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Allen v. Rae

Supreme Court of Maine

April 11, 2019

LAURIE ALLEN
v.
MARK RAE

          Submitted On Briefs: January 17, 2019

          Joseph W. Baiungo, Esq., Belfast, for appellant

          Mark Rae Laurie Allen did not file a brief

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

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] Mark Rae appeals from a protection from harassment order entered against him in the District Court (Belfast, Sparaco, D.C.J.) on the complaint of Laurie Allen. See 5 M.R.S. §§4652, 4655(1) (2018). Rae contends that the court erred in finding that he had committed "[t]hree or more acts" of harassment pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 465l(2)(A) (2018). Although we agree that there were not three or more acts of harassment, we affirm the judgment because the facts as found by the court are sufficient to prove that Rae's actions constituted criminal mischief, which can stand alone as a "single act" of harassment. See 5 M.R.S. § 465l(2)(C) (2018);[1]17-A M.R.S. § 8O6(1)(A) (2018).

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] A trust controlled by Rae's family purchased property abutting Allen's home in Belfast. Thereafter, a boundary dispute arose between Rae and Allen. Both parties claim to own a strip of land approximately twenty-feet wide situated between Allen's yard and what is now a garage on the trust's property. Despite attempts to resolve the dispute, including numerous visits from local law enforcement, the strip of land remained, at the time of the hearing, a source of considerable tension between the parties.

         [¶3] On April 24, 2018, Allen filed for a protection from harassment order pursuant to 5 M.R.S. § 4652, alleging that Rae had harassed her. On May 14, 2018, the court held a contested hearing and heard testimony from both parties. The court found that Allen's testimony was credible and that Rae's testimony was "not particularly credible."

         [¶4] Allen testified that she parked her boat trailer on the disputed strip of land to guard against what she believed was Rae's unlawful claim to the property. Rae testified that he asked Allen to remove the boat multiple times so he could more conveniently move construction equipment onto his property; when Allen refused, Rae responded by saying, "if [the boat is] not gone by Sunday, I will move it for you." When Rae attempted to move the boat, he discovered that Allen had placed a boot lock on one of the tires of the boat trailer, rendering it immobile. Allen testified that she personally observed Rae "cut" and "slice" the valve stem off the boat trailer's tire. Rae denied cutting the valve stem but admitted he attempted to move the boat trailer.

         [¶5] The court found, based on Allen's testimony, that Rae committed an act of "fear and intimidation" by cutting off a tire valve stem on Allen's boat trailer, which Allen parked in the disputed area, and that Rae did it "to be . .. mean and harass [Allen] because of this dispute."[2]

         [¶6] After the hearing, the District Court entered an order of protection from harassment in favor of Allen and against Rae for one year. See 5 M.R.S. § 4655(1), (2). The court made clear that it was not resolving the ownership of the disputed property or determining the boundary lines of the properties. Rae filed a motion for additional findings of fact and conclusions of law and a motion to amend the judgment; both motions were summarily denied. Rae timely appealed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶7] "We review the trial court's findings of fact for clear error and will affirm those findings if there is competent evidence in the record to support them, even if the evidence might support alternative findings of fact." Preston v. Tracy,2008 ME 34, ¶ 10, 942 A.2d 718 (quotation marks omitted). This deferential standard is "particularly appropriate" in actions for protection orders, "where the trial court's ability to observe the witnesses invariably plays a part in its assessment of the impact a particular person's words and actions had upon another person." Smith v. Hawthorne,2002 ME 149, ¶ 16, 804 A.2d 1133. Although on appeal we cannot infer findings from the evidence in cases where, as here, a motion for further findings is denied, Douglas v. Douglas,2012 ME 67, ¶ 27, 43 A.3d 965, the fact-finder may nevertheless have drawn ...


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