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Taylor v. Walker

Superior Court of Maine, Androscoggin

October 4, 2016

FRED AND ELEANOR TAYLOR Plaintiff / Appellee,
v.
MARK WALKER and HOME, SNUGGLERS, INC. Defendant / Appellant.

          ORDER

          MaryGay Kennedy, Justice

         Pending before the court is an appeal of the District Court Small Claims Notice of Judgment (rendered by default) dated July 5, 2016 and the District Court's subsequent denial to lift the default dated July 15, 2016.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On May 10, 2016, Plaintiffs, Fred and Eleanor Taylor, filed a Statement of Claim in the Lewiston District Court against Mark Walker and Home Snugglers, Inc., dated April 27, 2016. The Taylors alleged Defendant had caused damage to their vinyl siding from retro-foam insulation and damage to their roof. They further asserted that their property should have been left in its original condition.

         Notice of Small Claims Hearing, providing the date (July 5, 2016), time (8:30 a.m.) and location of the hearing (Lewiston District Court, 71 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, Maine), was sent to the parties on June 13, 2016. Plaintiffs appeared for hearing. Defendant did not appear. Judgment was granted to the Plaintiffs in the amount of $4, 256.00 and costs of $96.00.

         Just after 9:00 a.m. on July 5, 2016 the date of hearing, Defendant realized he had gone to the wrong court. Instead of going to the District Court in Lewiston, he went to the District Court in Portland. He immediately contacted the Lewiston District Court Clerks office and was advised to come to Lewiston as soon as possible. As luck would have it, Defendant could not immediately locate his car keys. Just after 10:00 a.m., he learned that his keys had been found and were at the security office. Apparently the keys had fallen from the tray while on the scanner belt at entry screening. Defendant again called the Lewiston District Court Clerks office, advising the court that he was on his way and would get to the courthouse as quickly as possible.

         Upon arrival, the Judge was still on the bench. A court officer (presumably) advised the Defendant that he had been defaulted and the Notice of Judgment signed. Defendant prepared and submitted a written account of the day's events and requested the court "to re-open" the hearing. The request, deemed to be a motion for relief from judgment in accordance with Maine Rule of Small Claims Procedure 9, was filed prior to him leaving the courthouse on July 5, 2016.

         On July 13, 2016, the court considered Defendant's motion for relief from judgment. The court ordered that Plaintiffs had until August 5, 2016 to file an objection to Defendant's motion, otherwise the court would grant Defendant's request and re-set the case for hearing.

         On July 15, 2016, Plaintiffs filed their objection to Defendant's motion for relief from judgment. Plaintiffs submitted a written statement in support of their claim. They also included their original statement of claim filed May 10, 2016 along with pictures, bills, a letter dated February 4, 2016 from their attorney to Defendant, and printed material from Defendant's website. Plaintiffs' submissions also included an acknowledgment that they owed Defendant $889.00. From the record, it appears this was the first time the outstanding bill due and owing from Plaintiffs to Defendant was raised. The $889.00 was not accounted for in the original Notice of Judgment.

         On July 26, 2016, after considering Plaintiff's filings, the court denied Defendant's motion for relief from judgment.

         In accordance with Maine Rule of Small Claims Procedure Rule 11, Defendant filed this appeal and request for jury trial de novo on August 4, 2016. Defendant included an affidavit setting forth his defenses to Plaintiffs' Small Claims Complaint. Plaintiffs' attorney filed a motion to dismiss Defendant's appeal on August 29, 2016. Defendant's opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to dismiss was filed on September 8, 2016 and Plaintiffs' reply to Defendant's opposition to Plaintiffs' motion to dismiss was filed on September 13, 2016.

         II. Standard of Review

         Maine Rule of Small Claims Procedure 11(a) authorizes an appeal from a judgment of the District Court in a small claims action to the Superior Court. Such an appeal can only be on questions of law and shall be determined without a jury. M.R. Civ. P. 76D. The record on appeal consists of the original papers and exhibits filed in the District Court and a copy of the docket entries prepared by the clerk of the District Court, together with any transcript made by electronic sound recording. M.R. Civ. P. 76F(a).

         Pursuant to Rule 9 of the Maine Rules of Small Claims Procedure, on the written request of a party setting forth reasons showing good cause, the small claims court may relieve a party from the effect of a prior judgment. Rule 9 incorporates, by way of reference, Rule 60 of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure. Trial courts have a have a broad range of discretion in considering requests for relief and remedies pursuant to Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), but an appeals court reviews a decision on a motion for relief from a default judgment for an abuse of discretion, Ezell v. Lawless,2008 ME 139, ¶¶ 15, 19, 955 A.2d 202, with the presumption being that justice is better served by adjudicating cases on their merits than by the use of default judgments, Smith v. Rideout,2010 ME 69, ¶ 10, 1 A.3d 441. The court will set aside the decision on the motion only if the failure to grant the relief works a plain and unmistakable injustice against the moving party. Ezell,2008 ME 139, ¶ 19, 955 A.2d 202. The Law Court has determined that a trial court has exceeded the bounds of its discretionary decisionmaking when the court: (1) considers a factor prohibited by law; (2) declines to ...


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