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Paul v. Town of Liberty

Supreme Court of Maine

December 1, 2016

ADAM P. PAUL et al.
v.
TOWN OF LIBERTY

          Submitted On Briefs: September 29, 2016

          Adam P. Paul, Debra M. Paul, and George E. Paul, appellants pro se

          Kristin M. Collins, Esq., and William S. Kelly, Esq., Kelly & Collins, LLC, Belfast, for appellee Town of Liberty

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          REPORTER OF DECISIONS

          MEAD, J.

         [¶1] Adam P. Paul, Debra M. Paul, and George E. Paul (the Pauls) appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court (Waldo County, R. Murray, J.) denying their motion for leave to amend their complaint and granting the Town of Libertys motion to dismiss. The Pauls contend that the court erred by not permitting them to amend Count I of their complaint to assert a declaratory judgment claim rather than seek review of governmental action pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B. They also contend that the court erred by determining that they are not entitled to damages, which they sought pursuant to 23 M.R.S. § 3029 (2015) in Count II of the complaint based on a determination by the Town of Liberty Select Board that a road abutting their property had been abandoned pursuant to 23 M.R.S. § 3028 (2015).[1] We vacate the courts denial of the motion for leave to amend and remand for the court to readdress it in accordance with the principles set forth herein; we affirm the dismissal of Counts I and II of the complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Because our review involves the trial courts dismissal of a claim pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), "we view the facts alleged in the complaint as if they were admitted." Ramsey v. Baxter Title Co., 2012 ME 113, ¶ 2, 54 A.3d 710. The Pauls own parcels of real estate in Liberty that are accessed by a public road called Bolin Hill Road. The Town has failed to repair or maintain the road to keep it safe for motor vehicle travel. In August 2014, Debra Paul requested in writing that the Town repair the road, and she and George Paul subsequently petitioned the Waldo County Commissioners to order the Town to repair the road. They voluntarily withdrew their petition in November 2014 based on the Towns stated intention to determine whether Bolin Hill Road had been abandoned or discontinued and its belief that the County Commissioners did not have jurisdiction to address that issue. On December 29, 2014, the Town held a public meeting where the Town Select Board voted, without later issuing a written order, that the "upper portion" of Bolin Hill Road had been abandoned pursuant to 23 M.R.S. § 3028(2), and that a public easement was retained over the abandoned portion. The Pauls assert that the abandonment determination conflicts with evidence indicating the Towns intent to use Bolin Hill Road as a public way, and that the Towns failure to maintain the road has resulted in a reduction of the fair market value of their property.

         [¶3] On February 27, 2015, the Pauls filed a two-count complaint in the Superior Court. Count I sought relief pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 80B, challenging the Towns determination that the road has been abandoned, and Count II sought an award of damages pursuant to 23 M.R.S. § 3029. The Town moved to dismiss the complaint on March 18, 2015, asserting that the Rule 80B complaint was not timely filed and the Pauls could not recover damages.

         [¶4] On April 8, 2015, two other property owners filed a motion to intervene, which the court granted on June 4, 2015. The complaint was amended accordingly, and the Town resubmitted an answer and again moved to dismiss on June 11, 2015. The Pauls moved for leave to amend their complaint a second time on July 2, 2015. The second amended complaint sought to change Count I from a Rule 80B action to an action for a declaratory judgment as to the parties rights and obligations with regard to the road.

         [¶5] On September 28, 2015, the Superior Court granted the Towns motion to dismiss pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), finding that the Pauls Rule 80B complaint was untimely and determining that they could not recover damages pursuant to 23 M.R.S. § 3029. In the same order, the court denied the Pauls motion for leave to amend after concluding that a Rule 80B action-not a declaratory judgment action-was the proper means to challenge the Towns decision, and that they could not use a declaratory judgment action to circumvent the time limits of Rule 80B. The Pauls timely appealed.[2]

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶6] We turn our attention first to the sequence in which the court denied the Pauls motion to amend and granted the Towns motion to dismiss. The sequence is significant because a full and final dismissal of all counts of a complaint arguably leaves nothing remaining to amend.

         [¶7] Ordinarily, a trial court should rule on a motion for leave to amend before acting on another motion, such as a motion to dismiss, that could be dispositive of the original complaint. Sherbert v. Remmel, 2006 ME 116, 8, 908 A.2d 622; see also Jones v. Suhre, 345 A.2d 515, 517-18 (Me. 1975). In this case, both the Pauls motion for leave to amend and the Towns motion to dismiss were pending and in order for action by the court at the time of the September 2015 order. The order discusses the motion to dismiss before addressing the motion for leave to amend, thus suggesting that the motion to dismiss was granted prior to the consideration and denial of the motion to amend. However, the order provides a separate analysis for each motion and notes the effect of the denial for leave to amend on the motion to dismiss.[3] Accordingly, the sequence in which the court addressed the parties motions is of no significance and we discern no error in the courts order. Cf. Sherbert, 2006 ME 116, ¶¶ 9-10, 908 A.2d 622 (holding that when it was unclear whether the court had acted on a pending motion for leave to amend before acting on a motion to dismiss, the ruling on the motion to dismiss was in error).

         [¶8] We turn to a discussion of the courts rulings on the motions. A. Motion for Leave to Amend

         [¶9] We review the denial of a motion for leave to amend for an abuse of discretion. America v. Sunspray Condo. Ass'n, 2013 ME 19, ¶ 7, 61 A.3d 1249. Once a responsive pleading is served, a party may amend the pleading "by leave of court, " which "shall be freely given when justice so requires." M.R. Civ. P. 15(a). On appeal, a party who was denied leave to amend "must demonstrate (1) that the court clearly and manifestly abused its discretion and (2) that the amendment was necessary to prevent injustice." Sunspray Condo. Ass'n, 2013 ME 19, ¶ 7, 61 A.3d 1249 (alteration and quotation marks omitted). "[U]ndue delay, bad faith, undue prejudice, or futility of amendment" are grounds for denying a motion to amend. Montgomery v. Eaton Peabody, LLP, 2016 ME 44, ¶13, 135 A.3d 106.

         [¶10] The court predicated its denial of the Pauls motion for leave to amend their complaint upon its conclusion that the Pauls could not maintain a declaratory judgment action because 23 M.R.S. § 3029 prescribes a Rule 80B action as the exclusive means to challenge a municipal boards decision. Section 3029 provides that "[a]ny person aggrieved by the action or nonaction of municipal officers ... in proceedings under [chapter 304], other than a determination of ...


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