Skip navigation
PYHS - Header

HRDC v. Centurion of VT LLC, VT, Opinion and Order on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, Public Records, 2023

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Vennont Superior Court
Filed 11/07L23
Washington Umt

VERMONT SUPERIOR COURT
Washington Unit

CIVIL DIVISION
Case No. 21-CV-03976

65 State Street
Montpelier VT 05602
802-828-2091
www.vermontjudiciary.org

Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Opinion and Order On Cross-Motions For Summary Judgment
Defendant Centurion of Vermont LLC held the contract with the Vermont
Department of Corrections (DOC) to provide medical, dental and mental health care to
Vermont prisoners between 2015 and 2020. In 2021, Plaintiff Human Rights Defense
Center (HRDC) requested, pursuant to Vermont's Public Records Act (PRA), that
Centurion produce copies of certain records related to any legal claims against it that
resulted in expenditures by it of $1,000 or more.
Specifically, HRDC sought records relating to "claims or lawsuits [from 2015 to
present] brought against" Centurion or any of its employees or agents leading to
payments of $1,000 or more by Centurion or its insurer, including "settlements, damages,
attorney fee awards, and sanctions." The specific documents sought are those relating to
such claims and that include:
•the names of the parties;
•the "case or claim number";
•the court in which the case or claim was brought;
•the date of resolution;
•the payments made and to whom;
•the complaint or claim form; and
•the "verdict form, final judgment, settlement agreement, consent decree, or other
paper that resolved the case. 1
1 Literally,

the request broadly seeks "[r]ecords sufficient to show" the bulleted list of
information. The request also is not expressly limited to claims asserted by patientprisoners. At argument, the Court invited HRDC to clarify the scope of its request in a
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 1 of 15

Centurion responded by denying that it is subject to the PRA and has produced no
responsive records. This litigation ensued.
The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment addressing several
legal issues: (1) whether Centurion is subject to the PRA; (2) whether the requested
records are public records for purposes of the PRA; and (3) if Centurion and the records
are subject to the PRA, whether the records are exempt from production under the
exemption for documents that are confidential “by law,” 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(1), or the
exemption for “personal documents,” 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7).2
I.

Procedural Standard

Summary judgment procedure is “an integral part of the . . . Rules as a whole, which
are designed ‘to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every
action.’” Morrisseau v. Fayette, 164 Vt. 358, 363 (1995) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986)). Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence in the
record, referred to in the statements required by Vt. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1), shows that there
is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law. Vt. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Gallipo v. City of Rutland, 163 Vt. 83, 86 (1994)
(summary judgment will be granted if, after adequate time for discovery, a party fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of the case on which the
party will bear the burden of proof at trial). The Court derives the undisputed facts from

post-hearing memorandum. That memorandum includes more argument but does not
address the intended scope of the request.
The motions focus on these broad legal issues rather than whether any particular
record should be produced in whole or in part, though Centurion suggests that if the
Court might order any records produced then it should first review them all in camera.
2

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 2 of 15

the parties’ statements of fact and the supporting documents. Boulton v. CLD
Consulting Engineers, Inc., 2003 VT 72, ¶ 29, 175 Vt. 413, 427. A party opposing
summary judgment may not simply rely on allegations in the pleadings to establish a
genuine issue of material fact. Instead, it must come forward with deposition excerpts,
affidavits, or other evidence to establish such a dispute. Murray v. White, 155 Vt. 621,
628 (1991). Speculation is insufficient. Palmer v. Furlan, 2019 VT 42, ¶ 10, 210 Vt. 375,
380. Where, as here, there are cross-motions for summary judgment, the parties
opposing summary judgment “are entitled to the benefit of all reasonable doubts and
inferences.” Montgomery v. Devoid, 2006 VT 127, ¶ 9, 181 Vt. 154, 156.
As to the legal issues in the parties’ motions, there is no dispute of fact.
II.

Whether Centurion is Subject to the PRA

The parties disagree as to whether Centurion is subject to the PRA at all. HRDC
argues that the issue is controlled by Hum. Rts. Def. Ctr. v. Correct Care Sols., LLC, 2021
VT 63, 215 Vt. 362 (concluding that the contractor preceding Centurion was an
“instrumentality” of the State and thus subject to the PRA). Centurion does not argue
that it is distinct in some material way from Correct Care that would indicate that it
should not be subject to the PRA as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Correct Care.
Instead, it argues that Correct Care was poorly decided, that it did not consider the
incongruities that would be created by applying the PRA to private entities, and that this
Court should not follow it.
Correct Care controls this case. There, Wellpath (later known as Correct Care)
had the contract with DOC to provide health services to Vermont prisoners for the 5-year
term immediately preceding Centurion’s contract to provide the same services. HRDC
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 3 of 15

submitted a request for public records to Wellpath under the PRA, and Wellpath
maintained that it was a private business not subject to the PRA. That was the issue
addressed by the Supreme Court. The Court’s resolution of that issue is crystal clear:
“we conclude that [Wellpath] was an ‘instrumentality’ of the DOC during the contract
period. Therefore, it was a ‘public agency’ as that term is defined in the PRA.” Id., 2021
VT 63, ¶ 13, 215 Vt. at 369 (citations omitted). There is no apparent distinction between
Centurion and Wellpath for purposes of this case, and Centurion does not claim one.
Under Correct Care, Centurion is an instrumentality of the State in undertaking its
contract with the DOC and is subject to the PRA on that basis.
Nor can the Court conclude that the High Court was oblivious to the difficulties of
applying the PRA and some of its provisions to private companies. Wellpath made some
of those same points. In rejecting them, the Correct Care Court recognized that
“incongruencies or administrative difficulties may inhere as a result of the Act’s
application to instrumentalities like Wellpath.” 2021 VT 63, ¶ 22, 215 Vt. at 373–74. It
further noted that it is “for the Legislature to resolve such nuances.” Id.
Centurion’s argument that Correct Care was wrongly decided may be presented to
the Supreme Court someday in hopes that it will reconsider that decision; but, this Court
is typically bound by the force of such a recent decision of our Supreme Court. See Eulitt
ex rel. Eulitt v. Maine, Dept. of Educ., 386 F.3d 344, 349 (1st Cir. 2004) (“Until a [higher]
court . . . revokes a binding precedent, a [lower] court . . . is hard put to ignore that
precedent unless it has unmistakably been cast into disrepute by supervening
authority.”), abrogation on other gds recognized by Carson as next friend of O. C. v.
Makin, 142 S.Ct. 1987 (2022).
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 4 of 15

III.

Whether the Requested Records are “Public Records” Under the PRA

Even if subject to the PRA, Centurion argues that the requested records—all of
them—are its own private business records rather than public records for purposes of the
PRA. It maintains that the records were not acquired in the course of its contract with
DOC and that they cannot be considered “public records.” HRDC takes the opposite view
and argues that the requested records were created in connection with and arose out of
its provision of medical services for the DOC.
The Correct Care decision addresses whether a contractor in Centurion’s
circumstances, whose principal role is to exercise a fundamental governmental function,
is a public agency under the PRA. It did not rule on whether the litigation records
sought in that case were public records. Instead, it remanded for the trial court to
determine whether the “requested documents were ‘public records’ within the meaning of
the PRA or whether any statutory exemption applied thereto.” Hum. Rts. Def. Ctr. v.
Correct Care Sols., LLC, 2021 VT 63, ¶ 23, 215 Vt. 362, 374. Court records reflect that,
on remand, Correct Care sought consent from the parties involved in the underlying
litigation to produce any requested records that had been designated confidential by
them, it eventually produced all records to HRDC’s satisfaction, and any other issues
were settled without Court involvement. The trial court never had to grapple with the
extent to which responsive records, in fact, were “public records” subject to production.
That question is presented now.
In advancing its position, Centurion relies primarily on an administrative decision
of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records (OOR), In re Palattella v. Erie County, No. AP
2022-0924, 2022 WL 2072872 (Pa. Off. Open Rec. June 6, 2022). In that case, the
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 5 of 15

requester sought records in the possession of healthcare providers contracted to deliver
care to prisoners. The requested records were particular settlement agreements
resulting from lawsuits filed by prisoners against the contractors, presumably arising out
of care provided to the prisoners within the scope of the contractual arrangement.
Under Pennsylvania law, as described by the OOR, the issue boiled down to
whether the records directly related to the contractors’ performance under their contracts
with the county. At that point in the decision, however, the analysis gets very thin. The
OOR appears to have held that the records did not directly relate to performance under
the contracts because the county had not been sued in the underlying cases, was not
directly involved in them, and thus did not participate in the decision to terminate the
litigation by compromise. The OOR does not further explain why a unilateral decision by
a contractor to settle a lawsuit renders records from that litigation not directly related to
performance under the contract when the lawsuit plainly arose out of the service the
contractor was contracted to provide. The Palattella decision is not persuasive, at least
as applied to Vermont’s PRA.
Under the PRA, “public record” is broadly defined to mean “any written or
recorded information, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which is produced or
acquired in the course of public agency business.” 1 V.S.A. § 317(b); U.S. Right to Know
v. Univ. of Vermont, 2021 VT 33, ¶ 11, 214 Vt. 543, 548 (“The ‘determinative factor’ in the
definition of ‘public record’ is whether the document at issue is produced or acquired in
the course of [public] agency business.” (internal quotation and citation omitted)).
Centurion argues that all records requested in this case relate to litigation against it; its
contract with the State does not control how it handles such litigation; the State actually
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 6 of 15

exercised no such control; and, thus, any records related to that litigation involved only
its private business interests and those decisions are unrelated to Vermont agency
business.
The Court notes that it, and presumably HRDC, does not currently know what
responsive records Centurion possesses. The parties focus nearly all of their arguments
on settlement agreements, particularly settlement agreements designated confidential by
the settling parties. HRDC’s written request, however, is substantially broader than
that. See supra n.1. Moreover, in denying HRDC’s request, it does not appear that
Centurion produced an index of withheld records (none is in the record) as required by 1
V.S.A. § 318(b)(2), and it has not produced a Vaughn index of withheld materials in this
case, Vaughn v. Rosen, 484 F.2d 820 (D.C. Cir. 1973); 33 Richard Murphy, Fed. Prac. &
Proc. Judicial Review § 8476 (2d ed.) (“FOIA litigation raises the procedural challenge of
finding a way for agencies to prove that documents should not be disclosed without
disclosing them to the requester as part of the litigation process. In response to this
problem, courts developed the Vaughn index.”).
The U.S. Right to Know Court explained as follows:
It is clear that by choosing the words “in the course of public agency
business,” the Legislature sought to shed light on government business, not
the personal endeavors of state employees. Thus, an essential factor in
determining whether a given record is a public record is whether its content
reflects government—as opposed to personal—business. In that analysis,
we look to the Legislature’s description of public records for such
considerations as whether the record contains information bearing on a
government function, provides government officials with bases for making
decisions, serves to ensure continuity with past government operations, or
documents responsibilities of government actors. Other necessary factors to
examine are the circumstances surrounding the record’s creation, for
example, by whom, for whom, and for what purpose the record was created;
the role the record played in the functioning of the agency; and the record’s
location. Additional factors may become relevant in a given set of facts and
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 7 of 15

underlying the analysis is the Legislature’s instruction to construe the PRA
liberally in favor of disclosure.
U.S. Right to Know v. Univ. of Vermont, 2021 VT 33, ¶ 17, 214 Vt. 543, 550–51.
The current HRDC request is very broad. It would appear to cover claims
unrelated to the provision of services to DOC. While counsel for HRDC indicated at oral
argument that the intent of the request is more focused, the written request is expansive
and would cover any litigation materials that were created during the time of Centurion’s
contract with DOC.3 Nonetheless, the Court concludes that the core of HRDC’s request
does seek “public records” under the PRA. The governmental function largely delegated
to Centurion by DOC was the provision of health care to Vermont prisoners. If, for
example, Centurion provided such care to a particular prisoner who later came to believe
that the care was negligent and sued Centurion, the Court is hard-pressed to see how
related records would not reflect on the very governmental business undertaken by
Centurion. The point is not that any such lawsuit necessarily had merit or that any
decision to settle means there was merit, but by directly arising out of the governmental
undertaking delegated to Centurion, such records plainly would reflect government,
rather than purely private, business.
The Court declines to speculate as to whether any particular record is a public
record subject to the PRA because no such particularized disputes are now before the

At its most expansive reading, the request might encompass plainly non-public records.
For example, a lawsuit relating to a tax dispute with the IRS or a personal injury claim
filed by a third party related to a car accident involving one of Centurion’s employees
would likely be wholly collateral to the substance of “agency business” and would not
generate any public records.
3

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 8 of 15

Court. Centurion’s argument that none of the requested records are “public records” is
rejected.
IV.

Whether the Requested Records are Exempt Under 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(1)

Centurion next maintains that, even if it loses the first two arguments, the
requested records are exempt from production under the PRA. It asserts that the
requested records are exempt in total under 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(1). That provision shields
from access “[r]ecords that by law are designated confidential or by a similar term.” The
records Centurion focuses on are settlement agreements about which the parties agreed
to maintain confidentiality, although HRDC’s request is not expressly limited to
settlement agreements. In any event, to the extent that Centurion is arguing that the
underlying parties’ confidentiality agreement satisfies the “by law” requirement of this
provision, the Court disagrees.
Private parties are not a law unto themselves by dint of such agreements. “By
law” plainly contemplates a statute, court order, and the like. See, e.g., Norman v.
Vermont Off. of Ct. Adm’r, 2004 VT 13, ¶ 5, 176 Vt. 593, 594 (statutory basis asserted in
support of exemption). If the “by-law” exemption could be triggered by a governmental
entity’s insertion of a confidentiality provision into the entity’s contracts, it would greatly
expand the scope of the exemption and allow a single governmental body, through its
own actions, to declare certain documents off limits from public scrutiny. The Court does
not believe the Legislature intended the by-law exemption to be used in such a fashion.
At least absent express legislative endorsement of the notion, the exemption for
documents that are confidential “by law” does not apply in circumstances where a
governmental entity has chosen or negotiated to include a secrecy provision in a contract
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 9 of 15

with a third party. The opposite conclusion would be in direct conflict with the goals of
the PRA. See, e.g., See Doyle v. City of Burlington Police Dep’t, 2019 VT 66, ¶ 11, 2011
Vt. 10, 15─16 (PRA reflects “Legislature’s acknowledgment that open access to
governmental records is a fundamental precept of our society and it is in the public
interest to enable any person to review and criticize [the] decisions [of officers of
government], who are trustees and servants of the people” (internal quotations omitted)).
V.

Whether the Requested Records are Exempt Under 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7)

Centurion lastly contends that the requested records are exempt in total under 1
V.S.A. § 317(c)(7). That provision shields from access information “relating to an
individual, including information in any files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote, or
discipline any employee of a public agency; information in any files relating to personal
finances; medical or psychological facts concerning any individual or corporation.” Again,
Centurion focuses on settlement agreements to the exclusion of the broader set of records
presumably within the scope of the request. It argues that because settlement
agreements could contain personal information, particularly medical history, they should
be exempt under this provision.
The Vermont Supreme Court has explained:
Section 317(c)(7) exempts from public disclosure “personal documents
relating to an individual, including information in any files maintained to
hire, evaluate, promote or discipline any employee of a public agency,
information in any files relating to personal finances, medical or
psychological facts concerning any individual or corporation.” We have
construed the term “personal documents” to apply “only when the privacy of
the individual is involved.” More specifically, “the exception applies only to
those documents that reveal intimate details of a person’s life, including any
information that might subject the person to embarrassment, harassment,
disgrace, or loss of employment or friends.”

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 10 of 15

In applying § 317(c)(7), the trial court must “balance the public
interest in disclosure against the harm to the individual.” In doing so, it
must consider not only the relevance, if any, of the records to the
public interest for which they are sought, but any other factors that
may affect the balance, including: the significance of the public
interest asserted; the nature, gravity, and potential consequences of
the invasion of privacy occasioned by the disclosure; and the
availability of alternative sources for the requested information.
Rutland Herald v. City of Rutland, 2013 VT 98, ¶¶ 5–6, 195 Vt. 85, 88 (citations omitted);
see also Kade v. Smith, 2006 VT 44, ¶ 14, 180 Vt. 554, 560 (requiring redactions where
some material is exempt and some not in context of 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7)); 1 V.S.A. § 318(e)
(describing the agency’s general duty to redact and disclose where possible).
HRDC’s request is broad and, presumably, extends to many publicly accessible
filings in court cases. It is highly unlikely that all such records would contain the sort of
personal information that is exempt under 1 V.S.A. § 317(c)(7). Whether any responsive
records contain such information cannot be determined as a matter of law, particularly
without knowing which such records Centurion possesses. This extends to settlement
agreements. Whether such agreements contain exempt information will have to be
determined on the facts of each record, the balancing noted above, and redactions may
potentially conceal the name of the person or exempt material while allowing access to
the remainder.
VI.

Propriety of In Camera Review at This Time

As an alternative to its various arguments that no responsive records need to be
disclosed, Centurion asks the Court to examine all records in camera to determine
whether they, or parts of them, are exempt or accessible. See 1 V.S.A. § 319(a) (providing
for in camera review as necessary). In camera inspection of withheld documents is an
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 11 of 15

important way for the Court to determine whether responsive records have been
withheld properly. But, [i]n camera inspection is not a substitute for the government’s
burden of proof, and should not be resorted to lightly, due to the ex parte nature of the
process and the potential burden placed on the court.” 1 James T. O’Reilly, Fed. Info.
Discl. § 8:31. The Vaughn Index process was created to avoid, at least at the outset, the
need for such one-sided Court examinations. Campaign For Responsible Transplantation
v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 219 F. Supp. 2d 106, 111 (D.D.C. 2002).
The rudiments of a Vaughn Index have been described as follows:
FOIA4 litigation raises the procedural challenge of finding a way for
agencies to prove that documents should not be disclosed without disclosing
them to the requester as part of the litigation process. In response to this
problem, courts developed the Vaughn index. A Vaughn index should
satisfy the following “indispensable elements:”
(1) The index should be contained in one document, complete in itself.
(2) The index must adequately describe each withheld document or
deletion from a released document.
(3) The index must state the exemption claimed for each deletion or
withheld document, and explain why the exemption is relevant. Of course
the explanation of the exemption claim and the descriptions of withheld
material need not be so detailed as to reveal that which the agency wishes
to conceal, but they must be sufficiently specific to permit a reasoned
judgment as to whether the material is actually exempt under FOIA.
33 Richard Murphy, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Judicial Review § 8476 (2d ed.) (footnotes
omitted). Further:

In construing the PRA, the Vermont Supreme Court has sometimes relied upon
interpretations of the analogous federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Toensing v.
Attorney Gen., 2019 VT 30, ¶ 21, 210 Vt. 74, 87 (“[I]n construing the PRA, we have
routinely considered—even if we ultimately declined in some cases to adopt—federal
courts’ interpretations of FOIA provisions.”).
4

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 12 of 15

The index must “afford the FOIA requester a meaningful opportunity to
contest, and the district court an adequate foundation to review, the
soundness of the withholding.”
Toward that end, the requester and the trial judge must “be able to
derive from the [Vaughn] index a clear explanation of why each document or
portion of a document withheld is putatively exempt from disclosure.”
While there is no set form for a Vaughn index, the agency should describe
the documents with “as much information as possible without thwarting the
exemption’s purpose.”
Campaign For Responsible Transplantation v. U.S. Food & Drug Admin., 219 F. Supp.
2d 106, 111–12 (D.D.C. 2002) (citations omitted).
The Court declines to conduct an in camera review at this time. A Vaughn index
in this case is needed so that the parties and the Court can proceed in a regimented and
meaningful manner to determine which records, or parts of records, are subject to
production and whether or to what extent in camera review is necessary.
VII.

Notification of Third Parties

The Court also notes that some of the requested records may implicate interests of
third parties not before the Court. Centurion’s argument—to the extent that it extends
to confidential settlement agreements—presumes that the plaintiffs in the underlying
cases relied on that confidentiality and would seek to preserve it. As HRDC points out,
though, it may well have been Centurion who requested the term and the other party
would not care if the information was disclosed. The Court cannot say one way or the
other and, in fact, those third parties may have differing views as to enforcing the
confidentiality provision. The same calculus would apply to the information Centurion
asserts is “personal” under § 317(c)(7).
The Court has no knowledge of the scope of the documents at issue or the number
of potential third parties involved. The Court’s expectation is that appropriate
Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 13 of 15

redactions and the Vaughn Index process will preserve the anonymity of third parties, at
least at this juncture. To the extent HRDC believes the names of third parties are not
exempt from disclosure and additional litigation is needed, the Court expects that
Centurion will use its best efforts to alert the third parties of this litigation sufficiently in
advance of any hearings to allow them to intervene on those issues.
Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, HRDC’s motion for summary judgment is granted, in
part, and denied, in part. Centurion’s motion for summary judgment is denied, except as
noted above.
(1)

Within 15 days, the parties shall confer to clarify the scope of HRDC’s

records request, including whether HRDC seeks records unrelated to actions connected
to Centurion’s contract with DOC.
(2)

Within 30 days thereafter, Centurion shall produce documents and redacted

documents and prepare and file a Vaughn index detailing any withheld responsive
records or parts of records.
(3)

To the extent that any withheld records or parts of records are subject to

confidentiality agreements entered into among the parties to an underlying lawsuit
and/or seek allegedly private third-party information, the names of those persons shall
not be disclosed. Centurion shall diligently seek to locate and notify those parties of this
suit, and advise them that they may seek to intervene in this action if they wish to be

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 14 of 15

heard on the issue. Any such communications shall be documented in Centurion’s
Vaughn index.
Electronically signed on November 6, 2023, pursuant to V.R.E.F. 7(d).
________________________
Timothy B. Tomasi
Superior Court Judge

Order
21-CV-03976 Human Rights Defense Center v. Centurion of Vermont LLC

Page 15 of 15
Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual - Side
Advertise Here 3rd Ad
The Habeas Citebook Ineffective Counsel Side
Prison Profiteers Footer