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Mague v. Fish

Superior Court of Maine, Sagadahoc

May 30, 2019

JESSICA MAGUE Plaintiff,
v.
STANWOOD CURTIS FISH, JR., SHARON DRAKE, SHARON DRAKE REAL ESTATE, INC., and LONGREACH CORPORATION, Defendants.

          JESSICA MAGUE - PLAINTIFF Attorney for: JESSICA MAGUE EZRA, A R WILLEY - RETAINED WILLEY LAW OFFICES

          STANWOOD CURTIS FISH JR - DEFENDANT Attorney for: STANWOOD CURTIS FISH JR, ADAM J. SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          SHARON DRAKE - DEFENDANT Attorney for: SHARON DRAKE, ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED, PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          SHARON DRAKE REAL ESTATE INC - DEFENDANT Attorney for: SHARON DRAKE REAL ESTATE INC., ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          LONGREACH REAL ESTATE LLC - DEFENDANT Attorney for: LONGREACH REAL ESTATE LLC, ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          LONGREACH CORPORATION - DEFENDANT Attorney for: LONGREACH CORPORATION, ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          SEA HOME LLC - DEFENDANT Attorney for: SEA HOME LLC ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          SEGUIN BROTHERS LLC - DEFENDANT Attorney for SEGUIN BROTHERS LLC, ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          WINNEGANCE WAY LLC - DEFENDANT Attorney for: WINNEGANCE WAY LLC ADAM J SHUB - RETAINED PRETI FLAHERTY BELIVEAU PACHIOS LLP

          ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Daniel I. Billings, Justice

          This matter is before the court on the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. The court heard oral argument on March 5, 2019.

         BACKGROUND

         This case centers around the end of a romantic relationship. The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. The Plaintiff ("Mague" or "Plaintiff") and Defendant Stanwood Curtis Fish, Jr. ("Fish") met and began a relationship in 2006. (Plaintiff's Additional Statement of Material Facts ("PASMF") ¶ 1.) When the parties met, Mague was in the process of building a home on a parcel of land she owned. (PASMF ¶ 2.) Sometime in the following year or so, at Fish's suggestion, Mague abandoned the construction of her home and joined forces with Fish to build one home on his property. (PASMF ¶¶ 3-4.) From the beginning of the relationship through the end, Mague understood that Fish did not want to be married, but was uneasy about this because of the position of financial vulnerability it placed her in. (passim PASMF and Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("SMF")). Fish repeatedly assured her that they were in a lifetime committed relationship, and whenever Mague spoke of marriage Fish reiterated that he did not want to be married and asked Mague to "trust him." (SMF ¶¶I3-I4, 20.)

         Throughout the construction of the home and a barn, the parties agreed that Fish would pay for nearly all of the costs, while Mague would contribute through architectural design and physical labor. (PASMF ¶¶ 11-14; SMF ¶ 1.) In addition to financing the construction, Fish also put significant time and labor into the construction. (PASMF ¶ 14.) Mague contributed some items to the construction of the home, including a window and door with sentimental value. (Pl.'s qualification of SMF ¶ 35.) Mague's mother gifted elm wood to both Mague and Fish that was used to build a staircase, banisters, and vanities in the home. (SMF ¶ 35.) Mague contributed money towards the foundation of the barn. (PASMF ¶ 13.) While living together, Fish paid the mortgage, real estate taxes, homeowners insurance, and utilities which amounted to roughly $3, 800 per month. (SMF ¶¶ 40-44.)[1] Mague contributed about $1, 333 per month towards household expenses. (SMF ¶ 39.) She also took on household chores and duties. (SMF ¶¶ 19-20.)

         During the course of their relationship, on multiple occasions, Fish promised to provide for Mague into her old age, that the home they built would be theirs for the rest of their lives, and that he would provide for her domestically and professionally for the rest of her life. (SMF ¶¶ 1, 3, 26, 27, 29, 30.) While in a relationship with Fish, Mague worked for Longreach Corporation ("Longreach"), Fish's company. (SMF ¶ 47.) Fish's mother, Defendant Sharon Drake ("Drake"), owns Sharon Drake Real Estate, Inc. ("SDRE"), that Mague also worked for. (SMF ¶ 47.) Mague admits she was paid for her work with both companies, but claims she was underpaid. (SMF ¶¶ 48-53.)

         A number of times throughout the relationship, Mague suggested combining assets, putting her name on the deed to the home, and making her an owner in one of the businesses, but Fish was not in favor of those actions and instead asked Mague to trust him. (SMF ¶ 14.) Fish ended the relationship in 2016, required Mague to leave the home, and fired her from Longreach a few months later. (SMF ¶ 31, PASMF ¶ 34.)

         This case suffers a torturous procedural history. The following is a brief summary to set the stage for the Motion before the court. Mague initially brought suit against eight defendants: Fish, Drake, and six of their companies that they each owned. Defendants moved to dismiss some of Plaintiffs claims and the Complaint against certain defendants, which was granted. The remaining Defendants are Fish, Drake, Longreach, and SDRE. Mague moved to amend her Complaint to add new claims which was partially granted. She agreed at various times to the dismissal of some counts of her Complaint. The following are the remaining counts to be resolved on this Motion for Summary Judgment, including the particular Defendants that the counts are asserted against.

• Promissory Estoppel - Count I
o Defendant Fish
• Fraudulent Misrepresentation - Count IV
o Defendant Fish
• Unjust Enrichment - Count V
o All Defendants
• Negligence - Count VII
o Defendant Fish and Defendant Drake
• Conversion - Count VIII
o All Defendants
• Civil Conspiracy - Count XII
o All Defendants

          DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, reviewing the evidence in the statements of fact and record references in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. M.R. Civ. P. 56(a), (c); Platz Assocs. v. Finley, 2009 ME 55, ¶ 10, 973 A.2d 743 (internal citations omitted). A fact is material if "it has the potential to affect the outcome of the suit." Id. "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the fact finder must choose between competing versions of the truth." Id. To survive a summary judgment motion, a plaintiff must show a prima facie case for each element of her cause of action. Estate of Barron v. Shapiro & Morley, LLC, 2017 ME 51, ¶ 13, 157 A.3d 769. "If a plaintiff presents insufficient evidence on an essential element of a cause of action, such that the defendant would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law on that state of the evidence at a trial, the defendant is entitled to a summary judgment." Id.

         Promissory Estoppel - Count I

         Plaintiff's promissory estoppel claim is asserted against Defendant Fish only. Mague is seeking damages in the form of a payment representing part of the home's equity and unpaid wages. She alleges that based on Fish's promises to her, she believed she would have a home to live in for the remainder of her life. Additionally, she maintains that she agreed to work for a lower salary as her contribution to the home, and she relied on Fish's promises that he would take care of her domestically and financially into her old age. Fish argues that it was unreasonable for Mague to rely on his promises because he refused to marry her from the outset or make any other binding legal commitment to her. He relies on her deposition testimony to support his argument. Additionally, he contends that as an at-will employee, Mague may not pursue a promissory estoppel claim for unpaid wages.

          A. Promissory Estoppel, the Equity in the Home, and Related Claims

         "Promissory estoppel is a contract doctrine invoked to enforce promises which are otherwise unenforceable so as to avoid injustice." Cottle Enters, v. Town of Farmington, 1997 ME 78, ¶ 17 n.6, 693 A.2d 330. Maine has adopted the Restatement (Second) of Contracts' formulation of promissory estoppel. Chapman v. Bomann, 381 A.2d 1123, 1127 (Me. 1978). Therefore, a plaintiff has a claim if she can show

[a] promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee .. . and which does induce such action or forbearance is binding if injustice can be avoided only by enforcement of the promise. The remedy granted for breach may be limited as justice requires.

Id. (emphasis added). The relied upon promise does not need to be express and may be implied from the promisor's conduct. June Roberts Agency v. Venture Props., 676 A.2d 46, 50 (Me. 1996).

         In the case at bar, despite the standard referencing a "promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee," Fish focuses on why it was unreasonable for Mague, the promisee, to rely on his promises to stay in a committed relationship and that she would have a place to live forever.[2] He points to the fact that he refused to place her name on the deed to the home and that she never became an owner in any of his businesses as to why her beliefs were unreasonable. Fish, however, does not deny making express promises to provide for Mague, or that he asked her to remain in a committed long-term partnership. Instead, he now states that it was unreasonable for her to rely on those promises.

         The court found little caselaw on "reasonableness" in the context of a summary judgment motion on a promissory estoppel claim. Based on the Material Facts provided by both parties, a factfinder could determine that Fish, the promisor, should have reasonably expected Mague to rely on his promises that he would buy her a car and provide her with a home to live in for the remainder of her life given the amount of time and energy she put into constructing it, and that she allegedly took a smaller salary to contribute to it. She stopped building her own house in order to help Fish with his, and presumably could have earned more money elsewhere if not working for his company and taking a smaller salary in order to be able to contribute more to the home. It is up to a jury, not the court, to decide what is reasonable in this case and whether it would be an injustice for Fish to not compensate Mague whatsoever for her contributions towards the home.[3] Defendant Fish is denied Summary Judgment on Mague's promissory estoppel claim regarding Mague's claims against the home's equity in Count I.

         B. Promissory Estoppel and Mague's ...


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