DAVID L. GAGNON and STEVEN GAGNON, Plaintiffs
SHEILA CANNON, Defendant
DECISION AND JUDGMENT
WILLIAM STOKES, JUSTICE
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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).
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.
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.
upon the testimony and exhibits presented at trial, and after
consideration of the parties' written arguments, the
court makes the following findings of fact.
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
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).
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.).
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. 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.
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 ...