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Hodge v. Maine School Administrative District 6

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

May 20, 2019

JIM HODGE, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT 6, Defendant

          ORDER

          THOMAS D. WARREN JUSTICE

         Before the court is a motion to dismiss filed by defendant Maine School Administrative District 6.

         This case is part of a two decades-long dispute relating to the Town of Frye Island's attempt to withdraw from MSAD 6. This dispute centers on emergency legislation enacted in 2001 (P. & S.L. 2001 ch. 8, also referred to as ':L.D. 500"), which states mat Frye Island may not withdraw from MSAD 6 unless authorized by further action by the Legislature.

         L.D. 500 was challenged previously in litigation that culminated in the Law Court's 2008 decision in Town of Frye Island v. Stale, 2008 ME 27, 940 A.2d 1065, although the Law Court found that the issues with respect to L.D. 500 were moot at that time. L.D. 500 is now also being challenged in a pending Lawsuit between MSAD 6 and the Town of Frye Island in which the plaintiffs in this action have intervened. MSAD 6 v. Town of Frye Island, CV-18-008 (Superior Court Cumberland County). In that case the court recently granted summary judgment to MSAD 6.

         In this action plaintiffs Jim Hodge and Ed Rogers allege that L.D. 500 violates equal protection, due process, the Emergency Legislation clause of the Maine Constitution, me right to petition government for redress of grievances, and the right to Equal Taxation under the Maine Constitution.

         Specifically, Hodge and Rogers allege they are residents, taxpayers, and registered voters of the Town of Frye Island. Complaint ¶¶ 1-2.[1] Frye Island is a seasonal community with approximately 1500 seasonal and weekend residents and approximately 160 registered voters. Id. ¶¶ 7, 9. Frye Island shuts down each winter from November 1 to April 1, suspending ferry service, draining the public water supply, and closing the island roads. Id., ¶¶ 23-24, [2]

         According to the complaint, Frye Island has no school age children who reside on the island during the school year and no residents of the island attend MSAD 6 schools. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. Hodge and Rogers allege that Frye Island made an annual contribution of approximately Si.5 million to MSAD 6 in each of the years 2015, 2016, and 2017 and received no services for that contribution. Id. ¶¶ 38-40.

         Hodge and Rogers allege that they are injured by L.D. 500 because a portion of their taxes go to MSAD 6, and L.D. 500 denies Frye Island the ability to withdraw from MSAD 6 and thereby relieve Frye Island residents from contributing to MSAD 6's finances. Id. ¶ 50.

         Legal Standard

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the material allegations of the complaint must be taken as admitted. Ramseyy. Baxter Title Co., 2012 ME 1132, 54 A.3d 710. The complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs to determine if it sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts that would entitle plaintiffs to relief pursuant to some legal theory. Bisson v. Hannaford Bros. Co., Inc., 2006 ME 131 ¶ 2, 909 A.2d 1010. Dismissal is appropriate only when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiffs are not entitled to relief under any set of facts that they might prove in support of their claim. Moody v. State Liquor & Lottery Commission, 2004 ME 20 ¶ 7, 843 A.2d 43. However, the plaintiffs may not proceed if the complaint fails to allege essential elements of the cause of action. See Potter, Prescott, Jamieson & Nelson P. A. v. Campbell, 1998 ME 70 ¶¶ 6-7, 708 A.2d 283.

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court can consider official public documents and documents that are central to plaintiffs' claim without converting a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Moody v. State Liquor & Lottery Commission, 2004 ME 20 ¶¶ 9-10. In this case, therefore, the court can consider the text and provisions of L.D. 500 although L.D. 500 is nowhere quoted in the complaint.

         On the pending motion MSAD 6 challenges the standing of Hodge and Rogers to pursue this action and the sufficiency of the factual allegations supporting their complaint.

         Taxpayer Standing

         Taxpayer standing in cases brought against units of local government appears to depend on whether the taxpayers are seeking preventive or remedial relief and, if remedial relief is sought, whether the taxpayers have demonstrated particularized injury. See Petrin v. Town of Scarborough, 2016 ME 136 ¶ 20, 147 A.3d 842. In this case, however, Hodge and Rogers are not challenging actions by municipal authorities with respect to taxation or apportionment. They are instead challenging a state statute which prevents Frye Island's attempt to withdraw from MSAD 6 and thereby causes a portion of their property taxes to be contributed to an entity from which they receive no services.

         With respect to taxpayer standing in cases challenging state governmental action, the Law Court has abandoned the distinction between preventative and remedial relief in cases where taxpayers allege that the State is acting in violation of the Constitution and injuring them by raising their taxes. Common Cause v. State, 455 A.2d 1, 9-13 (Me. 1982). Although the State was a named party in Common Cause and is not a named party in this case, Common Cause involved state action taken pursuant to legislation authorizing a bond issue which was then approved by the voters in a referendum. 455 A.2d at 5. Because Hodge and Rogers are similarly challenging a state statute which they allege raises their taxes, the court sees no reason to apply the preventative vs. remedial distinction in this case.

         Even if that distinction were to be applied, Hodge and Rogers are seeking a declaratory judgment that L.D, 500 is unconstitutional, which appears to be a form of preventative rather than remedial relief. Accordingly, the court does not have to consider the issue of whether Hodge and Rogers have shown a particularized injury given that the effect of L.D, 500 on their taxes is indirect, rather than direct. On the issue of taxpayer standing, the court concludes that Hodge and Rogers may proceed with this action.

         However, as noted below, it appears that in some instances Hodge and Rogers are attempting to assert claims on behalf of the Town of Frye Island rather than on their own behalf, and it is not clear that they have standing to do so. The court will consider those issues in connection with MS AD 6's arguments that each of the claims set forth in the complaint fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted.

         As drafted, the complaint consists of one count, generally alleging that L.D. 500 is unconstitutional. However, in the portion of the complaint addressed to the relief requested, Hodge and Rogers are seeking separate declaratory judgments that L.D. 500 (1) violates equal protection, (2) violates due process, (3) violated the Emergency Legislation Clause, (4) violates the right to ...


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