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, the Law Court’s latest decision, State v. Athayde, continues the Court’s steady revival of its primacy doctrine (discussed previously, here and here).  In Athayde, the Court was confronted with constitutional claims under both the U.S. and the Maine Constitutions; in addressing these claims, the Court began its analysis with the Maine Constitution, noting that it would consider the U.S. Constitution only “if the state constitution does not settle the issue” and would give federal jurisprudence only persuasive weight in this inquiry.  Significantly, Justice Connors, writing for the Court, then explained why the Court applied this approach:

(1) there is no federal constitutional violation if the state constitution provides relief;

(2) state courts should exercise judicial restraint by avoiding unnecessary opinions regarding the scope of the U.S. Constitution; and

(3) the primacy doctrine appropriately recognizes the importance of the protections guaranteed by Maine citizens by the state constitution.

The Court’s principled, consistent application of the primacy doctrine is a significant jurisprudential development over the last several years.

Third, the Court’s decision in Doe v. Lozano is worth a quick mention.  In that case, the Court for the first time articulated the standards for enforcing a settlement agreement under Maine law.  The Court first explained when evidentiary hearings on a motion to enforce are necessary.  The Court stated that, if the settlement agreement is entered into the record, a court may summarily enforce the agreement without fact-finding.  If, however, the parties dispute the existence or terms of a settlement agreement, then fact finding will ordinarily be required.  Fact finding will also ordinarily be required where one party argues that the settlement agreement is void or voidable (for instance, because of duress or fraud).  The Court then addressed enforcement remedies. On that point, the Court concluded that, once a trial court finds that an enforceable settlement agreement exists, the trial court may enter judgment in accordance with the agreement and may also separately resolve any claim for breach of that agreement after taking evidence.

That’s all for now – bon été!

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