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First Financial, Inc. v. Morisson

Supreme Court of Maine

June 13, 2019

FIRST FINANCIAL, INC.
v.
PETER E. MORRISON et al.

          Argued: May 15, 2019

          John F. Lambert, Jr., Esq. (orally), Lambert Coffin, Portland, for appellant Fist Financial, Inc.

          Bridget McMahon, Esq. (orally), Legal Services for the Elderly, Scarborough, for appellees Peter and Judith Morrison

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

          PER CURIAM.

         [¶1] First Financial, Inc., appeals from a judgment of the District Court (Biddeford, Cantara, J.) denying its motion for relief from judgment after the court denied its motion to dismiss its foreclosure complaint without prejudice and granted Peter E. and Judith B. Morrison's motion for judgment on the pleadings. First Financial argues, among other things, that it was an abuse of discretion for the court to deny its motion for relief because the clerk's office failed to notify it of the entry of the earlier orders before the time to take an appeal from those orders expired. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the judgment.

         I. CASE HISTORY

         [¶2] In September 2017, First Financial filed a foreclosure complaint in the District Court in Biddeford alleging that Peter and Judith Morrison had defaulted on a note held by First Financial and secured by the Morrisons' real property in Biddeford. The Morrisons filed an answer on the court-approved answer form in which they denied "at least some of [First Financial's statements in the foreclosure complaint," asserted all applicable affirmative defenses, and requested mediation.

         [¶3] The case was temporarily transferred to the District Court in Springvale for the Foreclosure Diversion Program. The notification of the temporary transfer-signed by a deputy clerk-stated: "All further filings shall be sent to the SPRINGVALE DISTRICT COURT." The parties subsequently participated in two mediation sessions, but were unable to reach a resolution. At the end of the second mediation session, the parties agreed that the mediation report would become final and the case would be returned to the foreclosure docket if neither party requested another mediation session by April 2, 2018.

         [¶4] Neither party requested further mediation, and, on April 9, 2018, the Morrisons filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in the District Court in Biddeford. See M.R. Civ. P. 12(c). In that motion, they asserted that First Financial's notice of default and the right to cure did not comply with the requirements of 14 M.R.S. § 6111 (2018).

         [¶5] On May 2, 2018, First Financial filed a motion to dismiss its foreclosure complaint without prejudice, also in the District Court in Biddeford. The court signed an order granting the Morrisons' motion for judgment on May 4, 2018, but despite a clerk-created "stamp" that indicated that the order had been docketed and copies provided to counsel by mail on May 7, 2018, the order was not docketed until May 18, 2018. In the meantime, First Financial filed a response in opposition to the Morrisons' motion for judgment on May 8, 2018, in the District Court in Biddeford. In its response, First Financial admitted the defect in its notice of the right to cure, but urged the court to grant its motion for dismissal without prejudice.

         [¶6] Although the docket record and date stamp suggest that First Financial's response was untimely, see M.R. Civ. P. 7(c)(2) (dictating that any opposition to a motion must be filed no later than twenty-one days after the filing of the motion), the record also contains an email from a clerk at the District Court in Springvale informing the judge that the response and the motion to dismiss "were filed prior to the expiration of the response period, however, the Springvale office did not know they were filed because they were filed in Biddeford."

         [¶7] The Morrisons filed a response to First Financial's motion to dismiss on May 14, 2018, and asserted that there were no pending claims to dismiss because the court's order granting their motion for judgment-which still had not been docketed at that point-disposed of First Financial's complaint entirely. The court summarily denied First Financial's motion to dismiss. That order, and the order granting the Morrisons' motion for judgment were both docketed on May 18, 2018.

         [¶8] On July 11, 2018, First Financial filed in the District Court in Biddeford a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 60(a) and (b) along with an ...


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