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Beal v. Town of Stockton Springs

Supreme Court of Maine

January 12, 2017


          Argued: December 15, 2016

          Aaron Fethke, Esq. (orally), Law Office of Aaron Fethke, Searsport, for appellant Hollie A. Beal

          Erik M. Stumpfel, Esq. (orally), Rudman Winchell, Bangor, for appellee Town of Stockton Springs


          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] Hollie A. Beal appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Waldo County, R. Murray, J.) affirming a decision by the Town of Stockton Springss Board of Selectman (the Board) determining that a structure owned by Beal was a dangerous building or nuisance pursuant to 17 M.R.S. § 2851 (2016). Beal contends that (i) the Board violated her due process rights when the Board allegedly denied Beal the opportunity to be heard, to cross-examine witnesses, and to have an impartial fact-finder, and (ii) there was insufficient evidence in the record to support the Boards findings. We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] Beal acquired property located at 65 Sandy Point Road in Stockton Springs in 2004. The 556-square-foot building was originally built around 1900 as a grain storage shed but was more recently used as a residence. In June 2014, the Towns Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) made a site visit to Beals residence after receiving a complaint about the condition of the property. After the July 17, 2014, Board meeting, when Beal and her attorney met with the Board to discuss concerns about the habitability of her property raised by the CEOs site visit, Beal agreed to present a rehabilitation plan to the Board within thirty days.

         [¶3] About a month later, Beal notified the CEO that a general contractor had assessed her property, and she submitted a one-page rehabilitation plan. On August 20, the CEO informed Beal that the plan was inadequate because it lacked a complete list of items needing repair and a time frame for completion. The CEO further informed Beal that the Board anticipated that the parties would enter a consent agreement at the September 4 meeting. Because Beal did not attend the September 4 meeting, the Board did not take any action regarding Beals property. The matter was discussed by two members of the Board. One of the Board members indicated, during the conversation, that he believed that the structure should be condemned. At the end of September, the Board set a public hearing to determine whether the structure constituted a dangerous building within the meaning of 17 M.R.S. § 2851.

         [¶4] Just before the start of the November 20, 2014, hearing, Beal requested that the three members of the Board recuse themselves based upon her concern that they had already prejudged the case. The Board members expressly stated on the record that they had not already decided the issue and would base their decision on the evidence presented at the hearing. Accordingly, each member of the Board declined to recuse from participating in the hearing and subsequent decision-making.

         [¶5] The Board proceeded with the public hearing and heard testimony from the CEO, Beals general contractor, and Beal. The CEO presented photographs and testified about numerous deficiencies and hazards regarding the plumbing, chimney, roof, and structural supports. Beals general contractor testified that, although the building needed many repairs, the only safety hazard in the building was a support issue that recently had been corrected.

         [¶6] The Board asked witnesses questions that were submitted, but did not allow Beals counsel to question any of the witnesses by either direct or cross examination. The chair invited Beals attorney to submit written questions that the Board would then pose to the witness. The Board also allowed Beals counsel to present a summation argument. Beals counsel formally objected to the hearing procedure. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board members voted unanimously that the structure was a dangerous building, and requested that the town manager and CEO draft written findings of fact to be presented at its upcoming meeting.

         [¶7] During an executive session held on December 15, the Board consulted with the Towns attorney to discuss the focus of a dangerous building hearing, the process for obtaining an administrative site inspection warrant, and the Boards ability to reopen the hearing. At its next meeting, the Board voted to reopen the public hearing, "for the purpose of allowing additional testimony to be presented to ensure all areas of the definition of a dangerous building have been thoroughly explored." It scheduled the reopened hearing for January 15, 2015.

         [¶8] At the January 15 hearing, the Board heard additional testimony from the CEO regarding his concerns about the structural integrity of the building. He explained that the building has rotted sills and a chimney in very poor condition, and that his ability to give a more thorough report had been stymied by Beals refusal to allow him "access to the interior of the structure, specifically the ...

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