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Lawson v. Willis

Supreme Court of Maine

March 7, 2019

DANIEL R. LAWSON
v.
DEBBY WILLIS

          Submitted On Briefs: February 20, 2019

          Judgment affirmed. Daniel Lawson, appellant pro se

          Janet T. Mills, Attorney General, and Kelly L. Morrell, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee Debby Willis

          Panel: ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          PER CURIAM

         [¶1] Daniel R. Lawson appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) dismissing his defamation action against his former supervisor, Debby Willis, for failure to state a claim pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Lawson contends that the court erred in its determination that Willis was immune from liability pursuant to the Maine Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S. § 8111(1)(C) (2018). We affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] Lawson alleges the following facts in his complaint, which we view as admitted for the purposes of this appeal. Ramsey v. Baxter Title Co., 2012 ME 113, ¶ 2, 54 A.3d 710.

         [¶3] In September 2016, Lawson began working as an assistant attorney general in the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Maine Attorney General's Office. Debby Willis was the chief of the Child Support Enforcement Division and Lawson's direct supervisor. For the first six months of his employment, Lawson received generally positive feedback from Willis, who indicated in a February 2017 meeting with him that she was satisfied with his work performance based on her review of his written work and from speaking with people who had observed him in court.

         [¶4] Shortly after that meeting, Lawson responded to a colleague's email thread regarding the interpretation of a statute with an opinion that was contrary to the opinion that Willis had already expressed. Willis told Lawson that this bothered her and reprimanded him for sending the email. Lawson alleges that following this reprimand Willis began providing extremely negative feedback about his job performance even though it had not worsened. Lawson also alleges that Willis wrote a memo that falsely claimed that he had been ordered by a court to serve a party and had refused to do so.

         [¶5] On June 5, 2017, Willis informed Lawson that the Attorney General was terminating his employment based on her recommendation. Willis provided Lawson with a memo regarding her assessment of his job performance in which Lawson alleges that she stated, without basis, that he had been rude and arrogant during his court appearances. As a result of Willis's statements and his resulting termination, Lawson was forced to take a lower paying job and has suffered damage to his previously unblemished professional reputation.

         [¶6] Lawson commenced this action in November 2017. In his complaint, he asserted claims against Willis for libel per se and slander per se. Willis filed a motion to dismiss in which she argued, pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), that Lawson's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because his claims against her were barred by the discretionary function immunity provision of the Maine Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S. § 81111(1)(C). After a hearing, the court determined that Lawson's claims were barred by discretionary function immunity and granted Willis's motion to dismiss. Lawson timely appealed. See M.R. App. P. 2B(c)(1).

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Discretionary ...


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