Appeal from Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division
Mary Miles Teachout, J.
Anthony N.L. Iarrapino of Wilschek Iarrapino Law Office PLLC,
and James Diaz and Lia Ernst of ACLU Foundation of Vermont,
Montpelier, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
M. Blackwood and Justin St. James, Office of City Attorney,
Burlington, for Defendant-Appellee.
Jennifer Duggan and Elena Mihaly, Conservation Law
Foundation, and Jamey Fidel and Jon Groveman, Vermont Natural
Resources Council, Montpelier, for Amici Curiae Conservation
Law Foundation and Vermont Natural Resources Council.
Putter and Christopher D. Winters, Montpelier, for Amicus
Curiae Jim Condos, Secretary of State of the State of
P. Richardson and Stephen F. Coteus of Tarrant, Gillies &
Richardson, Montpelier, and Timothy Cornell and Cornell
Dolan, Boston, Massachusetts, for Amici Curiae Vermont
Journalism Trust, New England First Amendment Coalition, and
Vermont Press Association.
Andeer, Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Montpelier, for
Amicus Curiae Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Skoglund, Eaton and Carroll, JJ., and
Burgess, J. (Ret.), Specially Assigned
1. Reed Doyle appeals the trial court's denial of his
motion for partial judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). In his motion,
plaintiff argued that the Burlington Police Department (BPD)
unlawfully withheld public records in violation of the Public
Records Act (PRA) when it charged a fee for costs that would
be incurred by complying with his request. Based on the plain
language of the PRA, we hold that the BPD cannot charge for
staff time spent in complying with requests to inspect public
records. Accordingly, we reverse.
2. Plaintiff stated the following facts in his complaint.
Plaintiff witnessed an incident involving BPD officers in a
public park. Shortly thereafter, plaintiff submitted a
citizen's complaint form to the BPD to voice concerns
about alleged officer misconduct and unreasonable use of
force during the incident. Plaintiff subsequently requested
to inspect body camera footage, among other records, related
to the incident. The BPD denied his request. Plaintiff
appealed the denial to BPD Chief Brandon del Pozo. In his
response to the appeal, Chief del Pozo characterized
plaintiff's request as "seeking to inspect"
records. He stated that, pursuant to statute, the BPD could
only produce a heavily redacted form of the requested
records, and the staff time to review and redact the records
would cost plaintiff several hundred dollars. Chief del Pozo
also informed plaintiff that he must pay a deposit before the
BPD would begin reviewing and redacting the requested
3. After filing a complaint in the civil division against the
BPD, plaintiff moved for a partial judgment on the pleadings.
He argued that the BPD violated the PRA when it failed to
provide the requested records for inspection free of charge.
The trial court denied plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff
4. "When reviewing a denial of a motion for judgment on
the pleadings, the issue before the Court is whether the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the
basis of the pleadings." Fercenia v. Guiduli,
2003 VT 50, ¶ 6, 175 Vt. 541, 830 A.2d 55 (mem.).
"[W]e accept as true all factual allegations contained
in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be
drawn from those allegations. . . . We . . . focus our
analysis on the court's conclusions of law, which we
review de novo." Flint v. Dep't of Labor,
2017 VT 89, ¶ 3, 205 Vt. 558, 177 A.3d 1080 (quotation
5. The parties dispute whether the PRA authorizes state
agencies to charge and collect fees for staff time spent
complying with requests to inspect public records. This Court
applies "a nondeferential and plenary standard of review
to issues of statutory interpretation." Vt. Human
Rights Comm'n v. Agency of Transp., 2012 VT 88,
¶ 7, 192 Vt. 552, 60 A.3d 702; see also 1 V.S.A. §
319(a) (directing trial court to review denials of PRA
requests de novo). "[O]ur primary goal" when
interpreting statutes is "to give effect to the
Legislature's intent." Lydy v. Trustaff,
Inc., 2013 VT 44, ¶ 6, 194 Vt. 165, 76 A.3d 150. We
begin our review with the statute's plain meaning.
People's United Bank, NA v. Alana Provencale,
Inc., 2018 VT 46, ¶ 8, 207 Vt. 362, 189 A.3d 71.
"If the statute is unambiguous and its words have plain