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Gaudette v. Mainely Media, LLC

Supreme Court of Maine

May 9, 2017

NORMAN GAUDETTE et al.
v.
MAINELY MEDIA, LLC, et al.

          Argued: June 10, 2016

          James B. Haddow, Esq., (orally), Petruccelli, Martin & Haddow, LLP, Portland for appellants Mainely Media, LLC, Molly Lovell-Keely, and Benjamin Meiklejohn

          Gene R. Libby, Esq., and Tara A. Rich, Esq., (orally), Libby OBrien Kingsley & Champion LLC, Kennebunk, for appellee Norman and Joanne Gaudette

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

          ALEXANDER, J.

         [¶1] Mainely Media, LLC, Molly Lovell-Keely, and Benjamin Meiklejohn (collectively, Mainely Media) appeal from an order of the Superior Court (York County, O'Neil, J.) denying their special motion to dismiss the complaint of Norman Gaudette and Joanne Gaudette pursuant to Maine's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, 14 M.R.S. § 556 (2016). Because the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply to Mainely Medias publication of the newspaper articles at issue in this case, we affirm the trial courts order.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] The record supports the following facts. See Nader v. Me. Democratic Party (Nader II), 2013 ME 51, ¶ 2, 66 A.3d 571.

         [¶3] In 1990, Norman Gaudette was a detective with the Biddeford Police Department. Allegations surfaced that Gaudette had sexually abused several teenage boys. Along with an internal investigation by the Biddeford Police Department, the allegations were referred to and investigated by the Maine Attorney Generals Office. In 1991, a York County grand jury, after a presentation by the Attorney Generals Office, voted not to indict Gaudette. He continued to work for the Biddeford Police Department until he retired in 2001.

         [¶4] In February 2015, an individual alleging that he had been the victim of sexual abuse committed by a different Biddeford police officer began posting about the alleged abuse on social media. Meiklejohn and Lovell-Keely, a reporter and an editor, respectively, for the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier, a newspaper owned by Mainely Media, began reporting on the new allegations. Their work led them to interview and publish reports regarding statements made by several of Gaudettes alleged victims and Terry Davis, the Biddeford police officer who originally brought the 1990 allegations against Gaudette to the Police Departments attention.

         [¶5] As a result of the 2015 allegations involving Gaudette and the other Biddeford police officer, members of the public began holding meetings with members of state and local government to discuss the alleged abuse and possible reforms. The Biddeford City Council considered placing the police chief and deputy chief on administrative leave, and some government officials began to speak publicly about the allegations and to propose legislation in response.

         [¶6] One of Meiklejohn and Lovell-Kellys articles included Davis's account of the 1991 grand jury proceeding. Davis's statements, as represented in the article, contain the following allegations. A fifteen-year-old boy spoke with Davis at the Biddeford police station and alleged that Gaudette had sexually abused him. Investigations by the Biddeford police and Maine Attorney Generals Office identified multiple other alleged victims who claimed that Gaudette had abused them. None of the alleged victims were called to testify before the grand jury, and during Davis's testimony before the grand jury, an Assistant Attorney General surprised Davis by asking him probing questions about Davis's fathers suicide after Davis's father was accused of sexually abusing a child, suggesting to the grand jury that Davis was incapable of impartially investigating a child abuse case. Gaudette then testified before the grand jury. The article reported that after the grand jury voted not to indict Gaudette, the Assistant Attorney General went to the Biddeford police station and asked Davis and another officer to meet him at a restaurant in Biddeford, which they did. At the restaurant, the article reported, the Assistant Attorney General "continuously apologized" and told Davis that he "purposely threw the case under the bus" on orders from his superiors.

         [¶7] The Gaudettes filed a complaint against Mainely Media, LLC, Meiklejohn, and Lovell-Keely on June 24, 2015, alleging that they intentionally or recklessly disregarded the truth or falsity of the accounts included in their articles. The complaint included counts of false light portrayal, defamation, intrusion into seclusion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and loss of consortium, and sought damages for loss of employment, stress, depression, and punitive damages.

         [¶8] On August 24, 2015, Mainely Media filed a special motion to dismiss pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 556, which the court denied on October 26, 2015. The court observed that the law is unsettled as to whether Mainely Medias publication of newspaper articles constitutes "petitioning activity" within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute, but determined that this question was not dispositive because Gaudette had met his burden to show that Mainely Medias ...


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