MaryGay Kennedy, Justice
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.
Background and Procedural History
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
26, 2016, after considering Plaintiff's filings, the
court denied Defendant's motion for relief from judgment.
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.
Standard of Review
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).
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