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Portland Pipe Line Corp. v. City of South Portland

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 13, 2018

PORTLAND PIPE LINE CORPORATION, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF SOUTH PORTLAND, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS IN LIMINE CONCERNING STATEMENTS OF CITY OFFICIALS AND MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In anticipation of trial on Portland Pipeline Corporation's (PPLC) Commerce Clause challenge to the city of South Portlands (the City) ordinance prohibiting bulk loading of crude oil onto ships (the Ordinance), the parties filed competing motions in limine concerning the admissibility of voluminous statements from City officials and members of the public. The Court grants PPLC's motion and denies the City's motion because courts can consider a broad array of evidence when tasked with discerning improper legislative purpose.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 6, 2015, PPLC filed a nine-count complaint with this Court against the city of South Portland and Patricia Doucette. Compl. (ECF No. 1). On March 31, 2015, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint. Defs.'Mot. to Dismiss the Compl. Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) (ECF No. 16); Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs.'Mot. to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) (ECF No. 17). The Court denied the motion to dismiss on February 11, 2016. Order on Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 29). Accordingly, the Defendants filed an answer to the Complaint on February 29, 2016. Answer of Defs. City of South Portland and Patricia Doucette (ECF No. 30).

         On November 17, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. Pis.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 87). That same day, the Defendants filed a consolidated motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and a cross motion for summary judgment. Defs.' Consolidated Mot. to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 88). The Court denied the renewed Motion to Dismiss on August 24, 2017, and a second renewed Motion to Dismiss on December 12, 2017, before turning its attention to the cross-motions for summary judgment. Order on Defs.' Consolidated Mot. to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1) (ECF No. 185); Order on Defs.'Renewed Mot. to Dismiss (ECF No. 199). On December 29, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of the City on all issues except the Commerce Clause challenge in Count V. Order on Mots, for Summ. J. at 228 (ECF No. 200) (Summ. J. Order). In the summary judgment order, the Court admitted statements from City officials like DOC members and City Councilors, but determined that public statements regarding the Ordinance and its predecessor ballot initiative, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance (WPO), were not probative of the Ordinance's primary purpose. Id. at 42-43 n. 80, 44-45 n.85.

         Trial is set for June 18 to June 22, 2018. Notice of Bench Trial (ECF No. 2014). On April 25, 2018, the City filed a motion to have the Court view certain properties in the city of South Portland, including PPLC's tanks and pier facilities. Defs.'Mot. for View (ECF No. 206). On June 1, 2018, the Court deferred ruling on the City's motion until trial. Order Deferring Ruling on Defs.'Mot. for View (ECF No. 218).

         On May 11, 2018, PPLC filed a motion in limine to admit certain statements of City officials and members of the public, and the City filed a competing motion to exclude those statements. Pis.'Mot. in Limine to Admit into Evidence Statements by City Officials and Members of the Public (ECF No. 208) (Pis.'Mot.); Defs.'Mot. in Limine to Exclude Irrelevant and Inadmissible Statements (ECF No. 209) (Defs.' Mot.). The City filed its response to the PPLC's motion on June 1, 2018, and the PPLC filed its response to the City's motion on June 4, 2018. Defs.' Opp'n to Pis. 'Mot. in Limine to Admit into Evidence Statements by City Officials and Member of the Public (ECF No. 219) (Defs.' Opp'n); Pis.' Obj. to Defs.'Mot. in Limine to Exclude Statements Made by City Officials and Members of the Public (ECF No. 223) (Pis.' Opp'n). On June 8, 2016, PPLC filed its reply to the City's response, and the City filed its reply to PPLC's response. Pis.'Reply in Support of their Mot. in Limine to Admit into Evidence Statements by City Officials and Members of the Public (ECF No. 224) (Pis.' Reply); Reply in Support of Defs.' Mot. in Limine to Exclude Irrelevant and Inadmissible Statements (ECF No. 226) (Defs.'Reply).

         II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

         A. The Motions

         PPLC seeks to admit statements from City officials and members of the public made in pubhc meetings, emails, and campaign literature between July 2013 and July 2014, the period beginning with consideration of the WPO and ending with the enactment of the Ordinance. Pis.'Mot. at 1-3 n.2. PPLC argues that statements from city officials are "highly probative" because "[t]hey provide unfiltered evidence" of the City's true goals in enacting the Ordinance. Id. at 3-4. It asserts that public comments are admissible because "public input reflects the pressures imposed upon the decision-makers, putting the decision-makers' actions in context." Id. at 4-6. PPLC insists that the history and public process of the predecessor ordinance is relevant because of "the integrated nature of the publically initiated WPO and the final version of the Ordinance ...." Id. at 7-8. PPLC claims that the public comments put the official statements in context, and it claims the Court may choose to give more or less weight to comments "based on speaker, timing, and content" but maintains that they are all admissible. Id. at 9-10.

         The City seeks to exclude all statements about the WPO, public comments about the Ordinance, statements by the DOC facilitator, and information regarding PPLC's tax payments, particularly because Plaintiffs counsel represented at a telephone conference that they would not seek to introduce statements by the public. Defs. 'Mot. at 1-2. The City emphasizes that the WPO was a citizen referendum which "[t]he City Council opposed ... by a vote of 5-1." Id. at 4-5. The City also highlights the large volume of material PPLC seeks to introduce. Id. at 5-6. It cites caselaw from this Court and the First Circuit indicating that comments from a private sponsor of legislation have little if any probative value compared to official legislative sources. Id. at 7 (citing All. of Auto. Mfrs. v. Gwadosky, 430 F.3d 30, 39 (1st Cir. 2005); All. of Auto. Manufacturers v. Gwadosky, 304 F.Supp.2d 104, 112 (D. Me. 2004)). Finally, the City contends that the DOC facilitator's comments are not probative because he was not a member of the decision-making body, and PPLC's taxes are irrelevant because the commerce clause protects interstate markets, not particular interstate firms. Id. at 8.

         In the alternative, if the Court permits PPLC to admit statements by the public, the City requests that the Court allow it access to PPLC's unofficial transcripts and grant leave for the City to admit additional countervailing statements from members of the public. Id. at 7 n.2.

         B. The Responses

         PPLC claims it never made a "commitment" to conduct trial without seeking to introduce statements from the public. Pis.' Opp'n at 1. PPLC reiterates its argument that the WPO and the Moratorium are relevant legislative history because they represent an integrated sequence of events leading to the Ordinance. Id. at 2-4. PPLC contends that many public comments were credited by City officials, including what it calls the "Sanibel Defense" of hiding the true motive and target of its legislation. Id. at 4-5. PPLC claims the comments of the DOC facihtator are probative of the Ordinance's purpose because his comments indicate what the DOC's charge was and he "kept the DOC focused on this charge." Id. at 5-6. PPLC explains that its tax payments are relevant ...


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