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Turcotte v. Humane Soc'y Waterville Area

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

November 4, 2014

GINA TURCOTTE
v.
HUMANE SOCIETY WATERVILLE AREA

Submitted on Briefs September 23, 2014.

On the briefs: Gina Turcotte, appellant, Pro se.

The Humane Society Waterville Area did not file a brief.

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

OPINION

Page 1024

SILVER, J.

[¶1] Gina Turcotte appeals from an order of the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) dismissing her complaint against the Humane Society Waterville Area (HSWA) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Turcotte's complaint sought, pursuant to Maine's Freedom of Access Act, 1 M.R.S. § 400 et seq. (2013), to compel HSWA to permit inspection of its records. Because we conclude that HSWA is not a public agency for purposes of FOAA, we affirm the dismissal of Turcotte's complaint.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] On September 18, 2013, Turcotte filed a pro se complaint for injunctive relief seeking the release of HSWA records relating to a certain cat.[1] The complaint alleged, in relevant part, that Turcotte " is a private woman who has a right to review and receive public documents in the custody of public benefit, non-profit agencies" and that HSWA " is a public benefit, non-profit agency supported by 95% public donations for the purpose of reuniting, sheltering and re-homing lost and abandoned animals." The complaint further alleged that Turcotte had submitted a request for documents to HSWA pursuant to FOAA and that HSWA " wrongfully withheld public records requested by Claimant by failing to comply with the statutory time limit for the processing of FOAA requests."

[¶3] On December 16, 2013, HSWA filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, asserting that " HSWA--being a private corporation--is not subject to the disclosure provisions of [FOAA]." In her opposition to HSWA's motion, Turcotte argued that " HSWA is the functional equivalent of a public agency" and included several exhibits pertaining to HSWA's contracts with twenty-three cities and towns and HSWA's tax status as an " organization that normally receives a substantial part of its support from a governmental unit or from the general public." HSWA's contract with the City of Waterville, which Turcotte attached as an exhibit to her opposition to the motion to dismiss, provides, in part:

By statute, ALL towns are either required to maintain an animal shelter or otherwise provide such services with regard to stray domestic animals.
The SHELTER is hereby employed and authorized to act as an animal shelter and is equipped to provide such services in compliance with statutory requirements. The SHELTER will provide food, water, shelter, medical care, and/or any other humane treatment for such domestic animals while they are in possession of the SHELTER.

[¶4] On January 20, 2014, the court issued an order dismissing Turcotte's complaint with prejudice, concluding that HSWA " is not subject to 1 M.R.S. [§ ] 400 et ...


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