About

In this blog, we seek to discuss issues relating to appeals and appellate law in Maine, including the activities and decisions of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and First Circuit Court of Appeals relevant to Maine, and other participants in the Maine appellate community.

District of Maine Judicial Conference

I had the opportunity to attend the District of Maine Judicial Conference earlier this week, and it did not disappoint.  It was the first one held in four years given the pandemic, and it was great to hear from practitioners and judges in person.  My partner Nolan Reichl, along with Valerie Wicks, moderated a great panel on Rule 26(f) issues.  Of particular note for this blog, however, attendees also had the opportunity to hear from the Chief Judge of the First Circuit, Judge Barron.

Judge Barron provided an enlightening “State of the Circuit” update at the Conference.  Judge Barron noted the transitions on the First Circuit bench, with the appointments in the last year of Judge Montecalvo for the open seat from Rhode Island and Judge Gelpí from Puerto Rico.  More changes are yet to come, with a vacancy for Judge Howard’s seat from New Hampshire, and a pending nominee (Julie Rikelman) for Judge Lynch’s seat from Massachusetts.  This is certainly a remarkable

The First Circuit Reframes Preemption

Yesterday the First Circuit handed down a notable decision in Maine Forest Products Council v. Cormier, a case in which my firm represented the plaintiffs-appellees.  In MFPC, plaintiffs challenged a state law barring non-resident workers from hauling logs within Maine under the federal H-2A visa program.   The First Circuit concluded that plaintiffs demonstrated a substantial likelihood of succeeding on their claim that the state law is preempted by federal immigration law.  The preemption analysis in MFPC presents a notable clarification of the First Circuit’s approach to obstacle preemption.

The state law, Public Law 280, prohibits the employment of non-resident workers from transporting forest products within Maine.  By contrast, federal law permits non-resident workers to obtain admission to the United States to transport forest products under the H-2A program as long as employers demonstrate that there are not sufficient U.S. workers to perform the labor and that the employment of the nonresident would not adversely affect wages

The Dormant Commerce Clause and Discrimination in Illegal Interstate Markets

Last week the First Circuit reached an interesting conclusion: the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from adopting protectionist legislation affecting illegal interstate markets.  The case, Northeast Patients Group v. United Cannabis Patients and Caregivers of Maine, involved a state law requiring officers and directors of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Maine to be Maine residents.  The plaintiff sued, seeking to sell their business to a Delaware corporation despite the Maine law.  The plaintiff invoked the U.S. Constitution’s so-called Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from placing substantial burdens on interstate commerce via protectionist legislation.

The fundamental issue in the case was whether the Dormant Commerce Clause applies in the context of illegal markets.  The defendants conceded that protectionist legislation, such as the residency requirement in Maine’s medical marijuana law, is virtually always unconstitutional.  They argued, however, that the residency requirement was not invalid because federal law makes the interstate marijuana market illegal.  If the interstate market itself is illegal, there is at

A Summer Smorgasbord – Rule Changes, Constitutional Law, and Settlement Agreements

It’s the middle of a beautiful Maine summer, a good time for a few quick hits on some interesting developments . . .

First, as I previewed last month, new amendments to the Rules of Appellate Procedure became effective July 13.  The new rules streamline certain procedures (such as allowing electronic signatures), make a few tweaks (particularly to the content and formatting for briefs), and provide helpful clarity (regarding cross-appeals).  The latter point is worth highlighting here.  As the Advisory Committee note observes, Rule 2C now makes clear that

no cross-appeal is necessary if the appellee does not seek to change any aspect of the judgment.  A cross-appeal is necessary only if a party seeks a change to the judgment.

With this change and the Court’s aside in Concord General regarding cross-appeals, perhaps some clarity is beginning to enter this area of the law.

Second,

Proposed Amendments to the Maine Rules of Appellate Procedure

The Advisory Committee on the Maine Rules of Appellate Procedure, of which I am a member, has been working with the SJC on potential changes to the rules.  The Court has made the proposals publicly available, and has invited public comment.  The deadline for any comments is July 1.

A quick summary of key changes may be helpful (though you should note this list isn’t exhaustive):

  1. Rule 1C: Electronic Signatures. The proposed rules include a new Rule 1C, which permits lawyers to sign documents electronically.  This will be familiar to practitioners, as it is patterned on and would make permanent the SJC’s pandemic orders permitting electronic signatures.
  2. Rule 2A(b): Appearances of Counsel. The amendments would clarify that, when an appeal is docketed in the Law Court, only members of the Maine bar are deemed to represent parties on appeal.  Any out-of-state attorneys must file a

Covid-19, Emergency Pandemic Orders, and Force Majeure

The Law Court recently weighed in on a trending legal issue – the extent to which Covid-19 restrictions trigger “force majeure” contract clauses.  In 55 Oak Street LLC v. RDR Enterprises, Inc., the Law Court considered the applicability of a force majeure clause in the context of emergency pandemic orders.

In what is a very familiar story that has played out across the country, Defendant RDR Enterprises, which operated a restaurant in a space owned by Plaintiff 55 Oak Street, was forced to close for a period of time as a result of emergency pandemic orders.  Subsequently, under revised pandemic orders, RDR was allowed to reopen at a limited capacity of approximately 35 guests; it did not do so because of its concerns about the economic feasibility of such operations.  After RDR failed to pay its rent, Oak Street filed a forcible entry and detainer action to evict RDR.

The central question in the case, on appeal, was whether

Due Process, Preliminary Injunctions, and Final Judgments

The Court recently clarified an important issue of civil procedure – the precise point at which a court may consolidate a preliminary injunction hearing with a hearing on the merits.

Rule 65 of the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court may consolidate a preliminary injunction hearing with a trial on the merits “[b]efore or after the commencement of the hearing of an application for a preliminary injunction.”  In McKeeman v. Duchaine, the Law Court held that, if a court is to consolidate the hearing and trial, it must do so before the preliminary injunction hearing concludes.

In McKeeman, tenants filed a complaint alleging that their landlord had violated various Maine statutes.  After a preliminary injunction hearing, the court granted the tenants’ motion in part, but denied a request to order the landlord to pay for temporary lodging.  Later, after the landlord failed to timely answer the complaint, the court denied the tenants’ motion

The Rebirth of State Constitutionalism Continues

One of the most interesting trends in the Law Court’s jurisprudence (at least in the mind of this blogger) is the continued renaissance of the Court’s primacy doctrine – an issue addressed before on this blog.  As explained in two prior blog posts (here and here), the primacy doctrine, generally speaking, directs state courts to resolve state constitutional issues prior to and independently of any federal constitutional issues.

The doctrine gained traction in the 1980s, but was largely neglected until two decisions in 2020; Justice Connors invoked it in her concurrence in State v Chan, and the Court applied it in State v. Fleming.  This revival does not appear to simply be a flash in the pan.

In a recent opinion authored by Justice Connors in State v. Reeves, the Court again applied the primacy approach to “first examine the defendant’s

Can You Enforce an Online Contract In Maine? It Depends.

The Law Court recently weighed in on a matter of critical importance – the enforceability of online consumer contracts.  Confronting the issue in a case involving ride-sharing giant Uber’s efforts to enforce an arbitration provision, the Law Court held in Sarchi v. Uber Technologies that online contracts are enforceable only if the consumer (1) has reasonable notice of the online contract terms, and (2) has manifested consent to those terms.   

Sarchi is one of many cases that have tested the bounds of what companies must do to secure consumers’ consent to the terms of a contract through software applications – but it is the first decision of its kind from the Law Court.  The Uber rider app at issue in Sarchi allowed consumers to register for an account without having to view the contract terms or expressly acknowledge agreement to those terms.  The Law Court held that, given these circumstances, the consumer could not be bound

Revisiting Appellate Trends from 2021

Around this time last year, I took a look at statistics showing that the filing of new civil appeals had declined in federal courts and in Maine.  As I observed then, the 2020 statistics had not yet fully captured the impact of the pandemic on appeals and civil appeal statistics would bear monitoring.  I decided to check back a year later, and it appears that the trend of declining appeals accelerated in 2021.

As Chief Justice Roberts’ 2021 year-end report discloses, new filings in federal courts of appeals fell from 48,190 in 2020 to 44,546, a decline of 9%; the decrease in civil appeals matched this decline.  This trend can also be seen in the First Circuit statistics; there, total appeals for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2021 fell over 15% as compared to the prior 12-month period ending June 30, 2020.  Even more starkly, total civil appeals for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2021 fell to