Beware the Appeal Deadline, Part 2: Motions to Amend a Judgment v. Motions for Relief from Judgment

In Board of Overseers v. Brown, the Law Court addressed the timeliness of an appeal following a “motion for clarification” of a judgment.  In doing so, the Law Court drew an interesting distinction between requests for relief that qualify as a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e) (which toll the appeal deadline) and those that are categorized as a motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b) (which do not toll the appeal deadline).  This distinction poses potential traps for the unwary.

Brown involved a bar complaint against an attorney for violations of the Maine Rules of Professional Conduct, which led to the imposition of sanctions by a single justice.  Within 14 days of entry of judgment (perhaps not coincidentally, the deadline for a Rule 59(e) motion), the Board of Overseers of the Bar filed a “motion for clarification,” without citing the authority upon which it relied, seeking additional sanctions.  The single justice granted the

Beware the Appeal Deadline: Pending Motions and Entry of Final Judgment

The Law Court’s decision in Fournier v. Flats Industrial, Inc., issued last week, provides a stark reminder of the importance of attention to the deadlines for filing an appeal of a final judgment.  The Law Court treats the deadline as jurisdictional, and requires “strict compliance”—even when, as in Fournier, the trial court may not have yet resolved all pending motions before entry of final judgment.

In Fournier, after the Superior Court granted a motion to dismiss two of three counts in the plaintiffs’ complaint, the plaintiffs filed a stipulation voluntarily dismissing the final count together with a motion for a protective order to preserve the confidentiality of certain documents.  The Superior Court granted the motion for protective order four days after the stipulation and motion were filed.  Nineteen days later—importantly, more than 21 days after filing the stipulation of dismissal—the plaintiffs filed a notice of appeal relating to the two counts previously dismissed by the

Keeping Form Subservient to Substance in Rule 80B (and 80C) Actions

What is the proper remedy when a party challenges a municipal action under Rule 80B, but the court later determines that this was the wrong procedural vehicle to challenge the municipal action?  In Hurricane Island Foundation v. Town of Vinalhaven, the Law Court took a pragmatic approach by treating the proceeding as a declaratory judgment action rather than dismissing the action.

In Hurricane Island Foundation, a nonprofit sought to challenge a town tax assessor’s decision denying the nonprofit a tax abatement.  The nonprofit brought its challenge under Rule 80B.  The Town, however, argued that this was the wrong procedural vehicle because review of an assessor’s decision must be obtained through abatement or declaratory judgment.  The Law Court ultimately agreed, concluding that Rule 80B does not provide for review of a tax assessor’s decision.  This raised an important issue—should the lawsuit be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction?

The Law Court applied a very practical solution. 

Standing, Cross-Appeals, and Rule 80B

Maine law regarding cross-appeals has long been murky, and as a result that subject has often been the subject of commentary both at this blog (here and here, for instance) and elsewhere.  The Law Court brought additional clarity in this area of the law in its recent decision in Tominsky v. Town of Ogunquit.  In the Court’s own words, Tominsky “resolve[d] thorny questions” regarding standing requirements, Maine Rule of Civil Procedure 80B, and Maine Rule of Appellate Procedure 2C.

The facts of the case are fairly straightforward.  After the Town of Ogunquit issued building permits, a neighbor challenged the permits before the Town’s Board of Appeals.  The problem was that the neighbor’s challenge was not timely.  Nevertheless, the Board granted a “good cause” exception to the 30-day time limit and considered the merits – only to ultimately deny the appeal.  The neighbor appealed under Rule 80B, and the developer felt compelled to bring

Due Process, Retroactive Laws, and Vested Rights in Development Projects

Last week marked the close of a major legal dispute under Maine law regarding the applicability of retroactive laws to development projects already under construction.  The issue in the case was one of fundamental fairness: if a person obtains a valid permit under existing law and then in good faith expends significant sums building a project based on that permit, can the permit later be taken away based on newly enacted requirements? The case, NECEC Transmission LLC v. Bureau of Parks and Lands, provided a definitive answer—under the Maine Constitution, due process prevents such an outcome.

Full disclosure:  this author, together with colleagues at Pierce Atwood including John Aromando, Sara Murphy, and Jared des Rosiers, obtained this first-of-its-kind ruling on vested rights.

The retroactive law at issue was a citizen initiative adopted in 2021 that purported to bar completion of the New England Clean Energy Connect (or “NECEC”) project, a

Respect the Process: Late Appeals and Wrongful Use of Civil Proceedings

Last week the Law Court handed down two decisions relating to judicial process, addressing the time limits for notices of appeal and the situations in which relief can be sought for wrongful use of civil proceedings.

In the first case, Witham v. Board of Trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, a petitioner challenging an agency action failed to timely appeal from a Superior Court decision affirming the agency’s action.  Instead of filing a notice of appeal within 21 days of the court’s judgment, the petitioner did not appeal until 160 days after entry of judgment.  The problem arose because the petitioner never received notice of the Superior Court’s decision; the clerk’s office apparently mailed the judgment, but the postal service did not deliver it.  The problem is, Maine Rule of Appellate Procedure 2B provides that the appeal period may only be extended by more than 21 days (but no more than 140 days) if the clerk failed to send the

Is It Appropriate to Defer to Agency Interpretations under the Maine Constitution?

The issue of whether courts should defer to an executive agency’s interpretation of a statute is a familiar one.  Going back all the way to Marbury v. Madison, we know that courts decide the meaning of a statute.  Courts therefore routinely decide how to interpret ambiguous statutes.  But what happens when a statute is ambiguous and an agency tasked with enforcing that statute has interpreted the statute in a particular way? Should a court defer to that interpretation?

Under Law Court precedent, the answer to this question has been, as a general rule, yes.  In Guilford Transportation Industries v. Public Utilities Commission and elsewhere, the Law Court has said that a court will defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute it enforces if (1) the statute is ambiguous, and (2) the agency’s interpretation is reasonable.  In doing so, the Law Court relied upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Chevron v. NRDC,

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.


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