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Packgen v. Berry Plastics Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 7, 2016

PACKGEN, Plaintiff,
v.
BERRY PLASTICS CORPORATION, and COVALENCE SPECIALTY COATINGS, LLC, Defendants.

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S AMENDED MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND THE JUDGMENT TO INCLUDE INTEREST

Nancy Torresen United States Chief District Judge.

Before me is the Plaintiff’s Amended Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment to Include Interest (“Am. Mot. to Amend”) (ECF No. 206). For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

BACKGROUND

After a jury returned a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff (“Packgen”) on November 13, 2015, judgment was entered against the Defendants (“Berry”) in the amount of $7, 206, 646.30, plus interest as allowed by law. (ECF No. 183). On November 19, 2015, Packgen filed a Rule 59(e) motion to amend the judgment to include prejudgment interest from the date of the filing of the Complaint-December 9, 2011-through the entry of judgment on November 13, 2015. Pl.’s Mot. to Alter or Amend the J. to Include Interest (ECF No. 185). Packgen also sought to amend the judgment to include postjudgment interest. Berry did not object to Packgen’s motion.

Before I ruled on Packgen’s motion, Packgen filed a motion for leave to amend its initial motion to alter or amend the judgment, seeking to change the date prejudgment interest began to accrue to the date Berry received Packgen’s Notice of Claim. Pl.’s Motion for Leave to File Am. Motion to Alter or Amend the J. to Include Interest. (ECF No. 196). Although Berry objected to the substance of the Amended Motion to Amend itself, I granted Packgen’s motion because Berry did not object to Packgen’s request for leave to file the Amended Motion to Amend. March 3, 2016 Order (ECF No. 205).

I. Prejudgment Interest Under Maine Law

“In a diversity action . . . state law must be applied in determining whether and how much pre-judgment interest should be awarded.” Saint-Gobain Indus. Ceramics Inc. v. Wellons, Inc., 246 F.3d 64, 69 n. 1 (1st Cir. 2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under Maine law, prejudgment interest is available pursuant to statute. See 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602-B(1)-(3). The purpose of prejudgment interest is twofold: “first, it compensates an injured party for the inability to use money rightfully belonging to that party between the date [of accrual] and the date judgment is entered, and second, it encourages the defendant to conclude a pretrial settlement of clearly meritorious suits.” Guiggey v. Great N. Paper, Inc., 704 A.2d 375, 377 (Me. 1997) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

A prevailing party is entitled to prejudgment interest “as a matter of right, ” Brown v. Habrle, 1 A.3d 401, 404 (Me. 2010), and Maine law has a presumption in favor of such awards, Kaplan v. First Hartford Corp., 671 F.Supp.2d 187, 194 (D. Me. 2009). However, the court has discretion to fully or partially waive prejudgment interest on petition of the nonprevailing party if good cause exists. See 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602-B(5); see also Dinan v. Alpha Networks, Inc., 764 F.3d 64, 72 (1st Cir. 2014).

Importantly, prejudgment interest can accrue on two dates. 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602-B(5). Prejudgment interest may accrue when a “notice of claim setting forth under oath the cause of action” is “served personally or by registered or certified mail upon the defendant until the date on which an order of judgment is entered.” Id. (emphasis added). Or, “[i]f a notice of claim has not been given to the defendant, ” prejudgment interest may accrue on the date the complaint is filed. Id.

A. Plain Meaning of 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602-B

Here, Packgen’s former attorney sent an unsworn Notice of Claim to Berry by certified mail on May 29, 2008. Ex. A to Jan. 5, 2016 Decl. of Daniel J. Mitchell 5 (the “Notice of Claim”) (ECF No. 196-3). Berry received the Notice of Claim on June 5, 2008. Ex. B to Jan. 5, 2016 Decl. of Daniel J. Mitchell 7 (ECF No. 196-3). More than three years later, Packgen filed suit against Berry on December 9, 2011. See Complaint (ECF No. 2-2). The parties vigorously dispute whether the unsworn Notice of Claim was sufficient to trigger the accrual of prejudgment interest. The dispute is far from inconsequential, as millions of dollars are at stake depending on when interest began to accrue.[1]

Packgen acknowledges that the Notice of Claim was unsworn. Nonetheless, it contends that the Notice of Claim was still sufficient to trigger the accrual of prejudgment interest at the time of its receipt because it put Berry on notice of its claims and Berry did not suffer any prejudice from the lack of a jurat. Am. Mot. to Amend 4. Packgen’s argument is unpersuasive. The “interpretation of a statute is controlled by the statute’s plain meaning, unless that plain meaning leads to ‘absurd results.’ ” Guiggey v. Great N. Paper, Inc., 704 A.2d 375, 377 (Me. 1997). Here, the plain meaning of the statute unambiguously requires that “the notice of claim set[] forth under oath the cause of action.” 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602-B(5). The Plaintiff’s failure to comply with the statute’s oath requirement dooms its argument.[2] See Sewall v. Spinney Creek Oyster Co., 421 A.2d 36, 39 (Me. 1980) (“[W]hen a statute requires an oath courts generally hold . . . that ‘the oath provision in a statute is more than a mere technicality.’ ”) (quoting Paradis v. Webber Hospital, 409 A.2d 672, 675 (Me. 1979)).

Relying on Frame v. Millinocket Reg’l Hosp., 82 A.3d 137, 143 (Me. 2013), Packgen contends that “the verification and service of a notice of claim are details that should be regarded ‘as directory and not mandatory if the failure to strictly comply with the notice requirements did not prejudice the opposing party.’ ” Am. Mot. to Amend 4 (quoting Frame, 82 A.3d at 143). But while the Law Court has “shown some flexibility in interpreting statutory notice requirements, [it] ha[s] usually done so in the context of construing a notice provision that affects a statute of limitations. Specific notice requirements are otherwise applied as they are written.”[3] Ford Motor Co. v. Darling’s, 86 A.3d 35, 46 n.9 (Me. 2014) (internal citations omitted). Moreover, “in areas of law that are uniquely statutory, in the absence of an express legislative command or a clear indication of legislative intention, [the Law Court] leave[s] the parties where the Legislature left them.” Sunshine v. Brett, 106 A.3d 1123, 1129 (Me. 2014) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The notice provision at issue does not affect a statute of limitations. As written, the specific notice requirements of the statute demand a notice of claim be made under oath in order to trigger the accrual of prejudgment interest.

In addition, “the details of a notice of claim” are treated “as directory and not mandatory if the failure to strictly comply with the notice requirements did not prejudice the opposing party.” Frame, 82 A.3d at 143 (emphasis added). Thus, even if the notice provision were directory, I would still have to address the issue of whether Berry has been prejudiced by Packgen’s failure to comply with § 1602-B(5)’s notice requirements. Berry contends that it has been “aware of the lack of a sworn notice of claim throughout the litigation” and that this impacted how it evaluated the case for settlement purposes. Defs.’ Resp. to Pl.’s Mot. for Leave to File Am. Mot. (“Defs.’ Resp.”) (ECF No. 200). And Packgen informed Berry at a mediation held before trial that it “would not negotiate the amount of a potential settlement on the basis that prejudgment began accruing upon receipt” of the unsworn Notice of Claim. Feb. 8, 2016 Decl. of Kurt E. Olafsen ¶ 5 (ECF No. 204-1). If Packgen had strictly complied with § 1602-B(5), it is reasonable to assume that Berry would have approached the ...


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