United States District Court, D. Maine
RICHARD BRATT, COREY SNOW, HEIDI CINADER, ARIN BRATT, and ARIANA BRATT, Plaintiffs,
JENSEN BAIRD GARDNER & HENRY, P.A., LINDA MOULTON, LEE IVY, FRANK CHOWDRY, and BRENDAN RIELLY, Defendant.
ORDER ON THE JENSEN BAIRD DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
DISMISS AND DEFENDANT LINDA MOULTON'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT
ON THE PLEADINGS
Torresen United States Chief District Judge.
action represents the latest chapter in a dispute among
Harold F. Snow's heirs and relatives that has
persisted since his passing on November 29, 2011. The
Plaintiffs are the husband and children of Mr. Snow's
daughter, Dr. Susan Snow. They allege that Defendant Linda
Moulton, also Mr. Snow's daughter and the designated
personal representative of his estate, absconded with a
shoebox full of highly sensitive personal information stored
on a set of compact discs and hard drives that Dr. Snow and
her family had left with Mr. Snow for safekeeping (the
“Storage Media”). They further
allege that Ms. Moulton shared the data from the Storage
Media with her attorneys, individual Defendants Lee Ivy,
Frank Chowdry, and Brendan Rielly and Defendant law firm
Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry (the “Jensen
Baird Defendants”), and that the Defendants
collectively used that data as leverage during probate of
Harold Snow's estate. Based on this conduct, the
Plaintiffs have brought a three-count Complaint against the
Defendants asserting state-law claims for invasion of privacy
(Count I), conversion (Count II), and intentional infliction
of emotional distress (Count III). (ECF No. 1.) This matter
comes before me on the Jensen Baird Defendants' motion to
dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim under
Federal Rule of Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Jensen
Baird Motion”), (ECF No. 10), and Ms.
Moulton's motion for judgment on the pleadings under
Federal Rule of Procedure 12(c) (“Moulton
Motion”). (ECF No. 16.) For the reasons that
follow, I DENY both motions.
The Storage Media
1996 until 2011, Dr. Susan Snow and her family collected
personal and sensitive information on a set of hard drives,
digital backup tapes, and compact discs. Compl. ¶¶
1, 19. Dr. Snow and her family stored these materials in a
shoebox at Mr. Snow's home, under his promise of security
and confidentiality. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 54.
Mr. Snow died on November 29, 2011, Dr. Snow's sister
Linda Moulton was named personal representative of his
estate. Compl. ¶ 20. Within hours of Mr. Snow's
death, Ms. Moulton excluded Dr. Snow and her family from Mr.
Snow's property and changed the locks on his home. Compl.
¶ 20. Alarmed, Dr. Snow and her family asked Ms. Moulton
either to allow them onto the property to collect the Storage
Media or to return the Storage Media to them. Compl.
¶¶ 21-22. Dr. Snow and her family made clear to Ms.
Moulton that the Storage Media's contents were private
and confidential, and Ms. Moulton acknowledged that the
Storage Media belonged to Dr. Snow and her family and not to
Mr. Snow's estate. Compl. ¶ 22.
Ms. Moulton eventually allowed Dr. Snow and her family onto
Mr. Snow's property, they discovered that the Storage
Media were missing. Compl. ¶ 24. Ms. Moulton confirmed
that she had removed the Storage Media to her own home, but
said that she would return them shortly. Compl. ¶ 24.
She later failed to follow through on this promise and
instead claimed that the materials had gone missing or that
Dr. Snow or her family had taken them back. Compl. ¶ 24.
The Probate Action
March 20, 2012, Ms. Moulton, acting in her capacity as
personal representative of Mr. Snow's estate, filed a
complaint against Dr. Snow to void for undue influence a
conveyance that Mr. Snow had made to Dr. Snow before his
death (the “Probate Complaint”).
Moulton Ex. C (ECF No. 16-3). During the ensuing litigation,
Ms. Moulton attempted to leverage the Storage Media's
contents against Dr. Snow. Compl. ¶ 27. Contrary to her
earlier claim that she had lost the materials, Ms. Moulton
reviewed the data on the Storage Media and gave it to her
attorneys. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28. Attorneys Chowdry, Ivy,
and Rielly then also accessed, reviewed, and created a copy
of the Storage Media data. Compl. ¶¶ 27-28, 30-31.
Discovery Dispute Regarding the Storage Media
17, 2013, Dr. Snow's attorney submitted a letter to the
Probate Court to “present a discovery dispute” on
her behalf. Moulton Ex. D (ECF No. 16-4). The letter asserted
that Ms. Moulton had “obtained private information
belonging to [Dr. Snow] and nonparty members of [her] family
through means outside the scope of discovery rules”
that was “not discoverable”-i.e. the
Storage Media. Moulton Ex. D. The letter demanded that Ms.
Moulton “immediately return the information, destroy
all copies and request the information through the normal
discovery process.” Moulton Ex. D. Attorney Reilly
responded that Ms. Moulton “merely intend[ed] to keep a
copy” of the data because Dr. Snow had misrepresented
the contents of the Storage Media and because the Storage
Media contained discoverable materials including a set of
diaries that Dr. Snow had refused to produce. Moulton Ex. E
(ECF No. 16-5).
Probate Court held a conference of the parties, during which
Attorney Reilly misrepresented that the Storage Media
contained no information related to Dr. Snow's family
beyond a few pictures or limited mentions in other documents.
Compl. ¶ 36. After the conference, on July 25, 2013, the
Probate Court issued an order resolving the discovery
dispute, which provided in relevant part that Dr. Snow was to
turn over her diaries and any similar discoverable materials
to Ms. Moulton's attorney and that:
[Ms. Moulton] shall return to [Dr.] Snow's attorney by
noon on Monday, July 29, 2013, the original CDs and hard
drive found by [Ms. Moulton] in her father's home that
are the subject of [Dr.] Snow's discovery dispute
conference request. [Ms. Moulton]'s attorney shall keep a
copy of the original CDs in order to maintain a record of
what was received. [Ms. Moulton] may compare the documents
produced pursuant [to the Probate Court's order for Dr.
Snow to produce her diaries] with those on the CDs to make
sure they are identical. If they are identical, [Ms.
Moulton]'s attorney shall keep the copies of the CDs
confidential unless necessary to defend any claim or action
brought by [Dr.] Snow and/or her family, representatives,
agents or assigns or anyone acting on their behalf, against
[Ms. Moulton] or [her] counsel.
Moulton Ex. F (ECF No. 16-6). Following the Probate
Court's order, Ms. Moulton, through her attorneys at
Jensen Baird, turned over most of the original Storage Media
to Dr. Snow's counsel but failed to return one hard drive
and one compact disc. Compl. ¶ 39.
Settlement of the Probate Complaint
30, 2013, Dr. Snow, who was then represented by attorneys
from Bernstein Shur, appeared at Jensen Baird's law
office for Dr. Snow's deposition. Instead of proceeding
with the deposition, Dr. Snow's attorney and Attorneys
Rielly and Ivy went on record before the court reporter and
dictated the terms of a settlement of the Probate Complaint.
In the weeks that followed, Attorney Rielly and counsel for
Dr. Snow exchanged drafts of a formal settlement agreement
but were unable to arrive at a satisfactory writing. On
August 15, 2013, Ms. Moulton, again in her capacity as
personal representative, filed a motion to enforce the
settlement memorialized in the July 30, 2013 deposition
transcript. Dr. Snow opposed the motion to enforce.
October 28, 2013, the Probate Court issued an order that
granted Ms. Moulton's motion to enforce the settlement
and her petition for formal probate of Mr. Snow's will.
The Probate Court held that the oral recitation of the
proposed settlement was binding and found that, pursuant to
the transcript, the parties' agreement included the
following stipulation relevant to this action:
Global releases will be exchanged by the parties for all
claims relating to the estate and these releases are to
include the law firms representing the parties. In addition,
the releases are to include any and all claims relating to
[Ms. Moulton]'s acquisition of the computer discs and
hard drive belonging to [Dr.] Snow, and any claims by [Dr.
Snow] that [Ms. Moulton] or her attorneys have accessed
information contained on the discs and drive are waived.
[Jensen Baird] will destroy all copies they may have
retained of information on the computer discs and hard drive,
and [Bernstein Shur] will preserve the original computer
discs and hard drive in perpetuity.
Moulton Ex. G at 7 (ECF No. 16-7). Dr. Snow appealed the
October 28th order to the Law Court, which affirmed the
Probate Court's decision on August 14, 2014. Jensen Baird
Ex. B (ECF No. 10-2).
Dr. Snow's Motion for Relief from Judgment and her Family
Members' Motion to Intervene
Snow family's story did not end there. Instead, through a
series of letters received by the Probate Court on September
11, 2014, Dr. Snow and three members of her
family asked the court to modify its order on the
motion to enforce the settlement. Moulton Exs. L-O (ECF Nos.
16-12, 16-13, 16-4, 16-15). Dr. Snow followed these requests
with a formal motion for relief from the judgment. Jensen
Baird Ex. D (ECF No. 10-4). In her motion, Dr. Snow,
represented by her new attorney Thomas F. Hallett, argued
that the judgment was void because, by allowing her former
attorneys at Bernstein Shur to retain the original Storage
Media in perpetuity, the judgment “bound [Dr.
Snow's family members] to the terms of the agreement
regarding their personal property without this court having
in personem jurisdiction, in violation of due
process.” Jensen Baird Ex. D at 1. Dr. Snow purported
to file her motion on her family's behalf as well as her
own. Jensen Baird Ex. D at 1. Dr. Snow's family, also
represented by Attorney Hallett, filed a separate motion to
intervene for the limited purpose of seeking to void the
judgment for lack of personal jurisdiction. See
Jensen Baird Ex. F at 5 (ECF No. 10-6).
an order dated October 25, 2016 (the
“Reconsideration Order”), the
Probate Court upheld the judgment yet again. Jensen Baird Ex.
F. The Probate Court began by noting that Dr. Snow had
offered no authority to support the proposition that personal
jurisdiction was necessary over all persons whose information
is incidentally disclosed in discovery. Jensen Baird Ex. F at
4-5. The Probate Court further found that (1) “[n]o
information regarding [Dr. Snow's family members] was
publicly disseminated in the discovery process”; (2)
“the holder of the information is not using it for
profit, fraud, or to compromise a privacy right”; and
(3) “the information is being held in confidence by
[Dr. Snow's] former attorney.” Jensen Baird Ex. F
at 4-5. Construing the motion to intervene as a request for
joinder of parties necessary for just adjudication under
either Rule 19 or Rule 22 of the Maine Rules of Civil
Procedure, the Probate Court held that it was unnecessary to
join Dr. Snow's family members in the action because
“information regarding nonparties incidentally
disclosed in ...