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McLaughlin v. Emera Maine

Supreme Court of Maine

December 12, 2017

Jay McLaughlin

          Argued: September 14, 2017

          Joseph L. Ferris, Esq., and Mariann Z. Malay, Esq., Gross, Minsky & Mogul, PA, Bangor, and N. Laurence Willey, Jr., Esq. (orally), Willey Law Offices, Bangor, for appellant Jay McLaughlin

          Jeffrey T. Edwards, Esq., Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios, LLP, Portland, and Myles W. McDonough, Esq. (orally), and Ryan B. MacDonald, Esq., Sloane and Walsh, LLP, Boston, Massachusetts, for appellees Emera Maine and Hawkeye, LLC


          SAUFLEY, C.J.

         [¶1] Jay McLaughlin allowed Emera Maine access to certain roads on his property in Greenbush in order to enable Emera and its agents to rebuild an electrical transmission line. At the conclusion of that work, McLaughlin alleged that his property had been damaged in the process and that Emera had not sufficiently repaired the damage. McLaughlin filed claims against Emera and its contractor, Hawkeye, LLC, seeking several million dollars in damages at trial. The court [Horton, J.) entered a judgment in the Business and Consumer Docket awarding McLaughlin $66, 866.36, including attorney fees and costs. McLaughlin appealed, and Emera and Hawkeye cross-appealed. Subject to a modification of the court's award of McLaughlin's attorney fees, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] In exchange for $31, 600, Jay McLaughlin granted Emera temporary rights of access over some of the roads on his approximately 3, 200-acre property in Greenbush. Emera and Hawkeye needed that access in order to rebuild an electrical transmission line that crossed McLaughlin's property. The parties agreed that Emera would be responsible to effectuate any repairs "beyond normal wear and tear" that occurred as a result of the transmission line rebuild. Hawkeye and a subcontractor completed substantial repair work on McLaughlin's property. McLaughlin alleged, however, that those repairs were insufficient and that Emera and Hawkeye failed to repair damage to the surrounding land, culverts, roads, trees, and vegetation that Emera and Hawkeye had caused.

         [¶3] McLaughlin filed a complaint against Emera and Hawkeye, alleging breach of contract, negligence, and statutory and common law trespass. Emera filed a cross-claim against Hawkeye seeking indemnification, including attorney fees and costs, pursuant to an indemnification provision in a supplier-of-choice agreement governing their relationship.

         [¶4] McLaughlin's complaint was originally filed in Penobscot County on October 7, 2013. After a series of delays, the case was transferred to the Business and Consumer Docket. The record reflects a lengthy discovery period and extremely contentious litigation. The trial consumed eight days. The court took a view of the property. Following trial, the parties filed a total of 184 pages of proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, including responses.

         [¶5] At the conclusion of the trial, the court found that McLaughlin had failed to present sufficient or persuasive evidence regarding the extent of the damages to his property. It entered a judgment in favor of McLaughlin on his complaint against Emera and Hawkeye, jointly and severally, in the amount of $44, 866.36 in damages. This amount comprised $20, 000 on the breach of contract claim, $22, 000 on the negligence claim, and $2, 866.36 on the trespass claim pursuant to 14 M.R.S. § 7552 (2016). The court also awarded McLaughlin $20, 000 in attorney fees and $2, 000 in costs. McLaughlin appealed the judgment. Emera and Hawkeye cross-appealed, arguing that the court erred in its award of attorney fees to McLaughlin because it applied the incorrect version of 14 M.R.S. § 7552.

         [¶6] On Emera's indemnification claim against Hawkeye, the court found in favor of Emera in the entire amount of the judgment in favor of McLaughlin, $66, 866.36. Indicative of the contentious nature of this litigation, the court also found that Hawkeye was liable to Emera for attorney fees and costs totaling $409, 978.46. Emera and Hawkeye each appealed this award. However, by stipulation of both parties prior to oral argument in this case, those appeals have been dismissed. See M.R. App. P. 4(a)(3).

         [¶7] Thus, before us are McLaughlin's appeal, in which he asserts that the court erred in its damages findings, in its finding that McLaughlin gave permission for the use and improvement of the spur road on his property, and in its interpretation of 14 M.R.S. § 7551-B (2016); and ...

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