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Haskell v. Bragg

Supreme Court of Maine

July 13, 2017


          Argued: June 14, 2017.

          J. William Druary, Jr., Esq., and Gregory M. Patient, Esq. (orally), Marden, Dubord, Bernier & Stevens, PA LLC, Waterville, for appellant Grover B. Bragg

          James E. Belleau, Esq, and Adam R. Lee, Esq. (orally), Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette, LLP, Auburn, for cross-appellants Dawn H. Haskell and Martin W. Witham.



          ALEXANDER, J.

         [¶1] Grover B. Bragg Jr. appeals and Dawn H. Haskell and Martin W. Witham cross-appeal from a judgment for damages entered in the Superior Court (Waldo County, R. Murray, J.) in favor of Haskell and Witham after entry of a default against Bragg. Haskell and Witham's claims arose from an invasion of Haskell and Witham's home in the early morning hours of March 27, 2013. Bragg argues that the court erred by precluding him from contesting causation at the damages hearing and by concluding that Haskell and Witham were not comparatively negligent.[1] Haskell and Witham contend that the court erred by allowing Bragg to assert an affirmative defense of comparative negligence. We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] In March 2014, Dawn H. Haskell and Martin W. Witham filed a six-count complaint against Grover B. Bragg Jr. and Donald R. York Jr.[2] Haskell and Witham asserted a claim for negligence against both Bragg and York (Count 1) and claims for assault and battery, intentional trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and punitive damages against York (Counts 2-6).

         [¶3] Bragg was served in hand with the summons and complaint on April 24, 2014. Bragg did not file an answer within twenty days after being served and did not otherwise appear in or defend the matter. See M.R. Civ. P. 12(a). Haskell and Witham filed a motion for default against Bragg, which the clerk entered on June 17, 2014. See M.R. Civ. P. 55(a).[3]

         A. Factual History

         [¶4] Upon the entry of a default for failure to timely appear or respond in an action, the facts alleged in the complaint are deemed to have been proved and affirmative defenses are deemed to have been waived. See M.R. Civ. P. 8(b)-(d); McAlister v. Slosberg, 658A.2d 658, 660 (Me. 1995) ("When a default is entered . . . the allegations in the plaintiffs complaint are deemed to be true and become findings of fact").

         [¶5] Haskell and Witham alleged the following facts in their complaint. On or about March 27, 2013, York became highly intoxicated due to his use of some combination of crack cocaine, cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, bath salts, and marijuana. York used one or more of the intoxicants while in the company of Bragg, who was aware of and assisted York in reaching that level of intoxication. Despite Bragg's awareness of the danger York presented to others in his state of intoxication, Bragg transported York to the Haskell-Witham residence because he did not want York-who was acting "really crazy"-in his own home.

         [¶6] Haskell and Witham, who had never met Bragg or York before March 27, 2013, [4] were awakened by the sound of windows being broken. Witham exited his home and found Bragg and York outside. Bragg and York returned to a pickup truck that was parked nearby. After some time, York exited the truck, ran into Haskell and Witham's home without permission and damaged property inside, including a flat screen television, several pieces of furniture, five windows, lamps, and various other items. York threw a bench through a window, punched holes in the walls, damaged various portions of the bed and floor, and tracked blood throughout the house. He also damaged Haskell and Witham's vehicle. York then attacked Witham causing substantial physical injuries to Witham. Witham believed that York was going to kill him. After injuring Witham, York reentered the residence and continued to cause damage. Haskell locked herself in the garage while York damaged property and assaulted Witham. Haskell feared for her life and for Witham's life.

         [¶7] Haskell and Witham further alleged in their complaint that they exercised due care at all pertinent times, and that Bragg and York were negligent and through their negligence caused Haskell and Witham to suffer pain and property damage. Based on these claims, Haskell and Witham requested relief "for such sums as ...

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