and Barbara Ernst, appeal an order of the Environmental Division imposing a penalty of $27, 213 for water and wastewater permit violations. On appeal, respondents argue that their due process rights were violated, the penalty assessment was precluded by res judicata, and the amount of the penalty was excessive. We affirm.

         ¶ 2. The following facts are either not disputed or were found by the court. Respondents Francis Supeno and Barbara Supeno are siblings and jointly own property in Addison at 306 Fisher Point Road. Barbara Supeno and Barbara Ernst live adjacent to the property at 330 Fisher Point Road. In October 2009, the Supeno siblings obtained a wastewater system and potable water supply permit, which authorized the replacement of a seasonal cottage at 306 Fisher Point Road with a year-round residence with one bedroom. The permit included the construction of an on-site well and wastewater disposal system. The water supply for 330 Fisher Point Road is provided through a public water system.

         ¶ 3. In June 2014 the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) received a complaint of an alleged violation of the wastewater permit. ANR also became aware that the property was advertised as a two-bedroom, two-bathroom rental. ANR sent an inquiry to respondents seeking to conduct an inspection of the property, but respondents did not reply. An ANR enforcement officer went to the property and Barbara Supeno denied ANR access to the house. The Environmental Division granted ANR's petition for an access order and ANR received access on September 9, 2014. During the visit, the ANR enforcement officer observed two water lines entering the basement of 306 Fisher Point Road. Respondent Ernst explained that one line was from the on-site well and the other was a spliced connection of the town water line from 330 Fisher Point Road, and that the house could switch between the two water sources. The enforcement officer also observed the permitted bedroom on the second floor and an additional nonpermitted bedroom in the basement.

         ¶ 4. On September 18, 2014, ANR filed an emergency administrative order (EAO) and the court granted the petition the same day. The EAO listed three violations: (1) respondents failed to obtain a permit before modifying the rental home at 306 Fisher Point Road to add a second bedroom; (2) respondents spliced into the public water supply line serving 330 Fisher Point Road and connected it to the rental property on 306 Fisher Point Road without obtaining a permit; and (3) respondents created an unapproved cross-connection at the rental property, which allowed it to switch between the well water and the public water system and created a risk that potentially polluted water could contaminate the public water supply. The EAO stated that the Secretary of ANR "reserve[d] the right to subsequently issue Administrative Orders, including penalties." The EAO also notified respondents of their right to request a prompt hearing on the merits of the order.

         ¶ 5. Respondents requested a hearing, which the Environmental Division held in September 2014. Respondents were represented at the hearing by counsel. In October 2014, the court modified the EAO to allow respondents to seek a permit from ANR to connect the building at 306 Fisher Point Road to the public water supply, but the violations remained unchanged. Respondents did not appeal the EAO.

         ¶ 6. In June 2015, ANR issued an Administrative Order (AO) for the same violations contained in the EAO and assessed a $29, 325 penalty against respondents. Respondents requested a hearing on the penalty assessment in the AO before the Environmental Division.

         ¶ 7. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. Respondents alleged that penalties could not be assessed in the AO for three reasons: (1) the AO violated their due process rights because they were not informed of the possibility of such a high penalty being assessed; (2) the AO was barred by res judicata because it involved the same parties and issues as the EAO; and (3) the penalty violated the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. ANR moved for summary judgment on the penalty assessment. The court concluded that respondents had received full process and res judicata did not apply and therefore denied respondents' motion for summary judgment. The court further concluded that review of the penalty assessment involved disputed facts and denied summary judgment to both parties on this issue. Following an evidentiary hearing, the court made findings relevant to the penalty assessment, which are discussed more fully below, and set the total penalty for the violations at $27, 213. Respondents filed this appeal.

         ¶ 8. On appeal, respondents argue that assessing a penalty in the AO after the violations were established in the EAO was a denial of due process and barred by res judicata. They also contend that ...

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