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Desjardins v. Reynolds

Supreme Court of Maine

May 18, 2017


          Argued: April 5, 2016

         Reporter of Decisions

          John S. Campbell, Esq. (orally), Campbell & Associates, P.A., Portland, for appellant Dana Desjardins

          Daniel J. Murphy, Esq. (orally), Bernstein Shur, Portland, for appellee Michael Reynolds Cumberland County Superior Court docket number CV-2013-369 For Clerk Reference Only


          Majority: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ. Dissent: JABAR, J.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶l] Dana Desjardins appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Cumberland County, Warren, /.) dismissing his complaint against Michael Reynolds for defamation and false light invasion of privacy. Desjardins contends that the court erred by concluding that his complaint was barred by application of Maine's anti-SLAPP ("Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation") statute, 14 M.R.S. § 556 (2016). We affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In August of 2013, Desjardins, a town official for the Town of Raymond, instituted a lawsuit in the Superior Court against Michael Reynolds, [1] a Town selectman, alleging that Reynolds had made various false statements to the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office about Desjardins's alcohol use for the purpose of humiliating and harassing Desjardins. Desjardins also alleged that as a result of those reports, Desjardins was stopped on his way to a Town meeting on January 8, 2013, by a sheriff's deputy who was investigating him for possibly operating under the influence. See 29-A M.R.S. §2411 (2016). Desjardins asserted causes of action for defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy, and sought damages for his "humiliation, " "emotional distress, " and "loss of reputation, " as well as punitive damages and injunctive relief. Desjardins also asserted two claims based on federal statutes-for Reynolds's violation of 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-30), and seeking attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C.S. § 1988 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-30).

         [¶3] Reynolds removed the matter to the United States District Court for the District of Maine. See 28 U.S.C.S. § 1441 (LEXIS through Pub. L. No. 115-30). The District Court [Torresen, /.) dismissed the federal claims, and Desjardins agreed to the dismissal of his claims for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Desjardins v. Willard, No. 2:13-cv-00338-NT, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 84782, at *2-3, 61-62 (D. Me. June 20, 2014). The court also granted Reynolds's special motion to dismiss the State claims pursuant to section 556. Id. at*52-57, 62.

         [¶4] On Desjardins's appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Desjardins's federal claims, but vacated the dismissal of his state law claims on section 556 grounds, concluding that those "issues are better resolved by the state courts, where this case began." Desjardins v. Willard, 111 F.3d 43, 46 (1st Cir. 2015). Thus, when the matter was returned to the Superior Court's jurisdiction in February of 2015, only Desjardins's claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy remained.

         [¶5] Before the Superior Court, Reynolds reasserted his special motion to dismiss on anti-SLAPP grounds, with accompanying affidavits and various exhibits. Desjardins opposed the motion, submitting affidavits and exhibits of his own. By judgment dated June 29, 2015, the Superior Court (Warren, J.) granted Reynolds's special motion to dismiss both remaining causes of action on anti-SLAPP grounds. Desjardins appeals.


         [¶6] In this matter, we are called upon to consider the reaches of Maine's anti-SLAPP statute, 14 M.R.S. § 556, which provides as follows:

§ 556. Special motion to dismiss
When a moving party asserts that the civil claims, counterclaims or cross claims against the moving party are based on the moving party's exercise of the moving party's right of petition under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of Maine, the moving party may bring a special motion to dismiss. The special motion may be advanced on the docket and receive priority over other cases when the court determines that the interests of justice so require. The court shall grant the special motion, unless the party against whom the special motion is made shows that the moving party's exercise of its right of petition was devoid of any reasonable factual support or any arguable basis in law and that the moving party's acts caused actual injury to the responding party. In making its determination, the court shall consider the pleading and supporting and opposing affidavits stating the facts upon which the liability or defense is based.
The Attorney General on the Attorney General's behalf or on behalf of any government agency or subdivision to which the moving party's acts were directed may intervene to defend or otherwise support the moving party on the special motion.
All discovery proceedings are stayed upon the filing of the special motion under this section, except that the court, on motion and after a hearing and for good cause shown, may order that specified discovery be conducted. The stay of discovery remains in effect until notice of entry of the order ruling on the special motion.
The special motion to dismiss may be filed within 60 days of the service of the complaint or, in the court's discretion, at any later time upon terms the court determines proper.
If the court grants a special motion to dismiss, the court may award the moving party costs and reasonable attorney's fees, including those incurred for the special motion and any related discovery matters. This section does not affect or preclude the right ...

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