We are off for the holidays, and so end the year with a quick review of recent decisions from the Law Court and First Circuit. Thanks to all for reading and for the feedback received in 2017. A surprising number of folks seem interested in reading about Maine law – we had 400 readers on a recent blog entry. Remember, a subscription makes a lovely present (it’s free! Just press a button!) I look forward to the another year of reporting what’s doing in the Maine appellate world.
In a recent blog we noted two recent First Circuit decisions, one affirming rejection of an appeal because of a blown deadline, and another reversing denial of a motion to vacate a dismissal of a suit for not showing up at a motion hearing. (Here are a couple recent rulings from the First Circuit that piqued our interest) The difference in the results, the later decision said, included a reluctance to end a suit before any merit review.
Well, no such reluctance in Skrabec v. Town of North Attleboro, No. 17-1385. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant when the plaintiff didn’t respond to the motion and rejected a Rule 60(b)(1) motion based on excusable neglect. Our Judge Levy, sitting by designation and joined by Judges Lynch and Selya, affirmed. Counsel for plaintiffs said they thought that there was an understanding that the summary judgment motion would be put on hold while the parties talked settlement, but the email communications didn’t reflect any such agreement.
The Maine SJC
We can’t pass up talking about a Rule 80B appeal with independent claims – Bryant v. Wiscasset, 2017 ME 234. The permittees wanted to expand a building for fireworks storage. Neighbors objected. The Planning Board approved the application. The procedure then gets messy, and I’m not going to get into that. At the end of the administrative proceedings, the neighbors filed an 80B appeal with multiple “independent claims” arguing that the procedures used to reach the administrative decision violated due process.
A claim that an administrative process was inadequate IS NOT an independent claim. (If the constitutional claim is something other than procedural due process, then it can be an independent claim, but that’s another story, upon which I have also blogged multiple times.) A claim of a procedural deficiency is a part of the 80B appeal – the process — itself, and there is a bunch of case law saying that the 80B avenue of relief is exclusive.
In its decision, the Court notes that the asserted independent claims were duplicative of the 80B and dismisses the appeals of them “as moot.” Isn’t it more precise to say that they fail to state a claim? This distinction can as a practical matter make a difference. Independent claims that really are not independent, but duplicative of the 80B claim, are like milfoil – they clog the motor of judicial review. Deadlines get halted and procedures get more complicated under Rule 80B. Such counts should be stripped from the suit right from the beginning.