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Norton v. City of Bath

Superior Court of Maine, Sagadahoc

February 6, 2014

DAVID NORTON, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF BATH, Defendant

DECISION AND JUDGMENT

A. M. Horton, Justice, Superior Court.

Pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, Plaintiff David Norton appeals from the decision of the City of Bath, acting through the Bath Chief of Police and the Bath City Manager, to deny his application for a taxi operator's license. Oral argument was held February 4, 2014, with attorneys Whiting and Therriault presenting argument for Plaintiff and Defendant respectively.

Based on the entire record, the court denies the appeal for the reasons set forth in this Decision and Order.

Background

On March 15, 2013 Plaintiff David Norton applied to the City of Bath Police Department for a taxi operator's license. Michael Field, the Chief of Police, denied the application after reviewing police reports of certain incidents involving Mr. Norton. Mr. Field determined that several of Mr. Norton's neighbors had complained to the police about Mr. Norton's bizarre and antagonistic behavior. One such complaint asserted that Mr. Norton had pointed his finger at someone and popped a paper bag to imitate shooting a gun. Mr. Field applied a provision of the city ordinances (" taxi ordinance"), which states: " The Chief of Police, or his designee, shall be satisfied that the applicant is of sufficient moral character so as not to represent a danger to passengers or the general public." Bath, Me., Code § 5-47 (Sept. 3, 2008). Mr. Field concluded, based on the police reports, that he was not satisfied that Mr. Norton did not represent a danger to passengers or the general public.

Mr. Norton appealed the decision to the City Manager, William Giroux, and a hearing was held on May 31, 2013. At the hearing, Mr. Norton explained each of the incidents in the police reports. Mr. Norton did not recall the incident of him imitating a gun with his finger and popping a paper bag. (Tr. 43.)[1] Mr. Field also commented that every time the police responded to complaints involving Mr. Norton, he became angry and aggressive towards the officers.

Mr. Giroux accepted into evidence a letter from Mr. Norton's psychologist, Dr. Richard Parker, and a letter from another psychologist, Dr. Mitchell Pulver, who examined Mr. Norton solely for the taxi license application. (Pl.'s Exs. 3-5.) Both doctors opined that. Mr. Norton would not present a danger to passengers or the general public if he were allowed to operate a taxi. Mr. Giroux did not find the reports helpful because they did not explain why he had been seeing a psychologist and did not address any of the problems mentioned in the police reports. (City's Decision, page 2.) Mr. Giroux also expressed his concern that Mr. Norton stated on his initial application that his history of mental health problems was limited to one isolated incident in 2003 when Mr. Norton has been in psychotherapy over the last four years. Id.

Finally, Mr. Giroux based his decision on Mr. Norton's own self-assessment that he is " eccentric, " " easily misunderstood, " and that he has a temper. Id. Mr. Giroux found that Mr. Norton exhibited " a wide swing of emotions and a barely contained anger with the Police Chief" throughout the hearing. Id. Mr. Giroux found these descriptions and observations to be consistent with the behavior described in the police reports.

Although Mr. Norton maintained throughout the hearing that he is not violent and does not pose a threat, Mr. Giroux was concerned about Mr. Norton's " ability to interact with the public without upsetting and endangering the customer." Id. Accordingly, he upheld Chief Field's decision in a letter to Mr. Norton on September 18, 2013. Mr. Norton filed this appeal on October 17, 2013.

Analysis

1. Standard of Review

On review of an 80B appeal, the court " examine[s] the record before the administrative agency to determine if the agency exceeded the bounds of its discretion, committed errors of law, or made findings that are not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record before the administrative agency." Quiland, Inc. v. Wells Sanitary Dist ., 2006 ME 113, ¶ 15, 905 A.2d 806. " A party asserting error in an administrative agency's findings or determinations has the burden of demonstrating that error." Id. ¶ 16.

2. Statutory Construction

Mr. Norton first argues that the City of Bath lacked the authority to enact Section 5-47 of the City Code. He relies on the language of 30-A M.R.S. ยง 3009, which gives " municipal officers the exclusive authority to enact all traffic ordinances in the municipality" subject to certain limitations. ...


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