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West v. Jewett & Noonan Transportation, Inc.

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

September 8, 2016

ERIK WEST, KATHLEEN WEST, JOHN PRIDE, and JOANN PRIDE, Plaintiffs,
v.
JEWETT & NOONAN TRANSPORTATION, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          A.M. Horton, Justice, Superior Court

         Defendant Jewett & Noonan Transportation, Inc. has moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs Erik West, Kathleen West, John Pride, and Joann Pride's claims for statutory trespass and punitive damages.

         Oral argument was held today, with attorneys McCarthy and Bell participating. The oral argument was recorded. Based on the entire record, Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment is granted as to the statutory trespass claim in Count II of the Complaint, and denied without prejudice as to the Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages.

         I. Background

         The following facts are not in dispute. On June 11, 2014, a transport tanker truck owned and operated by Defendant rolled over in a traffic circle connecting Routes 112 and 114 in Gorham, Maine. (Def Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 1; Pis. Opp. S.M.F. ¶ l.) As a result, nearly 9, 000 gallons of petroleum products were released. (Pis. Add'l S.M.F. ¶ 6; Def. Reply S.M.F. ¶ 6.) Some of the petroleum product migrated onto property owned by Plaintiffs. (Def. Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 2; Pis. Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 2.) Though Defendant took immediate steps to remediate the spill on Plaintiffs' property, soil testing showed the presence of oil above the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's ("DEP") safety standards. (Pis. Add'l S.M.F. ¶¶ 8-9; Def. Reply S.M.F. ¶¶ 8-9.) In January 2015, Defendant submitted a proposed remedial action plan to DEP outlining a number of remediation options. (Id. ¶ 10.) DEP requested that Defendant remove all contaminated soil from Plaintiffs' property. (Def. Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 3; Pis. Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 3.) DEP set a deadline of July 1, 2015, for Defendant to complete the removal of all. contaminated soil. (Id.) However, removal of the contaminated soil never occurred. Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs never provided it with authorization to access their property to conduct the excavation. Plaintiffs assert that Defendant never provided them with information regarding the work to be done on their property. DEP subsequently determined that no further remediation or excavation was required. (Def. Supp. S.M.F. ¶ 14; Pis. Opp. S.M.F. ¶ 14.)

         On December 7, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against Defendant asserting claims for common law trespass, statutory trespass, negligence, nuisance, and strict liability. (Compl. ¶¶ 28-50.) Plaintiffs' complaint sought compensatory damages, double damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, as well as attorney's fees and costs. (Compl. 8.) On March 26, 2016, Defendant filed this motion of partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for statutory trespass and their demand for punitive damages.[1] (Def. Mot. Summ. J. 4.) Plaintiffs filed their opposition on April 13, 2016. Defendant filed its reply on April 25, 2016. Resolution of the motion was delayed for several months due to difficulty in scheduling oral argument.

         II. Analysis

         A. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, based on the parties' statements of material fact and the cited record, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(c); Dyer v. Dep't of Transp., 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821. "A material fact is one that can affect the outcome of the case. A genuine issue of material fact exists when the [Tact finder[] must choose between competing versions of the truth." Dyer, 2008 ME 106, ¶ 14, 951 A.2d 821 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id.

         If the moving party's motion for summary judgment is properly supported, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to respond with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial in order to avoid summary judgment. M.R. Civ. P. 56(e). "To withstand a motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case for each element of their cause of action." Watt v. UniFirst Corp., 2009 ME 47, ¶ 21, 969 A.2d 897 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted). If a plaintiff fails to present sufficient evidence on the essential elements, then the defendant is entitled to a summary judgment. Id.

         B. Statutory Trespass

         Statutory interpretation is a question of law for the court to decide. Liberty Ins. Underwriters, Inc. v. Estate of Faulkner, 2008 ME 149, ¶ 15, 957 A.2d 94. When interpreting a statute, the court's goal is to effectuate the Legislature's intent. Dickau v. Vt. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 158, ¶ 19, 107 A.3d 621. In order to effectuate the Legislature's intent, the court must first determine whether the statutory language is plain and unambiguous. Dickau v. Vt. Mut. Ins. Co., 2014 ME 158, ¶ 19, 107 A.3d 621. In determining the plain meaning of statutory language, court must take into account the subject matter and purposes of the statute. Id. ¶ 21. The court must also take into account the design, structure, and overall purpose of the language used. Id. ¶ 22. "In the absence of legislative definitions, we afford terms their plain, common, and ordinary meaning." Id. If the statute is unambiguous the court looks no further; the court examines other indicia of legislative intent only when the plain language of the statute is ambiguous. Jordan v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 651 A.2d 358, 360 (Me. 1994).

         Count II of Plaintiffs' complaint is a claim for statutory trespass pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 7551-B. (Compl. ¶¶ 32-36.) Section 7551-B provides:

1. Prohibition "A person who intentionally enters the land of another without permission" and causes damage to property is liable to the owner in a civil ...

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