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Hancock County v. Fitzpatrick

Superior Court of Maine, Kennebec

June 7, 2016

JOSEPH FITZPATRICK, et al. Respondent.


          Michaela Murphy Justice

         I. Background

         30-A M.R.S. § 701 was enacted in July 2015. The statute limits each Maine county in its collection of taxes for the operation of a county jail. Hancock County was limited to $1, 670, 136 in the fiscal year 2014-2015. Hancock County Jail's costs and expenses exceeded the budget for that fiscal year as set by the Maine Board of Corrections (Board). Because of the new law, Hancock County was not able to make up the shortfall with tax revenues. The budget shortfall was approximately $121, 154.87.

         At the same time that 30-A M.R.S. § 701 was enacted, 34-A M.R.S. § 1210-D was also enacted. 34-A M.R.S. § 1210-D establishes the County Jail Operations Fund and dictates the terms of administration and distribution of the fund. The Statute provides that counties must use 30% of distributions from the Fund for "community corrections" and may use the remaining 70% for jail operations. Id. The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections ("DOC") is tasked to "receive, administer and distribute to the county and regional jails funding provided through the General Fund, Other Special Revenue Funds and any federal and grant funds in accordance" with statute. 34-A M.R.S. § 1402(12).

         On July 24, 2015, Hancock County sent a letter and Notice of Claim to Treasurer of the State of Maine and the Commissioner of the DOC seeking reimbursement for the cost overrun of the Hancock County Jail citing to the statutory limitations on Hancock County and powers granted to the DOC. On September 15, 2015, Hancock County provided an Amended Notice of Claim. Hancock County claims that the DOC never responded to the Notice of Claim. The DOC argues that it was not obligated to respond.

         II. Standard of Review

         The DOC moves to dismiss Count I for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). The DOC moves to dismiss Counts II and III as a duplicative of Count I. Oral argument on the motions was held on June 6, 2016.

         a. Motion to Dismiss - M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)

         The Superior Court's jurisdiction over administrative appeals is limited. "Only an appeal from final agency action automatically removes jurisdiction from the administrative agency to the court system." Eastern Maine Medical Center v. Maine Health Care Finance Com., 601 A.2d 99, 101 (Me. 1992). According to 5 M.R.S. § 11002, a petition for administrative appeal by an aggrieved party must be filed within 30 days of the agency decision or within 6 months of when a decision could have been expected where there was no determination by the administrative agency. 5 M.R.S. § 11002(3). Without a properly filed appeal, the courts lack subject matter jurisdiction.

         Dismissal is appropriate where the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). "When a motion to dismiss is based on the court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction, we make no favorable inferences in favor of the plaintiff such as we do when reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Tomer v. Me. Human Rights Comm'n, 2008 ME 190, ¶ 9, 962 A.2d 335; See Francis v. Dana-Cummings, 2004 ME 4, P 17, 840 A.2d 708, 711; Persson v. Dep't of Human Servs., 2001 ME 124, P 8, 775 A.2d 363, 365; Davric Me. Corp. v. Bangor Historic Track, Inc., 2000 ME 102, P 6, 751 A.2d 1024, 1028.

         b. Motion to Dismiss - M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)

         In analyzing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court "examine[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff to determine whether it sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief pursuant to some legal theory." Doe v. Graham, 2009 ME 88, ¶ 2, 977 A.2d 391, quoting Saunders, 2006 ME 94, ¶ 8, 902 A.2d 30. "For a court to properly dismiss a claim for failure to state a cause of action, it must appear 'beyond doubt that [the] plaintiff is entitled to no relief under any set of facts that might be proven in support of the claim.'" Dragomir v. Spring Harbor Hosp., 2009 ME 51, ¶ 15, 970 A.2d 310, quoting Plimpton v. Gerrard, 668 A.2d 882, 885 (Me. 1995).

         "If a claim for review of governmental action under this rule is joined with a claim alleging an independent basis for relief from governmental action, the petition shall contain a separate count for each claim for relief asserted, setting forth the facts relied upon, the legal basis of the claim, and the relief requested." M.R. Civ. P. 80C(i). "When a claim joined with an 80C or B Petition is duplicative of the Petition, the Law Court has affirmed the Superior Court's dismissal on that ground." Breton v. Mayhew, 2015 Me. Super. LEXIS 186, ...

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