United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO ALTER OR AMEND THE
JUDGMENT (A) TO HAVE COUNT VII OF THE COMPLAINT (CIVIL RIGHTS
VIOLATION) DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE AND (B) TO SUBSTITUTE
MATTHEW LeCONTE FOR PATRICIA DOUCETTE
A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
August 27, 2018, the Court issued a judgment in favor of the
Defendants and against the Plaintiffs in this civil action.
Order and J. (ECF No. 255). On August 28, 2018, the
Defendants moved to amend the judgment to have Count VII
dismissed with prejudice and to substitute Matthew LeConte
for Patricia Doucette. Defs.' Mot. to Alter or Amend
the J. (A) to Have Count VII of the Compl. (Civil Rights
Violation) Dismissed with Prejudice and (B) to Substitute
Matthew LeConte for Patricia Doucette (ECF No. 257)
(Defs.' Mot.). On September 18, 2018, the
Plaintiffs filed a partial objection. Pls.' Partial
Obj. to Defs.' Mot to Alter or Amend the J. (A) to Have
Count VII of the Compl. (Civil Rights Violation) Dismissed
with Prejudice and (B) to Substitute Matthew LeConte for
Patricia Doucette (ECF No. 258) (Pls.' Partial
Opp'n). On September 21, 2018, the Defendants filed
a notice confirming that they would not file a reply to the
Plaintiffs' response. Notice the Defs. will not File
a Reply in Support of their Mot. to Alter or Amend the
J. (ECF No. 259).
Motion to Amend Judgment to Substitute Party
Defendants filed the motion to substitute party pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) because Patricia
Doucette, who was the Code Enforcement Officer for the city
of South Portland, retired in 2017 and she has been succeeded
by Matthew LeConte. Defs.' Mot. at 3. The
Plaintiffs do not oppose this motion. Pls.' Partial
Opp'n at 1. Without objection, the Court GRANTS the
Defendants' motion to amend to the judgment insofar as it
requests that the Matthew LeConte be substituted as city of
South Portland Code Enforcement Officer for the retired
Motion to Amend Judgment to Dismiss Count VII with
August 27, 2018, the Court issued a final judgment, entering
judgment for the Defendants and against the Plaintiffs on
Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII and IX of the Complaint.
J. at 1 (ECF No. 256). Regarding Count VII, the
Judgment of dismissal without prejudice is hereby entered as
to Count VII of the Complaint.
Id. at 1.
Plaintiffs' February 6, 2015 complaint contained nine
counts, including asserted violations of the Supremacy
Clause, the Commerce Clause, and other theories. Compl.
for Decl. and Inj. Relief (ECF No. 1). Count VII of the
Complaint alleged that the ordinance deprived the Plaintiffs
of “rights secured by the United States Constitution,
as set forth above, under color of state law, thereby
violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Id. at 32.
As framed, Plaintiffs' success on Count VII depended on
the Court's resolution favorable to the Plaintiffs of the
alleged constitutional violations set forth in other counts.
November 17, 2016, the Plaintiffs filed a motion for summary
judgment and the same day, the Defendants filed a
consolidated motion to dismiss and motion for summary
judgment. Pls.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 87);
Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. (ECF No. 88)
(Defs.' Mot.). In their filings, the parties
agreed that the only remaining issue in Count VII was whether
the Court should award attorney's fees, and they agreed
that the Court should defer an order on that issue until
after the Court ruled on the merits of the case.
Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J.
at 59-60 (ECF No. 123) (Defs.' Opp'n);
Pls.' Reply in Support of Their Mot. for Summ.
J. at 29 (ECF No. 140) (Pls.' Reply).
Defendants suggested that the proper resolution of Count VII
would involve such issues as whether a claim based solely on
the Supremacy Clause is cognizable under 42 U.S.C. §
1983, whether a claim based on an alleged violation of the
Commerce Clause should be subject to the attorney's fee
provisions of § 1983, and whether fees should be awarded
as a matter of public policy. Defs.' Opp'n
at 59-60. The Plaintiffs agreed that the issues in Count VII
would not be “relevant until after the Court enters
judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for substantive
relief.” Pls.' Reply at 30. Based on the
positions of the parties, the Court dismissed Count VII
without prejudice, Order on Mot. for Summ. J., and
the August 27, 2018 judgment incorporated the Court's
December 29, 2017 order. Compare Order on Mots. for
Summ. J. at 228; with J. at 1. The Court
never addressed any of the issues that the parties,
specifically the Defendants, identified as critical to the
proper resolution of Count VII, and it never reached the
merits of Count VII.
Court fully anticipates that its decisions will be appealed
to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. If the Court
of Appeals affirms the judgment, the Plaintiffs will have no
grounds to proceed under Count VII because relief under Count
VII expressly depends upon the Plaintiffs' success on one
or more of the constitutional counts. If the First Circuit
reverses and concludes the Plaintiffs should have been
successful in one or more of their constitutional claims,
Count VII would come into play and this Court will turn to
the merits of Count VII's attorney's fee provisions.
If the First Circuit reverses and remands the case for
further proceedings, the Court will be able to address Count
VII depending on its resolution of the issues on remand.
Finally, if the judgment is not appealed, Count VII will fall
of its own weight. In the event the Plaintiffs ultimately
prevail on appeal on one or more constitutional count and in
this way Count VII returns to this Court, it is wiser to make
it clear that the Court has never addressed its merits, so
that the Court will not be foreclosed from doing
Court does not share the Defendants' expressed concern
that the Plaintiffs will have the right to initiate another
civil rights claim based on the same conduct underlying this
action. If the Plaintiffs filed a second suit alleging the
same constitutional violations they have already been
unsuccessful in proving, the dismissals with prejudice of
those claims would bar the second action. Taylor v.
Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008) (“Under the
doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment forecloses
‘successive litigation of the very same claim, whether
or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as
the earlier suit'”) (quoting New Hampshire v.
Maine, 532 U.S. 742, 748 (2001)). If the Plaintiffs
filed a second suit alleging different constitutional
violations based on the same conduct, they would face
significant legal obstacles. See Airframe Sys. v.
Raytheon Co., 601 F.3d 9, 14 (1st Cir. 2010)
(“Federal claim preclusion law bars parties from
relitigating claims that could have been made in an earlier
suit, not just claims that were actually made”). The
Defendants' concern about a second lawsuit is more
hypothetical than real.