Zullo v. VermontAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff Gregory Zullo filed a civil rights action against the State of Vermont for alleged violations of his state constitutional rights arising from the stop, seizure and search of his vehicle. The civil division of the superior court granted summary judgment to the State, concluding that although damages may be obtained in an implied private right of action directly under Article 11, in this case neither the stop, the exit order, nor the seizure and search of plaintiff’s vehicle violated Article 11’s constraints against governmental searches and seizures. The issues this appeal presented for the Vermont Supreme Court's review were: (1) whether Article 11 provided a self-executing right of action for damages; (2) whether the Vermont Tort Claims Act (VTCA) governed any such action and, if not, whether the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity shielded the State from liability; (3) if the action is neither governed by the VTCA nor barred by sovereign immunity, whether the Supreme Court should impose any limitations on obtaining damages against the State; and (4) assuming a damage remedy exists and plaintiff can potentially overcome any other barriers to obtaining damages against the State, whether the stop, exit order, and/or seizure and search of plaintiff’s vehicle violated plaintiff’s rights under Article 11, thereby entitling him to seek such relief. The Supreme Court concluded an implied private right of action for damages was available directly under Article 11, that the VTCA did not apply to plaintiff’s suit alleging a constitutional tort, and that the common law doctrine of sovereign immunity did not bar such an action against the State, but that damages could be obtained only upon a showing that a law enforcement officer acting within the scope of the officer’s duties either acted with malice or knew or should have known that those actions violated clearly established law. Furthermore, the Court concluded that although the exit order would not have violated Article 11 had the initial stop been lawful, both the stop and the warrantless seizure and subsequent search of plaintiff’s vehicle violated Article 11. In light of these conclusions, the Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment, and reversed dismissal of one of plaintiff’s counts in an earlier decision. The matter was remanded for further proceedings.