ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: CLIFFORD RUPRECHT, ESQ. ROACH HEWITT
RUPRECHT SANCHEZ BISCHOFF PC
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: STEPHEN BELL, ESQ. MUNDHENK & BELL
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS
O'Neil, Jr. Justice
case arises out of an automobile collision that took place on
July 17, 2015 in Berwick, Maine. (Compl. ¶ 3.) According
to the Complaint, Defendant Lisa Norton's vehicle struck
plaintiff Mark Herpst's vehicle, which was parked on the
opposite side of the street. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 9, 13.)
Plaintiff alleges that defendant was under the influence of
drugs while operating her vehicle. (Compl. ¶¶ 3,
4.) As a result of this impairment, defendant was repeatedly
crossing the center line into the opposing lane. (Compl.
¶ 6.) Plaintiff alleges that defendant continued to
drive on a public road despite knowing of her impairment and
being unable to drive safely. (Compl. ¶ 7.) Although
plaintiff saw defendant coming in his lane of traffic and
pulled of the roadway in an attempt to avoid being hit by
defendant's vehicle, plaintiff alleges that defendant
again crossed the center line and drove her vehicle into
plaintiffs truck on the shoulder of the opposite lane.
(Compl. ¶¶ 8, 9.)
filed the instant complaint on May 1, 2017, alleging that
defendant failed to exercise reasonable care in the operation
of her vehicle. (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 11.) Plaintiff
further asserts that defendant's conduct was sufficient
to imply malice toward the plaintiff and other travelers on
the road, entitling him to punitive damages. (Compl. ¶
12.) On May 30, 2017, defendant moved to dismiss plaintiffs
claim for punitive damages, asserting that the Complaint
failed to set forth sufficient facts to support such a claim.
(Def.'s Mot. Dismiss 1.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing a motion to dismiss, courts "consider the
facts in the complaint as if they were admitted."
Bonney v. Stephens Mem. Hosp., 2011 ME 46, ¶
16, 17 A.3d 123, 127. The complaint is viewed "in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine whether it
sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts
that would entitle the plaintiff to relief pursuant to some
legal theory." Id. (quoting Saunders v.
Tisher, 2006 ME 94, ¶ 8, 902 A.2d 830).
"Dismissal is warranted when it appears beyond a doubt
that the plaintiff is not entitled to relief under any set of
facts that he might prove in support of his claim."
motion to dismiss only addresses plaintiffs claim for
punitive damages. Specifically, defendant argues that
plaintiffs complaint does not set forth sufficient facts to
support malice, and therefore must be dismissed.
damages are only available based upon tortious conduct if the
defendant acted with malice. Turtle v. Raymond, 494
A.2d 1353, 1361 (Me. 1985). Malice can be proven with
evidence either that a party acted with ill will toward the
plaintiff or that the conduct was so outrageous that malice
can be implied. Morgan v. Kooistra, 2008 ME 26,
¶ 29, 941 A.2d 447. However, a "mere reckless
disregard of the circumstances" is insufficient to
support an award of punitive damages. Tuttle, 494
A.2d at 1361.
motion, defendant relies only on cases applying the summary
judgment standard of review to punitive damages claims.
See Clark v. Henderson, No. SAGSC-CV-08-061, 2009
Me. Super. LEXIS 119 (August 24, 2009). However, on a motion
to dismiss, defendant's burden is much higher.
damages have been awarded in other impaired driving cases in
Maine. For example, in Filanowski v. Leonard, No.
CV-02-183, 2003 Me. Super. LEXIS 165 (July 10, 2003), the
Superior Court (Penobscot County, Hj'elm, J.)
found punitive damages appropriate for a driver who was
convicted of an OUI after an accident. Id. at *4.
Specifically, Justice Hjelm noted that prior to the accident,
passengers in the defendant's vehicle had told him to
slow down and that the defendant had a history of
"recklessness on the roads." Id. at *4-5.
Thus, there was ...