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Taylor v. Walker

Supreme Court of Maine

November 28, 2017

FRED TAYLOR et al.
v.
MARK WALKER

          Submitted On Briefs: June 29, 2017

          Adam R. Lee, Esq., Trafton, Matzen, Belleau & Frenette, LLP, Auburn, for appellants Fred and Eleanor Taylor

          Mark W. Walker, appellee pro se

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

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

          JABAR, J.

         [¶1] Fred and Eleanor Taylor appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court (Androscoggin County, MG Kennedy, J.) vacating the District Court's (Lewiston, Oram, J.) order denying Mark Walker's motion to set aside a small claims judgment entered in the District Court [Ende, J.). Although the appeal is interlocutory, given the legislative direction that small claims matters proceed expeditiously, see 14 M.R.S. § 7481 (2016); M.R.S.C.P. 1, we address the appeal pursuant to the judicial economy exception and remand for further proceedings.

          I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] The following facts are set forth in the record. See M.R. Civ. P. 76F(a). The Taylors are homeowners residing in Auburn. Walker is the president of an insulation installation company. In the spring of 2015, the Taylors contracted with Walker's company to install foam insulation in their home. The Taylors allege that the job was done unsatisfactorily and that the method Walker's company used to install the insulation damaged the home's roof and siding. The Taylors subsequently initiated a small claims action in the District Court against Walker seeking damages of $4, 256 plus costs. A hearing on the Taylors' statement of claim was scheduled for July 5, 2016.

         [¶3] On the day of the hearing, Walker failed to appear, and the court [Ende, J.) entered a default judgment in favor of the Taylors. Later that same day, Walker submitted to the court a letter in which he alleged that he had appeared at the wrong courthouse, and when he realized his mistake, he made efforts to get to the hearing in a timely fashion. In his letter, Walker alleged that he finally arrived at the correct location approximately two-and-a-half-hours after the hearing was scheduled to begin. The District Court accepted the letter as a motion to set aside the default judgment[1] and in a handwritten order, without conducting a hearing, the court [Oram, J.)[2] denied that motion. The court's order states in pertinent part, "After considering the filings, [Walker's] motion to set aside default is denied."

         [¶4] Walker subsequently appealed to the Superior Court. See M.R.S.C.P. 11(a). The Superior Court vacated the District Court's order denying Walker's motion to set aside the default judgment. It made factual findings, entered an order setting aside the default, and remanded the matter to the District Court for a hearing on the Taylors' underlying claims. In its judgment, without hearing from Walker and the Taylors, the Superior Court made various factual findings and credibility determinations, found that the circumstances described in Walker's motion to set aside the default judgment constituted excusable neglect, and therefore concluded that the District Court abused its discretion in denying his motion. M.R.S.C.P. 9; M.R. Civ. P. 60(b). The Taylors then filed a motion for reconsideration, which the Superior Court denied. See M.R. Civ. P. 59(e). They now appeal from the order setting aside the default.

          II. DISCUSSION

         A. Process for Appealing Small Claims Judgments

         [¶5] The Superior Court has limited and specific authority when a small claims matter is appealed. See 4 M.R.S. § 105(3)(B)(2) (2016); 14 M.R.S. § 7484-A(1) (2016); M.R.S.C.P. 11(d). If a defendant appeals and seeks a trial of the facts, the defendant must include a jury trial request and pay the required fee for a jury trial in the Superior Court. See M.R.S.C.P. 11(d)(2); Revised Court Fees Schedule and Document Management Procedures, Me. Admin. Order JB-05-26 (as amended by A. 7-16), ยง 1(A)(3) (effective July 29, 2016). However, a plaintiff, ...


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