United States District Court, D. Maine
DECISION AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS
Brock Hornby United States District Judge.
case challenges the authority of a Maine town's select
board to provide in its town manager's employment
agreement that it can terminate her without cause. After oral
argument on August 8, 2019, and subsequent submissions from
the parties, I conclude that the town lacks authority to
terminate the town manager without cause. With one exception,
I Deny the defendants' motion to dismiss
the plaintiff's complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for
failure to state a claim.
plaintiff's complaint contains the following factual
assertions, which I take as true for purposes of ruling on
the defendants' motion.
Town of Rumford employed the plaintiff, Linda-Jean Briggs, as
its town manager. In February of 2018 the parties signed a
3-year employment agreement. Section 4 of that agreement
provided: “Town may terminate the employment of BRIGGS
pursuant to Chapter 1-A, Section 2 of the Town Ordinances [an
Ordinance provision concerning termination of the town
manager “for cause”]. In the event of termination
by the Select Board without cause, BRIGGS shall be
paid a lump sum amount equal to six (6) months salary as
liquidated damages.” (Emphasis added).
December 2018-January 2019, Rumford first suspended then
terminated the town manager without cause and
tendered her a check for six months' salary. The town
manager declined to cash the check, appealed her termination
to the Board of Appeals, and received notice from the Board
that it had no jurisdiction to hear her appeal.
town manager then filed a complaint in this court. She claims
that under Maine statutes and a Rumford ordinance, the town
cannot suspend or terminate her without cause, notice, and a
hearing (Count 1); and that the town's action deprived
her of her property interest in employment in violation of
the Maine Constitution's due process clause, Art. I,
§ 6-A (Count 2), and the due process clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Count
3). The town and its select board members moved to dismiss
all counts against them for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
oral argument I raised with the parties some issues
concerning the record before me. The parties then stipulated
that the copy of the employment agreement attached to the
defendants' motion is accurate and authentic and can be
considered on the motion, and that the defendants tendered to
the town manager the proper lump sum that the employment
agreement called for upon termination “without
cause.” Without objection, certified copies of the town
charter and the relevant ordinance were admitted to satisfy
Maine and federal precedents about how a court can consider
local ordinances. See, e.g., Summit Realty,
Inc. v. Gipe, 315 A.2d 428, 429-30 (Me. 1974); Getty
Petroleum Mktg. v. Capital Terminal Co., 391 F.3d 312,
321 (1st Cir. 2004).
federal court has jurisdiction over the dispute only if Count
3 concerning Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process
adequately states a federal claim. That in turn depends upon
whether the Rumford town manager had a property interest in
her continued employment to support a federal due process
claim (“nor shall any state deprive any person of . . .
property without due process of law, ” U.S. Const.
Amend. 14). According to the First Circuit: “It is well
established that a public employee has a constitutionally
protected property interest in his continued employment when
he reasonably expects that his employment will
continue.” King v. Town of Hanover, 116 F.3d
965, 969 (1st Cir. 1997). “In the presence of a
‘for cause' requirement, the employee typically has
a legal basis for thinking he will, in all likelihood, be
able to keep the job; in the absence of such a requirement,
the state law typically does not provide him with good
grounds for such an expectation.” Bennett v. City
of Boston, 869 F.2d 19, 21 (1st Cir. 1989). Thus, the
central question on the motion to dismiss is whether the town
can terminate its town manager only for cause; if so, that is
a property interest sufficient to generate federal procedural
due process requirements.
town manager argues that Maine law-both by statute and by
town ordinance-prevents a town from terminating a town
manager without cause, and that her employment agreement
provision to the contrary is therefore unenforceable.
has an “enabling” statute (subchapter 2 of
chapter 123 of 30-A M.R.S.A., first enacted in 1939) by which
municipalities can adopt a “town manager plan”
form of government by specifically voting at a town meeting
that they are adopting “this plan.” But adoption of
the “town manager plan” is not compulsory,
some towns adopted their own town manager government without
using the plan, by providing for it in their charter and
having the Legislature adopt their charter by Private and
Special Law. Rumford was one of the early adopters,
well before the existence of the enabling statute and maybe
as early as 1927.
by my questioning at oral argument, the parties have
proffered different, competing, versions of Rumford's
current source of authority for its town manager form of
government. Counsel for Rumford argues that the town has
never adopted the legislature's “town manager
plan” as such. If that is correct, the provisions of
subchapter 2 of chapter 123, all concerning the “town
manager plan, ” would be inapplicable. Instead, the
terms of Rumford's town ...