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Conservatorship & Guardianship of Thomas

Supreme Court of Maine

January 19, 2017

CONSERVATORSHIP & GUARDIANSHIP OF ANN B. THOMAS

          Argued: October 25, 2016

          Susan C. Thiem, Esq. (orally), Law Office of Susan C. Thiem, Lincolnville, appellant pro se.

          Naomi C. Cohen, Esq. (orally), West Rockport, and Roger L. Hurley, Esq., Camden, for appellee Alanna Brown

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

          HJELM, J.

         [¶l] In this action for appointment of a guardian and conservator, the Waldo County Probate Court [Longley, J.) issued an order imposing sanctions against Attorney Susan C. Thiem, who represented Ann B. Thomas, the allegedly incapacitated person, during much of the case. The sanctions order required Attorney Thiem to pay reasonable expenses, including attorney fees, based on a finding that she had "unreasonably interfered" with the proceedings and with the discovery process in particular. As the sole issue on appeal, Attorney Thiem contends that the court abused its discretion by imposing sanctions. Because the court has not yet issued an order determining any amount that Attorney Thiem would be required to pay, we dismiss the appeal as interlocutory.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In March 2015, Alanna Brown filed joined petitions in the Waldo County Probate Court requesting that she be appointed as guardian and conservator for her mother, Ann B. Thomas. See 18-A M.R.S. §§ 5-303(a), 5-401 (2016). The following month, after a pretrial conference, the court issued a scheduling order establishing deadlines for filing motions and completing discovery, and setting a hearing date.

         [¶3] A contentious discovery process followed. On Brown's requests, the court held three telephonic discovery dispute conferences, see M.R. Civ. P. 26(g)(2), [1] resulting in several discovery orders. Brown subsequently filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 37(b), alleging in part that Attorney Thiem had engaged in a pattern of refusing to cooperate fully in the discovery process.[2] The court deferred ruling on the sanctions issue before the final hearing, and directed Brown's attorney to file an affidavit documenting her discovery-related fees and expenses. Brown's attorney did so, claiming fees and expenses totaling $3, 780.80.

         [¶4] The court held a final hearing on the petitions and all pending motions on July 21, 2015, but the hearing was not completed that day. On July 23, Attorney Thiem filed a motion to withdraw based on her assertion that the court had exhibited prejudice and bias against her. Five days later, the court granted Attorney Thiem's motion to withdraw with respect to future representation of Thomas, but denied the motion with respect to the pending sanctions issue. The order allowed Attorney Thiem seven days to, among other things, submit evidence to support her allegations of bias. Attorney Thiem filed further argument on that issue and also demanded a full evidentiary hearing on the issue of sanctions.

         [¶5] In September 2015, after the final day of hearing on the petitions, where Thomas was represented by new counsel and Attorney Thiem was not present, the court entered a judgment denying Brown's petition to be appointed as guardian for her mother, but granting her petition to be appointed as conservator. Without further notice or hearing, on January 26, 2016, the court entered a separate order in which the court "sanction [ed]" Attorney Thiem based on a finding that she "unreasonably interfered with civil proceedings" by failing to act in good faith, follow discovery rules, and comply with court orders. The court ordered Attorney Thiem "to pay reasonable expenses, including counsel fees, required by her" misconduct pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4) and (d), [3] but the court did not specify the amount that Thiem would be required to pay. The court granted leave for Attorney Thiem to withdraw fully as counsel, conditioned upon her payment of those still-unquantified expenses.

         [¶6] Attorney Thiem filed a motion for additional findings of fact and for amendment of the order. See M.R. Civ. P. 52(b), 59(e).[4] The court granted the motion, but only to the extent of directing Brown's attorney to submit an updated affidavit of expenses and attorney fees. Attorney Thiem then timely appealed. See 18-A M.R.S. § 1-308 (2016); M.R. App. P. 2(b)(3).

         [¶7] On March 22, 2016, while this appeal was pending, Brown's attorney filed an updated affidavit claiming $22, 566.66 in attorney fees and $2, 173.80 in costs that she asserted were attributable to Attorney Thiem's sanctioned conduct. At oral argument, the parties stated that the court had not yet ...


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