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Jennings v. MacLean

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

April 23, 2015

GEORGE JENNINGS
v.
CHRISTOPHER K. MACLEAN

Argued: April 8, 2015.

On the briefs and at oral argument:

David Glasser, Esq., Camden, for appellant George Jennings.

Joseph W. Baiungo, Esq., Belfast, for appellee Christopher K. MacLean.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and CLIFFORD, JJ.

OPINION

Page 668

MEAD, J.

[¶1] George Jennings appeals from a summary judgment entered by the Superior Court (Knox County, Horton, J. ) in favor of Christopher K. MacLean, an attorney practicing in Maine, on Jennings's complaint alleging abuse of process. Jennings asserts that after MacLean obtained a money judgment against him on behalf of a client, MacLean improperly sent a letter and copies of documents related to the judgment to an attorney handling an unrelated real estate closing in a successful attempt to have Jennings's share of the proceeds withheld. We affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] The relevant facts in the summary judgment record are undisputed. Christopher MacLean was counsel to John Jennings, and then to his estate, in a suit against John's conservator and John's brother George, who signed a surety bond for the conservator. The suit resulted in a $58,403.67 judgment against George Jennings (hereinafter Jennings); we affirmed the judgment on direct appeal. Estate of Jennings v. Cumming, 2013 ME 103, 82 A.3d 132. On behalf of his client, MacLean obtained a writ of execution for the judgment amount plus interest and fees, totaling $65,187.46, and later obtained a turnover and sale order for Jennings's Camden residence. Both documents were filed in the Knox County Registry of Deeds.

[¶3] In a transaction unrelated to John's lawsuit, a limited liability company (LLC) of which Jennings was a member sold a piece of commercial real estate in Camden in August 2013. Two days before the closing, MacLean sent a letter to Attorney Christopher Hardy, who was handling that closing. The letter, which included copies of the writ and the turnover order, advised Hardy that Jennings owed a judgment debt to his brother's estate and stated:

Any funds under your possession or control in which George Jennings has an interest should be segregated and placed in escrow pending a further turnover order by the court. Should you disburse the funds to George Jennings, thereby rend[er]ing them unavailable to the estate of John Jennings, you may be subject to liability for the same, and you may be deemed to be in breach of fiduciary obligations.

As a result of receiving the letter advising him that MacLean would seek a new turnover order from the court concerning the LLC sale, Hardy withheld Jennings's share of the proceeds from the sale pending either a release from John's estate or further court order.

[¶4] Jennings filed a two-count complaint against MacLean in the Superior Court, asserting that the letter and its attachments constituted abuse of process and seeking punitive damages. MacLean moved for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) the letter did not constitute legal process, (2) it was sent for a proper purpose, and (3) there was no showing that he had any ulterior motive in sending it. The court granted ...


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