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Sappi North America v. Dyer

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

August 2, 2019

SAPPI NORTH AMERICA, Plaintiff
v.
CHERYL DYER, Defendant

          ORDER

          Thomas D. Warren Justice, Superior Court

         Before the court is a motion by defendant Cheryl Dyer to dismiss the complaint filed by plaintiff Sappi North America.[1] Oral argument on the motion was held on July 31, 2019 to address a jurisdictional issue raised by the court.

         In its complaint Sappi alleges that Dyer has filed a petition for an award of workers compensation death benefits pursuant to 39-A M.R.S. § 215 as the spouse of Joseph Dias. The petition alleged that Dias had died on July 28, 2017 as a result of lung cancer resulting from exposure to asbestos while he was employed at Sappi, [2]

         The complaint further alleges that Dyer had been Dias's "significant other" for many years but that her status as Dias's spouse is based on a marriage that occurred on July 9, 2017, after Dias had apparently begun receiving in-home hospice services from the Hospice of Southern Maine. Sappi alleges that shortly before the marriage Dias had been evaluated as unable to answer questions and suffering from disorientation, delirium, and impaired judgment and that Dias was not legally competent to marry on July 9, 2017.

         Sappi's complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that Dyer was not legally married to Dias at the date of his death, which would make Dyer ineligible to receive benefits as a surviving spouse.

         Dyer has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. In her motion papers she argues that the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction to consider a claim that is essentially a proceeding to annul a marriage.

         With respect to the status of the workers compensation proceeding, Sappi alleges in its complaint that when it sought to raise the validity of the marriage in the workers compensation proceeding, Dyer responded that the validity of the marriage was not an issue that the Workers Compensation Board could decide.[3] Sappi thereafter brought a motion to stay the workers compensation proceeding and filed this action. At oral argument on July 31, the parties reported that by agreement the workers compensation petition had been subsequently dismissed without prejudice with the statute of limitations tolled to allow refiling.

         After reviewing the papers filed by Dyer and Sappi on the pending motion to dismiss, the court requested oral argument to allow the parties to address a different issue relating to subject matter jurisdiction - whether the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because issues relating to eligibility for workers compensation benefits are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Workers Compensation Board.

         Standard of Review

         The issue of whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction for purposes of M.R.Civ.P. 12(b](1) and 12[h](3) is an issue of law, and the court may consider material outside of the pleadings. See 2 C. Harvey, Maine Civil Practice [3d. ed. 2011] § 12:7, citing Guterriez v. Guterriez, 2007 ME 59 ¶¶ 8-10, 921 A.2d 153.

         For purposes of a motion to dismiss under MR.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the material allegations of the complaint must be taken as admitted. Ramsey v. Baxter Title Co., 2012 ME 113 ¶ 2, 54 A.3d 710. The complaint must be read in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine if it sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts that would entitle plaintiff 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 plaintiff is not entitled to relief under any set of facts that he might prove in support of his claim. Moody v. State Liquor & Lottery Commission, 2004 ME 20 ¶ 7, 843 A.2d 43. However, a plaintiff may not proceed if the complaint fails to allege essential elements of the cause of action. See Potter, Prescott, Jamieson & Nelson PA. v. Campbell, 1998 ME 70 ¶¶6-7, 708A.2d283.

         On a l2[b][6] motion the court can consider official public documents, documents that are central to the plaintiffs claim, and documents referred to in the complaint, but cannot otherwise consider materials outside of the complaint without converting the motion into a motion for summary judgment. Moody v. State Liquor & Lottery Commission, 2004 ME 20 ¶ 10.

         In this case the court does not have to consider Dyer's Rule l2(b](6] motion because it concludes that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking.[4]

         Ju ...


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