BRATTLEBORO -- A former employee of the Brattleboro Retreat will get another day in court after the Vermont Supreme Court ordered a local judge to take another look at a decision he rendered in April 2011.
In that decision, Judge John Wesley, of the civil division of Windham Superior, dismissed a lawsuit filed by David Shaddy against the Retreat.
In the original lawsuit, Shaddy brought claims of defamation, obstruction of justice, intentional infliction of emotional distress and intentional interference with a contract, claims arising from the Retreat's allegation that he unlawfully diverted regulated drugs from the medication room at its facility.
Wesley dismissed the entire complaint on the grounds that the matter had been resolved before the Vermont Department of Labor and in Shaddy's criminal case.
Though the Supreme Court agreed with Wesley's decision to dismiss most of the suit, it stated in its Aug. 10 decision that the defamation claim against the Retreat should be reconsidered.
Shaddy worked for the Retreat as a nurse from September 2007 through January 2008. According to court documents, during that time the Retreat became aware that someone was tampering with packets of Adderall that were stored in the medication room.
Following an investigation of work schedules, the Retreat focused its attention on Shaddy. It arranged for Shaddy to be in charge of the medication room on the evening of Jan. 20, 2009
At the end of his shift, it was discovered that capsules of the drug had been tampered with in a similar manner to prior incidents.
The Retreat then fired Shaddy, who subsequently filed for unemployment compensation benefits from the Department of Labor. Shaddy's filing was denied on the grounds that he was fired for gross misconduct.
Shaddy appealed that decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed it, concluding that "the evidence was more than sufficient to support the Board's denial of benefits ...."
Shaddy was eventually brought up on charges in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division but his trial ended with a hung jury. He then pleaded no contest to an amended charge of possession of a stimulant, in which he was accused of being in possession of the drug after removing granules from capsules contained in dispensing packages located in the medication room.
Shaddy was also brought before the Office of Professional Regulation's Board of Nursing, which ended in a settlement in which Shaddy neither admitted liability nor disputed "that the State could prove these charges by a preponderance of the evidence if this matter went to a hearing."
The most specific of these charges read that he "engage(d) in conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public which include(d), but (was) not limited to, diverting supplies, equipment, or drugs for personal or other unauthorized use."
Shaddy filed his original suit in January 2011, in which he alleged that on two occasions in January 2008, multiple Retreat employees on three different occasions leveled false accusations that he was the only person with the opportunity to access the drug during three separate time periods in November 2007 and January 2008.
Shaddy also alleged that on Jan. 23, 2008, the Retreat, through one of its employees, falsely accused plaintiff of taking drugs from a Retreat patient.
The Retreat submitted a motion to dismiss the complaint, contending each allegation was or could have been litigated in prior proceedings before the Department of Labor and the court.
Shaddy failed to respond to the Retreat's motions, and Wesley dismissed his complaints on April 28, 2011, concluding that all of his claims in this case centering around an alleged conspiracy and false statements were identical to his defenses that were addressed in the prior proceedings and had been fully litigated and resolved in favor of the Retreat.
Though Shaddy did not argue that Wesley's decision tossing out the majority of his claims was wrong, he did argue that Wesley improperly dismissed the defamation portion of the suit.
He argued that his no lo contendre plea can't be used against him in a civil suit, that the Retreat was not a party to the proceedings before the Board of Nursing or with the Vermont Attorney General's Office and that the denial of his unemployment benefits can't be used to bar his defamation claim.
The court determined that neither Shaddy's criminal plea nor the outcome of his unemployment compensation proceeding bars his defamation claim, because a no lo plea "is not, in any civil or criminal proceeding, admissible against the defendant."
The Supreme Court ruled that the Board of Nursing's proceeding "was too vague to resolve the issue of whether the Retreat's allegedly defamatory statements are true" and did not affect Shaddy's defamation claim.
The major problem with the Board's order is that it stated Shaddy engaged in conduct that was not limited to "diverting supplies, equipment, or drugs for personal or other unauthorized use ...."
The use of the word "or" is what makes the Board's decision vague, wrote the court, because it fails to specify Shaddy's misconduct that resulted in a "preponderant proof of diversion of ‘supplies' or ‘equipment' ... but not necessarily to diversion of drugs."
"That (Shaddy) generally admitted the State could prove misconduct which just possibly included drug diversion does not establish the truth of the Retreat's specific defamatory allegation that plaintiff thrice diverted a regulated drug," wrote the court.
The Retreat's attorney at Downs Rachlin Martin in Brattleboro declined to comment on the Supreme Court's decision.
Contact information for Shaddy was not available.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @shocked60.