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Summary Judgment Reversed in Vermont DOC’s Suit Against Matrix Health Systems

On March 14, 2008, the Supreme Court of Vermont reversed the trial court's granting of summary judgment to Matrix Health Systems in a suit filed by the Vermont Department of Corrections (DOC) alleging breach of a two-year contract to provide prisoner mental health services in the DOC's nine prisons. The disputed part of the contract required Matrix to assign different types of mental health care professionals to each prison, designating the assignments by decimal portions of "full time equivalents" (FTE). The contract stated that the DOC could withhold payment for staff resources designated by site, discipline and FTE that were not provided in accordance with the contract, identifying hourly rates for each position. Initially, the DOC paid Matrix $57,917 per month, raising the rate to $74,835.33 by the time the contract expired on May 31, 2003. In 2004, the State Auditor released a report finding that, over the course of the contract, the DOC had paid Matrix for 8,000 FTE that were not provided. The DOC then filed a breach-of-contract suit against Matrix.

The state trial court granted Matrix's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the contract was unambiguous, imposing "no obligation on Matrix to provide any specific quantity of service, measured in hours, as consideration for its fee" and rejecting the DOC's position that FTE meant 40 hours a week. The DOC appealed.

The Supreme Court of Vermont held that it could not determine as a matter of law whether the contract intended that Matrix perform a specific level of services for its monthly fee, what FTE meant or how the contract's penalty provisions were to apply as these were subject to multiple reasonable interpretations. Therefore, summary judgment on the issues was inappropriate. The summary judgment was reversed and the case returned to the trial court for additional proceedings. See: Department of Corrections v. Matrix Health Systems, PC, 2008 VT 32.

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Related legal case

Department of Corrections v. Matrix Health Systems, P.C.