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Town of Madawaska v. Cayer

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

November 4, 2014

TOWN OF MADAWASKA
v.
RICHARD CAYER et al

Submitted on Briefs September 23, 2014.

On the briefs: Luke M. Rossignol, Esq., Bemis & Rossignol, LLC, Presque Isle, for appellants Richard Cayer and Ann Cayer.

Richard L. Currier, Esq., and Jon P. Plourde, Esq., Currier & Trask, P.A., Presque Isle, for appellee Town of Madawaska.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, SILVER, MEAD, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

ALEXANDER, J.

[¶1] Richard and Ann Cayer appeal from an order entered by the Superior Court (Aroostook County, Cuddy, J.) denying as untimely their special motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Maine's anti-SLAPP[1]

Page 548

statute, 14 M.R.S. § 556 (2013). The pleading that the Cayers seek to dismiss is an amended land use citation and complaint, see M.R. Civ. P. 80K(b)(1)(A), filed against the Cayers by the Town of Madawaska for violations of a shoreland zoning ordinance. The Cayers maintain that the land use citation was a retaliatory effort by the Town to punish them for exercise of their right to petition local government, and that the special motion to dismiss was timely in relation to the Town's amended complaint. In the alternative, they argue that the court abused its discretion by refusing to allow them to file the motion to dismiss after the sixty-day statutory time period following filing of the Town's pleading. See 14 M.R.S. § 556.

[¶2] Since its enactment by P.L. 1995, ch. 413, § 1 (effective Sept. 29, 1995), Maine's anti-SLAPP statute has provided a mechanism for the disposal of baseless claims brought to punish or deter a petitioning party from exercising its constitutional right to petition the government. See Nader v. Me. Democratic Party ( Nader II ), 2013 ME 51, ¶ 12 n.8, 66 A.3d 571. This is not such a case. Based upon the plain language of the statute and its limited scope of application, we conclude that the anti-SLAPP statute cannot, in ordinary circumstances such as those presented here, be invoked to thwart a local government enforcement action commenced to address the defendants' alleged violations of law. Because the trial court reached the correct result in denying the special motion to dismiss in the context of this land use enforcement action, we affirm, albeit for a different reason.

I. CASE HISTORY

[¶3] On June 3, 2010, the Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) for the Town of Madawaska inspected the Cayers' property and discovered that two travel trailers had been added to a lot where one mobile home was already located. As the Cayers had not submitted an application to the Town to allow the additional trailers, the CEO issued a notice of violation alerting them to their possible violation of section 15(A)(5) of the Madawaska Shoreland Zoning Ordinance.[2] After a June 29 hearing before the Town Board of Selectmen, during which the Board members heard testimony from the Cayers and the CEO, the Board found the Cayers in violation of the ordinance and directed them to remove the one remaining trailer by July 2010, pay a civil penalty, and enter into the recommended resolution through a signed consent agreement. The Cayers did not appeal the Board's June 2010 decision to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B.

[¶4] As of August 2010, the Cayers had not paid the assessed civil penalty or signed a consent agreement. On August 10, the Town filed a land use citation and complaint in District Court pursuant to 30-A M.R.S. § 4452 (2013) and M.R. Civ. P. 80K.

Page 549

The Cayers timely requested removal to the Superior Court for a jury trial ...


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