Cayer v. Town of Madawaska

Decision Date11 January 2022
Docket NumberCivil Action CV-18-0135
CourtSuperior Court of Maine

The matter pending before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the defendants Town of Madawaska, Robert Ouellet, Christina Therrien, Vince Frallicciardi, Jeff Albert, and Don Chasse. The motion seeks summary judgment on all plaintiffs Ann Cayer and Richard Cayer's claims against the defendants set forth in the plaintiffs' complaint. Those claims are based on Defendants alleged conduct in bringing and maintaining two civil enforcement actions against Plaintiffs on behalf of the Town of Madawaska for purported land use violations relating to Plaintiffs' property at 57 Chapel Road in Madawaska. Plaintiffs have asserted the following claims: (1) "wrongful use of civil proceedings - 2010 Rule 80K enforcement action"; (2) "wrongful use of civil proceedings - 2014 Rule 80K enforcement action" (3) "abuse of process - 2010 Rule 80K enforcement action"; (4) "abuse of process - 2014 Rule 80K enforcement action"; (5) "violation of federal civil rights - 42 U.S.C. § 1983"; (6) "violation of Maine Civil Rights Act - 5 M.R.S.A. § 4681 et seq."; (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (8) negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Pls.' Amd. Compl. 9-14.) The Court has reviewed all of the parties' submissions and the applicable law, The defendants' motion is now in order for decision.


The Court will grant a properly supported motion for summary judgment if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact" and the moving party "is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." M.R. Civ. P. 56(c). "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case." Lougee Conservancy v. City Mortgage, Inc., 2012 ME 103, ¶ 11, 48 A.3d 774. A genuine issue exists "when there is sufficient evidence for a fact-finder to choose between competing versions of the fact,' Id. ¶ 11, "even if one party's version appears more credible or persuasive." York Cty. v. Propertyinfo Corp., 2019 ME 12, ¶ 16, 200 A.3d 803.

The moving party has the initial burden of proving the absence of any genuine, material factual issues through a properly supported statement of material facts (S.M.F.) and of proving that the facts presented in that S.M.F., left uncontroverted, would entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law at trial. See M.R. Civ. P, 56(e); Jennings v. Maclean, 2015 ME 42, ¶ 5, 114 A.3d 667; see also 3 Harvey &Merritt, Maine Civil Practice § 56:6 at 242 (3d, 2018-2019 ed.) ("The initial burden under Rule 56 lies with the moving party to demonstrate clearly the absence of a genuine issue of material fact."). In determining whether the summary judgment record reveals a genuine dispute of material fact, the Court examines the facts, including any reasonable inferences that may be drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See e.g., McCandless v. Ramseij, 2019 ME 111, ¶ 11, 211 A.3d 1157; Grant v. Foster Wheeler, LLC, 2016 ME 85, ¶ 12, 140 A.3d 1242; Maine Civil Practice § 56:6 at 242. The question of whether the moving party has initially shown that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of lawz depends on whether the moving party bears the ultimate burden of proof on the particular claim or defense at issue on the motion.

In this case, the defendants' have moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the plaintiffs' claims are barred by the notice and filing deadline requirements of the Maine Tort Claims Act (MTCA), other applicable statutes of limitation, governmental immunity under § 8103 of the MTCA, discretionary immunity under § 8104-B of the MTCA, and common law qualified immunity. All of these are affirmative defenses on which the defendants would bear the ultimate burden of proof at trial. M.R. Civ. P. 8(c). Accordingly, as to each affirmative defense, the defendants bear the initial burden of proving that the facts presented in their S.M.F. establish each element of the defense such that the defendants would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the issue if the same evidence was presented at trial. See e.g., Ouellette v. Beaupre, 977 F.3d 127, 135 (1st Cir. 2020); York Cty. v. Property Info Corp., 2019 ME 12, ¶ 16, 200 A.3d 803; Cach, LLC v. Kulas, 2011 ME 70, ¶¶ 8-9, 21 A.3d 1015; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986).

If the defendants produce such conclusive evidence, the burden shifts to the plaintiffs to demonstrate that material factual issues exist for trial regarding the particular defense. Ouellette v. Beaupre, 977 F.3d 127, 135 (1st Cir. 2020); M.R. Civ. P. 56(e).

The defendants have also moved for summary judgment on the grounds that plaintiffs are unable to prove all of the elements of some of their claims. The defendants' initial burden on these matters is less than their burden concerning their affirmative defenses because at trial Plaintiffs would bear the ultimate burden of proving the elements of their claims. To meet their initial burden as the moving party on these other arguments, Defendants must show either that their S.M.F. presents certain facts that would refute an essential element of Plaintiffs' claims or which indicate that Plaintiffs are unable to muster the necessary evidence to set forth a prima facie case. See Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194-97 (5th Cir. 1986); see also Waugh v. Genesis Healthcare LLC, 2019 ME 179, ¶ 9, 222 A.3d 1063 (a defendant moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of establishing that no genuine dispute of material fact exists and that undisputed facts entitle it to a judgment as a matter of law); M.R. Civ. P. 56(e)-(h). If the defendants satisfy this burden, the plaintiffs must respond by producing the evidence necessary to "establish a prima facie case for each element of [his or her] cause of action." Lougee Conservancy, 2012 ME 103, ¶ 12, 48 A.3d 774. This standard requires only that the plaintiffs produce "enough evidence to allow the [trier-of-fact] to infer the fact at issue and rule in the party's favor." Id. If the plaintiffs fail to satisfy this burden as to any essential element of their cause of action, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment on that claim. Id. ¶ 12; M.R. Civ. P. 56(e).

A. Defendants' Supporting Statement of Material Facts

The Cayers own land in Madawaska located at 57 Chapel Road (also known on the Town's tax maps as Map 34, Lot 20). (Supp.'g S.M.F. ¶ 1.) On or about June 3, 2010, Plaintiffs received a notice from the Town's code enforcement officer, Robert Ouellet, informing them that he had determined that Plaintiffs were using the property in a manner that was in violation of the Town's shoreland zoning ordinance. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.) This purported violation involved the unauthorized presence of a certain trailer on the premises. (Id., ¶¶ 2, 8.) The Town's Board of Selectpersons (BOS) held a meeting on June 29, 2010, concerning this purported violation. (Id. ¶¶ 4-7.) Plaintiffs received notice of the meeting, were present, and were given an opportunity to be heard on the matter. (Id.) After a discussion, the BOS determined that Plaintiffs had violated the zoning ordinance "and that the plaintiffs would be required to remove a trailer from the property, pay a fine, and enter into a consent decree with the Town." (Id. ¶ 7-8.)

Plaintiffs removed the trailer as requested but did not pay the assessed fine or agree to the "consent agreement" offered by the Town. (Id. ¶ 10.) In response, the BOS held another meeting on the matter on July 13, 2010, which Plaintiffs were provided notice of and were present at. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) At this second meeting, the BOS determined that Plaintiffs had not paid the fine or accepted the Town's offered agreement and, based on these determinations, voted in favor of initiating a civil enforcement action against Plaintiffs in the courts under M. R. Civ. P. 80K. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15.) The Town commenced this enforcement action by filing a complaint in the District Court on August 11, 2010. (Id. ¶ 16.)

It was then transferred to the Superior Court and docketed as Aro-CV-12-0155. The Town's then attorney, Richard Currier, avers that he believed there "were good grounds in fact and law to support the action" when he filed the complaint and during the course of the litigation in that matter. (Id. ¶ 21.) The Town's code enforcement officer, Ouellet, and its town manager, Christina Therrien, worked with the Town's attorney regarding this enforcement action when it was in the courts. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 25.)

On or about June 4, 2013, Plaintiffs received another notice of violation from the Town's code enforcement officer. (Id. ¶¶ 27, 29.) This second notice of violation informed them that the officer had determined that Plaintiffs had violated a Town ordinance by exceeding the scope of a previously issued building permit when Plaintiffs purportedly removed more than 50% of the value of a structure on their property. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) The Town's Planning Board held a meeting on this matter on July 9, 2013, to determine whether Plaintiffs had removed more than 50% of the market value of the structure (Id. ¶¶ 31-33.) Plaintiffs were given notice of the meeting, were present at it, and were afforded an opportunity to be heard on the matter. (Id. ¶¶ 34-35.) After a discussion, the Planning Board determined that Plaintiffs had removed more than 50% of the market value of the structure from their property. (Id. ¶ 36.) The Planning Board then decided to revisit the matter at a meeting on August 12, 2013. (Id. ...

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