233 A.2d 37 (Me. 1967), Richards v. Ellis

Citation233 A.2d 37
Opinion JudgeWILLIAMSON,
Party NameJ. Philip RICHARDS v. Robert W. ELLIS et al.
AttorneyJames H. Dineen, Kittery, for appellant. Robert J. Winton, York, for appellees.
Judge PanelBefore WILLIAMSON, C. J., and WEBBER, TAPLEY, MARDEN, and DUFRESNE, JJ.
Case DateSeptember 06, 1967
CourtSupreme Judicial Court of Maine

Page 37

233 A.2d 37 (Me. 1967)

J. Philip RICHARDS

v.

Robert W. ELLIS et al.

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine.

September 6, 1967

James H. Dineen, Kittery, for appellant.

Robert J. Winton, York, for appellees.

Before WILLIAMSON, C. J., and WEBBER, TAPLEY, MARDEN, and DUFRESNE, JJ.

WILLIAMSON, Chief Justice.

The plaintiff-appellant brought separate actions against five members of the licensing board of the Town of York for denial of a victualer's license for his cocktail lounge on the asserted grounds of bad faith and malice. 30 M.R.S.A. § 2752-licensing board. On defendant's motion in each case the action was dismissed for 'failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted'. Maine Rules Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6). The Court ruled 'immunity as a matter of law there being no allegation that Defendant profited from the alleged malice.' The appeals followed from the dismissals.

For our purposes we accept the following as the facts:

In May 1964 the licensing board, of which the defendants were members, after hearing denied a victualer's license to the plaintiff. On July 6, 1964 a writ of mandamus sought by the plaintiff was denied. Three days later the plaintiff for the second time applied to the Board for a license. Again, after hearing, the application on July 31, 1964 was denied. The plaintiff thereupon commenced mandamus proceedings, this time successfully, and on August 24, 1964 a peremptory writ issued.

The five actions were commenced in March 1965, and in September 1965 defendants' motion in each case for summary judgment was granted 'as it relates to all claims for damage to the date of denial on July 31, 1964, of the plaintiff's July 9, 1964, application for victualer's license, which represents the earliest date when the plaintiff could be issued a license under his application on said July 9.'

The motions to dismiss before us were brought and granted in October 1965. We are fully satisfied from the record that the

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charges of bad faith and malice in the complaints were made with reference to acts of each defendant in his capacity as a member of the licensing board.

Under Maine Rules Civil Procedure, Rule 12(b)(6), we construe the pleadings in favor of the pleader. We are not concerned with the niceties of pleading. 'But it is incumbent upon this Court to ascertain also if the plaintiff by a fair construction of his complaint has propounded any provable claim susceptible of any relief sought.' Parsons v. Chasse, et al., 159 Me. 463, 470, 195 A.2d 72 (1963) (appeal from dismissal sustained).

The test of dismissal under the Rule has been stated as follows:

'In appraising the sufficiency of the complaint we follow, of course, the accepted rule that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.' Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80. 'But a complaint should not be dismissed for insufficiency unless it appears to a certainty that plaintiff is entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of the claim.' 2A Moore's Federal Practice (2d ed.) 12.08.

See also Blackstone, et al. v. Rollins, et al., 157 Me. 85, 96, 170 A.2d 405; Field & McKusick Maine Civil Practice § 12.11; 1A Barron and Holtzoff-Federal Practice and Procedure § 356.

In our view we need not, and we do not, consider the validity of the ground for dismissal stated by the Court, supra. We place our decision that the complaints were properly dismissed not on a narrow point of pleading, but on a broad principle of substantive law. We hold that the members of a municipal licensing board are immune from civil liability for quasijudicial decisions within the scope of their authority without regard for bad faith, malice, or other evil motives.

Under this principle, assuming that the complaints were otherwise sufficient, the plaintiff 'to a certainty . . . is entitled to no relief under any state of facts which could be proved in support of the claim.'

The licensing board consisting of the municipal officers, the treasurer and clerk of the town, is an administrative body which must exercise judgment and discretion in the issuance, suspension and revocation of licenses for innkeepers, victualers, and tavernkeepers. It may license 'as many persons of good moral character, and under such restrictions and regulations as they deem necessary (and proper).' 30 M.R.S.A. §§ 2752, 2757; Kovack v. Licensing Board of City of Waterville, 157 Me. 411, 173 A.2d 554 (1961) (upholding the revocation of a victualer's license).

The Board, acting within its authority to license, was not a Court to be sure, but plainly was exercising quasi-judicial powers. Kovack v. Licensing Board of City of Waterville, supra; Chequinn Corp. v. Mullen, et al., 159 Me. 375, 193 A.2d 432 (victualer's license); Dunbar v. Greenlaw, 152 Me. 270, 128 A.2d 218 (insanity commitment).

The absolute immunity of a judge from civil suits for damages arising from his judicial acts is well settled. The law has long recognized that the public good is best served by freeing the judge from the possibility or threat of civil liability for an erroneous decision however evil the motives of the judge may have been. The judge who violates the trust placed in him by the State is answerable at the criminal dock and is subject to impeachment or other removal process.

In Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288, Chief Justice Warren stated the principle in these words:

'Few doctrines were more solidly established at common law than the immunity

Page 39

of judges from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction, as this Court recognized when it...

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33 practice notes
  • 732 N.E.2d 633 (Ill.App. 2 Dist. 2000), 2-99-0400, Village of Bloomingdale v. C.d.g. Enter.
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • 21 Junio 2000
    ...immunity by statute or court decision. See, e.g., Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 3 L.Ed. 2d 1434, 79 S.Ct. 1335 (1959); Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37 (Me. 1967); Page 641 Ford v. Kenosha County, 160 Wis. 2d 485, 466 N.W.2d 646 (1991). This is not because they condone corruption but because ......
  • 404 A.2d 1020 (Me. 1979), Harmon v. Harmon
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
    • 23 Agosto 1979
    ...Rodway v. Wiswall, Me., 267 A.2d 374 (1970); Warren v. Waterville Urban Renewal Auth., Me., 259 A.2d 364 (1969); Richards v. Ellis, Me., 233 A.2d 37 (1967). Thus, the issue before us is whether, prior to the mother's death, a son and expectant legatee can maintain an action in Page 1022 tor......
  • 667 N.E.2d 499 (Ill.App. 2 Dist. 1996), 2-95-0719, River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • 7 Marzo 1996
    ...protecting individual citizens from harm caused by the oppressive, malicious, or corrupt conduct of public officials); Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37, 38 (Me.1967) (public officers who deny a victualer license are immune from liability notwithstanding allegations that their denial was motiv......
  • 363 Mass. 800 (1973), Gildea v. Ellershaw
    • United States
    • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 9 Julio 1973
    ...duties without fear of being harassed by suits for damages claimed to arise by reason of their improper motives.' In Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37 (Maine) (1967), the municipal licensing board denied the plaintiff's application for a victualler's license and a court issued a peremptory wri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
33 cases
  • 732 N.E.2d 633 (Ill.App. 2 Dist. 2000), 2-99-0400, Village of Bloomingdale v. C.d.g. Enter.
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • 21 Junio 2000
    ...immunity by statute or court decision. See, e.g., Barr v. Matteo, 360 U.S. 564, 3 L.Ed. 2d 1434, 79 S.Ct. 1335 (1959); Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37 (Me. 1967); Page 641 Ford v. Kenosha County, 160 Wis. 2d 485, 466 N.W.2d 646 (1991). This is not because they condone corruption but because ......
  • 404 A.2d 1020 (Me. 1979), Harmon v. Harmon
    • United States
    • Maine Supreme Judicial Court of Maine
    • 23 Agosto 1979
    ...Rodway v. Wiswall, Me., 267 A.2d 374 (1970); Warren v. Waterville Urban Renewal Auth., Me., 259 A.2d 364 (1969); Richards v. Ellis, Me., 233 A.2d 37 (1967). Thus, the issue before us is whether, prior to the mother's death, a son and expectant legatee can maintain an action in Page 1022 tor......
  • 667 N.E.2d 499 (Ill.App. 2 Dist. 1996), 2-95-0719, River Park, Inc. v. City of Highland Park
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • 7 Marzo 1996
    ...protecting individual citizens from harm caused by the oppressive, malicious, or corrupt conduct of public officials); Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37, 38 (Me.1967) (public officers who deny a victualer license are immune from liability notwithstanding allegations that their denial was motiv......
  • 363 Mass. 800 (1973), Gildea v. Ellershaw
    • United States
    • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 9 Julio 1973
    ...duties without fear of being harassed by suits for damages claimed to arise by reason of their improper motives.' In Richards v. Ellis, 233 A.2d 37 (Maine) (1967), the municipal licensing board denied the plaintiff's application for a victualler's license and a court issued a peremptory wri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results