Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gagnon v. Cannon

Superior Court of Maine, Aroostook

December 7, 2017

DAVID L. GAGNON and STEVEN GAGNON, Plaintiffs
v.
SHEILA CANNON, Defendant

          DECISION AND JUDGMENT

          WILLIAM STOKES, JUSTICE

         INTRODUCTION AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the court for decision following a one-day bench trial held on August 30, 2017. The Plaintiffs commenced this action on November 4, 2014 by the filing of a two-count Complaint for Declaratory Judgment seeking to establish that (A) they have a superior title to a certain parcel of real estate in Van Buren, Maine (Count I), and (B) the Defendant's acquisition of the disputed real estate from the Town of Van Buren through a tax lien foreclosure process was defective and invalid (Count II).

         On July 16, 2015, the Defendant moved for summary judgment in her favor. On July 27, 2015, the Defendant also moved to disqualify the Plaintiffs' counsel on the ground that he was a material and necessary witness in the action. The motion to disqualify was granted on October 23, 2015 and counsel's subsequent motion to withdraw was granted on November 2, 2015. The Defendant's motion for summary judgment was denied on December 5, 2016.

         Trial was held on August 30, 2017, The court received the testimony of the following witnesses called by the Plaintiffs: David Gagnon; Jessica Cyr, and; Sheila Cannon. The Defendant called the following witnesses: Gary Levesque and Attorney William Smith. Defendant's Exhibits 1-16 and 20-23 were admitted as were Plaintiffs' Exhibits 2, 6 and 7. Plaintiffs' Exhibits 1, 3, 4 and 5 were admitted de bene. The parties exchanged written summations, with the last submission being received by the court on October 16, 2017.

         Based upon the testimony and exhibits presented at trial, and after consideration of the parties' written arguments, the court makes the following findings of fact.

         FACTS

         The dispute in this case involves a parcel of land in Van Buren owned by Albertine and Aurel Gagnon and referred to by the parties at trial as the "River Lot, " It is further described by the Town of Van Buren as Tax Map 8, Lot 18. (Def.'s Exhs. 15 & 19). The Plaintiffs, David and Steven Gagnon, are two of the seven sons of Albertine and Aurel.

         Albertine and Aurel became the owners of this parcel of real estate through a warranty deed dated June 23, 1995 from Bertrand Sirois. (Def.'s Exh. 21), At some time in 1996, Albertine and Aurel agreed to sell the property to Peter Lagasse of Connecticut for the sum of $7, 000. The Gagnons received full payment of the purchase price from Mr. Lagasse and, accordingly, had a warranty deed prepared by Attorney William Smith. The warranty deed drafted by Attorney Smith was signed by Mr, and Mrs. Gagnon and is dated January 31, 1997, and purported to convey the property to Mr. Lagasse. (Def.s' Exh. 1). A Real Estate Transfer Tax Declaration Form was also signed by the Gagnon's and is also dated January 31, 1997. (Def.s' Exh. 2).

         On February 5, 1997, Attorney Smith, acting on behalf of Albertine and Aurel Gagnon, wrote to the grantee, Mr. Lagasse, and sent him the original warranty deed and transfer tax form signed by the Gagnon's, He also enclosed a check dated February 5, 1997 for the seller's transfer tax. (Def.'s Exh. 3), He concluded his letter by stating: "This should complete matters on behalf of Mr. & Mrs. Gagnon." (Id.).

         It appears from the evidence that a few days prior to Attorney Smith's letter of February 5, 1997, he had a telephone conversation with Mr. Lagasse. Specifically, Plaintiffs' Exhibit 4, admitted by the court de bene, is a letter from Peter Lagasse to Attorney Smith dated February 3, 1997.[1] It appears to have been received by Attorney Smith on February 6, 1997. The letter makes reference to a phone call from Attorney Smith to Mr. Lagasse earlier that day of February 3, 1997.

         In this letter, Mr. Lagasse raised a number of issues/concerns he had with the "land transfer, " and concluded by stating: "I will accept no deed dated prior to your retainment [sic]." He also asserted that would not accept or sign any documents "for your clients [sic] relief pending the outcome of any local, state, or federal investigation."

         A second letter from Mr. Lagasse to Attorney Smith was dated February 10, 1997 and appears to have been received by Attorney Smith on February 14, 1997. (Plt.'s Exhibit 5). With that letter, Mr. Lagasse returned the check previously sent to him by Attorney Smith. Mr. Lagasse acknowledged receipt of the warranty deed and the transfer tax declaration form and he described both documents as "false and misleading." He claimed that "the warranty deed is not lawfully seized in fees of the premises, " and he informed Attorney Smith that he would not be filing the deed with the registry of deeds. Finally, he accused the Gagnon's of being "in unlawful possession of $7000.00 of my money, " and he indicated that he was referring the matter to the District Attorney's Office and the Van Buren Police Department "for their consideration."

         Neither the Gagnon's nor Mr. Lagasse paid the real estate taxes for the property identified as Map 8, Lot 18 for tax year 1997-1998 that were assessed and due in July 1997. Moreover, the Gagnon's retained the $7, 000 purchase price and Mr. Lagasse kept the original warranty deed. (Plt.'s Exh. 1). Since the deed was never recorded and the transfer tax declaration form was never filed by Mr, Lagasse, the last known record owners of the property were Albertine and Aurel Gagnon.

         As a result, on May 27, 1998, Larry Cote, the tax collector for the Town of Van Buren, sent a notice to the Gagnon's by certified mail, return receipt requested, informing them that the property tax remained unpaid and that a lien was being claimed on the real estate. The notice demanded payment within 30 days, namely, June 26, 1998. (Def.'s Exh. 5). The court finds that the notice was delivered and accepted on May 28, 1998 by Wayne Gagnon, a son of Albertine and Aurel who was assisting them in their affairs.

         The Gagnon's did not pay the taxes as demanded on the property they believed they had conveyed to Mr. Lagasse. Consequently, on July 2, 1998 the tax collector sent the Gagnon's a lien certificate on the property, which had been recorded in the Aroostook County Registry of Deeds on July 2, 1998 at Book 1118, Page 270. (Def.'s Exh. 6). This prompted Attorney Smith to write to the Van Buren tax assessor on December 11, 1998 as follows:[2]

This will provide you with information regarding the sale of real estate being described as tax map 8, lots 18 and 19 by Aurel Gagnon and Albertine Gagnon on January 31, 1997. I enclose a copy of the Deed and Transfer Tax Form for your information.
Mr. Lagasse has received and has possession of the Deed and Transfer Tax Form, however he has not yet recorded the Deed as far as I can ascertain. The Gagnon's no longer own this land as they had been fully paid by Mr. Lagasse and they had delivered the deed to him. Mr. Lagasse's last known address is at 17 Court Street, Dover-Foxcroft, Maine, 04426. Taxation as of April 1, 1997 should have been to Peter Lagasse. If there is any further information required please feel free to be in touch with me. (Def.'s Exh. 4).

         On December 18, 1998, presumably as a result of Attorney Smith's letter, the tax collector wrote to Mr, Lagasse at the Dover-Foxcroft address. (Def, 's Exh. 9). Enclosed with the letter were copies of: Attorney Smith's letter of December 11, 1998; the warranty deed; the transfer tax form; the 1997-1998 tax lien, and: the 1998-1999 tax bill. This letter was "returned to sender' with a notation that the addressee had moved and left no forwarding address.

         On June 3, 1999, the tax collector sent Mr. Lagasse a notice that the taxes due on the property for 1998-1999 remained unpaid, that a lien was being claimed on the real estate and that payment was demanded within 30 days, namely, July 2, 1999. (Def.'s Exh. 11). This letter was also returned to sender as being unclaimed. The Lien Certificate for tax year 1998-1999 was sent to Mi'. Lagasse at the Dover-Foxcroft address. No evidence was presented at trial as to how the certificate was sent to Mr. Lagasse or whether it was received. The certificate was recorded on July 8, 1999 at Book 1117, Page 317.

         On November 19, 1999, the tax collector sent Mr. Lagasse "Notice of Impending Automatic Foreclosure" informing him that on January 2, 2000 the tax lien mortgage for tax year 1997-1998 would be foreclosed and his right of redemption would expire. (Def.' Exh. 7). This notice was sent certified mail, return receipt requested, to Mr, Lagasse at an address in Dexter, Maine. Mr. Lagasse signed for the letter on November 20, 1999.

         On January 4, 2000, the tax collector sent Mr. Lagasse "Notice of Impending Automatic Foreclosure" to the effect that on February 4, 2000 the tax lien mortgage for the unpaid taxes for 1998-1999 would be foreclosed and his right of redemption would expire. (Def.'s Exh, 8). The notice was sent certified mail, return receipt requested, to "Inmate" Peter P. Lagasse at SCI (State Correctional Institution) at Fairton, New Jersey. The notice was signed for by someone at the prison, apparently on behalf of Mr. Lagasse. That Mr, Lagasse in fact received the notice is confirmed by ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.