Williams v. Town of North HeroAnnotate this Case
The Town of North Hero appealed the Property Valuation and Review (PVR) Division hearing officer’s decision to impose a $2000 discovery sanction against the Town in a property-tax-reappraisal appeal brought by the Williams Living Trust. The hearing officer imposed the sanction as a result of a claimed discovery violation by the Town concerning disclosure of an electronic Excel spreadsheet file requested by the Trust. The Trust disagreed with the reappraisal of its property and challenged it through the statutory appeals process. In the notice of appeal, the Trust requested that the Town’s listers provide the Trust with a specific Excel spreadsheet file in “native format” and “unprotected.” The Town had provided the Excel spreadsheet in PDF format, not in the electronic format later requested. The Trust sent additional email requests to the Town asking for the Excel file. The Trust ultimately moved to compel production of the file in the requested format; the Town responded it did not have the file and could not produce “what does not exist.” The PVR hearing officer issued a decision on the Trust’s motion to compel, ordering the Town to make one last effort to obtain a copy of the file requested and giving the Town ten days to comply. In compliance with the hearing officer’s order, the Town conducted another search and located the file and produced it in the format originally requested. The Trust filed a motion describing the Town’s conduct concerning the file request as “blatant misconduct during discovery” and seeking monetary sanctions of $2500 and other sanctions as the hearing officer deemed proper for the Town’s failure to produce the file earlier. The hearing officer imposed a monetary sanction against the Town of $2000 for false statements made by Town officials and the “expenses, effort, and time” the Trust spent as a result of the Town’s failure to produce the file until ordered to do so. No evidence was provided concerning how much time, effort, and expense was incurred by the Trust, and there was no way to determine how the hearing officer determined $2000 to be the appropriate sanction amount. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the sanction, finding the Town had fully complied with the order compelling discovery, making imposition of a monetary sanction against the Town an abuse of discretion.