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State v. Lluvera

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

December 20, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
JOSEPH LLUVERA Defendant

          Attorney: SARAH BRANCH, FAIRFIELD & ASSOCIATES PA

          State's Attorney: STEPHANIE ANDERSON

          ORDER ON COMMISSIONER'S MOTION TO DISMISS DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR CONTEMPT

          Jed J. French, Unified Criminal Court Judge

         The court found Mr. Lluvera to be incompetent to stand trial on various criminal charges by Order ["1ST Order"] dated November 9, 2018. The 1ST Order states in pertinent part that Defendant shall "be committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Health and Human Services for placement in an appropriate program for observation, care and treatment of people with mental illness or persons with intellectual disabilities or autism.... At the end of 30 days or sooner, and again in the event of recommitment, at the end of 60 days and 180 days, the State Forensic Service or other appropriate office of the Department of Health and Human Services shall forward a report to the Commissioner of Health and Human Services relative to the defendant's competence to stand trial and its reasons...."

         Concerned that her client, Mr. Lluvera, still remained in the Cumberland County Jail for weeks following the 1ST Order, on November 28, 2018 Attorney Sarah Branch filed an Emergency Motion for Contempt and Other Proceedings against the Commissioner of Health and Human Service, alleging that the Commissioner "refuses to accept Defendant as a patient at its facilities" in violation of the 1ST Order. Attorney Branch filed an Amended Emergency Motion for Contempt on November 30, 2018 which included the notarization required by M.R. Civ. P. 66(d)(2)(A). The Commissioner filed an Answer and Objection to and Motion to Dismiss Amended Motion for Contempt on December 10, 2018.

         The court heard oral argument on the Commissioner's Motion to Dismiss on December 13, 2018.[1] Assistant Attorney General Molly Moynihan appeared and argued on behalf of the Commissioner. Assistant District Attorney Amanda Doherty appeared and argued, representing the State's interest in the underlying criminal proceedings. Attorney Sarah Branch appeared and argued on behalf of Defendant.

         It is not disputed that Mr. Lluvera was admitted to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on December 4, 2018. Because Mr. Lluvera obtained a bed at Riverview as of December 4, 2018, the Commissioner contends that Mr. Lluvera has already obtained the remedy sought such that his contempt motion is moot and should be dismissed.

         At hearing, while conceding that Mr. Lluvera has obtained the remedy sought, Attorney Branch urged the court to reach the merits of the contempt motion regardless of Mr. Lluvera's admission to Riverview. She asked the court to reach the merits pursuant to the "public interest" exception to the mootness doctrine. Citing the importance of the issues at stake and decrying the pervasive shortfall in much-needed psychiatric services in Maine, Attorney Branch insisted that the court has the authority under Rule 66 to enforce the court's 1ST Order. According to her argument, the court should allow Defendant's motion for contempt to go forward to send a message to the Commissioner that such delays in accepting court-ordered custody of mentally incompetent individuals are egregious and will not be tolerated.

         Delay in the treatment of the mentally ill, especially those who have been brought into Maine's criminal justice system, is of great concern to the court. However, Rule 66 is limited in scope to remediation with respect to present failures or refusals to comply with court orders. Attorney Branch asserted at hearing that Defendant is seeking a "plenary proceeding for remedial sanctions" pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 66(d). A "remedial sanction" is a sanction "imposed to coerce the termination of an ongoing contempt or to compensate a party aggrieved by contempt." See M.R. Civ. P. 66(a)(2)(C). The remedy sought by Mr. Lluvera - a bed at Riverview - has already been obtained. The "public interest" exception to the mootness doctrine authorizes an appellate court to reach an appeal; it does not extend to trial courts, which are charged with adjudicating a live controversy. See, e.g., In re Voucher, 558 A.2d 705, 706 (Me. 1989) ("courts should decline to decide issues which by virtue of valid and recognizable supervening circumstances have lost their controversial vitality. Such cases are moot"); Young v. Young, 2002 ME 167, ¶ 8 ("An issue that is technically moot may still be addressed on appeal if one of the three narrow, yet established, exceptions to the mootness doctrine applies: 1) sufficient collateral consequences will flow from a determination of the questions presented, 2) the question, although moot in the immediate context, is of great public interest and should be addressed for future guidance of the bar and public, or 3) the issue may be repeatedly presented to the trial court, yet escape review at the appellate level because of its fleeting or determinate nature.") (emphasis added). Thus, regardless of the significant public interest at stake, the court has no authority under Rule 66 to adjudicate Mr. Lluvera's Motion for Contempt, since that motion was rendered moot when Mr. Lluvera obtained a bed at Riverview on December 4, 2018.

         Aside from the mootness issue, the court makes no ruling at this time on whether or not a motion for contempt is an appropriate vehicle for relief in cases such as this one. However, Rule 66 expressly provides that in order to find an individual in contempt the movant must show by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged contemnor both failed to follow a court order and that he or she failed to follow a court order despite having had the ability to do so. See M.R. Civ. P. 66(d)(2)(D) ("In order to make a finding of contempt, the court must find by clear and convincing evidence that: i) the alleged contemnor has failed or refused to perform an act required or continues to do an act prohibited by a court order, and ii) it is within the alleged contemnor's power to perform the act required or cease performance of the act prohibited"). See also York Register of Probate v. York County Probate Court, 2004 ME 58, ¶¶ 16-20 (reasoning in remanding for dismissal of contempt proceedings brought against County Commissioners that contempt may not be used to enforce administrative matters); 5 M.R.S. § 11001(2) ("Any person aggrieved by the failure or refusal of an agency to act shall be entitled to judicial review thereof in the Superior Court. The relief available in the Superior Court shall include an order requiring the agency to make a decision within a time certain").

         It is accordingly hereby ORDERED that the Commissioner's Motion to Dismiss Amended Emergency Motion for Contempt is GRANTED. All other pending motions relating to this contempt proceeding are likewise dismissed as moot.

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Notes:

[1]The court agreed with the Commissioner that a hearing on the merits of Defendant's Motion to Contempt and on the merits of the Commissioner's Motion to Quash Subpoena should be continued until after ...


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