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Hughes Bros., Inc. v. Town of Eddington

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

January 14, 2016

HUGHES BROS., INC.
v.
TOWN OF EDDINGTON

         Argued September 17, 2015

          On the briefs: William B. Devoe, Esq., and Jonathan A. Pottle, Esq., Eaton Peabody, Bangor, for appellant Hughes Bros., Inc.

         Charles E. Gilbert, III, Esq., Gilbert & Greif, P.A., Bangor, for appellee Town of Eddington.

         At oral argument: William B. Devoe, Esq., for appellant Hughes Bros., Inc.

         Charles E. Gilbert, III, Esq., for appellee Town of Eddington.

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

          OPINION

Page 979

          SAUFLEY, C.J.

          [¶1] In this appeal involving Maine's open government laws, we consider the sometimes competing statutory goals that (1) provide for government meetings to be open to the public, see 1 M.R.S. § 401 (2015), and (2) guard the authority of government officials to receive legal advice in executive session to enable them to perform their duties in accordance with the law, see 1 M.R.S. § 405(6)(E) (2015). Hughes Bros., Inc., appeals from a judgment entered in the Business and Consumer Docket ( Murphy, J. ) on its complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.[1] Hughes argues, among other contentions, that the court erred in determining that the Town of Eddington Planning Board and Board of Selectmen conducted a valid executive session, invoked for the purpose of consulting with counsel. We affirm the court's judgment in all respects, and we write primarily to address the legality of the executive session.

         I. BACKGROUND

          [¶2] The parties stipulated to a timeline of the events in the municipal proceedings,

Page 980

with attached documentation, and the court adopted those stipulations as having been found by a preponderance of the evidence. We draw the historical facts from those stipulations and documents, and we derive the procedural history from the trial court record.

         A. Application to the Planning Board and Discussion of a Moratorium

          [¶3] In August 2013, the Town of Eddington's Planning Board approved a landowner's application for a permit to create a one- to five-acre quarry, to be accessed by a private way, on property in Eddington that Hughes was under contract to purchase. Shortly thereafter, in September 2013, Hughes filed a new application seeking permission to use the property as a larger, twenty-acre quarry. A public hearing was held on the application for the twenty-acre quarry in October 2013, and the Planning Board voted to deny the application because the private way did not provide an appropriate access way for the proposed larger quarry. At the same meeting, the Planning Board voted to recommend a moratorium on quarries to the Town's Board of Selectmen.

          [¶4] On November 14, 2013, Hughes submitted a new application that proposed a separate access road directly from Route 9. Five days later, members of the Planning Board attended a public meeting of the Board of Selectmen and presented the recommendation for a moratorium on quarries. The Board of Selectmen voted to deny the request for a moratorium.

          [¶5] In December 2013, the Board of Selectmen held a public meeting at which a member of the public urged the Selectmen to reconsider placing a moratorium on quarries as proposed by the Planning Board. Also in late 2013, Hughes submitted its first information request to the Town, seeking correspondence along with meeting agendas and minutes pursuant to the Freedom of Access Act (FOAA), 1 M.R.S. § § 400-414 (2015).[2]

         B. Executive Session of Planning Board and Board of Selectmen

          [¶6] On January 29, 2014, the Planning Board and the Board of Selectmen met together in a publicly announced meeting and went into executive session. The Planning Board minutes from that day indicate that the Planning Board meeting was called to order and that the Planning Board, with six members present, unanimously voted to go into executive session for " Consultation with Legal Counsel," citing to the FOAA. See 1 M.R.S. § ...


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