Recent decisions

Practice area:

I’m back from hiking in Vermont (which was very Vermont-y), and eschewing the recent big decisions which speak for themselves (e.g., the Maine SJC’s answer to questions from the Governor on the veto process (2015 ME 107), let’s talk about two decisions, one SJC and one First Circuit, that piqued my interest:  First Tracks Investments, LLC v. Murray, Plumb & Murray, 2015 ME 104; and Clukey v. Town of Camden, No. 14-1264.


First Tracks

This is a two-page per curiam decision in which the SJC expressed its crankiness at the size of the statement of material facts.  The plaintiff was represented by Thomas Hallet and Daphne Hallet Donahue of Hallett, Zerillo & Whipple, and the defendants by Peter DeTroy and Russel Pierce at Norman, Hanson & DeTroy.

The Business and Consumer Court entered summary judgment for the defendant.  The SJC affirmed, saying, without further discussion as to the merits, that the trial court concluded that First Tracks “failed to establish a prima facie case for each element as to both causes of action.”  The Court then went on, however, to express its displeasure that the defendants’ summary judgment motion was accompanied by 127 statements of material facts, and that the plaintiffs then filed an additional 130 statements of material facts.  The Court stated that contrary to the requirements of Rule 56(h), “both parties’ statements of fact are laden with unnecessary and inflammatory characterizations of the evidence, name more than one fact per statement, are repetitive and duplicative [isn’t that reference itself repetitive?], lack a chronological organization, and contain many facts that are entirely irrelevant to the litigation.” 

After stating its appreciation for “the herculean efforts” of the trial court (Murphy, J.) to resolve the motion, the SJC stated that it “would have been well within its discretion to have granted a summary judgment in favor of [defendants] based solely on First Track’s failure to comply with the requirements of Rule 56(h), or to have denied summary judgment based on the matter in which both parties availed themselves of the summary judgment process.”

I understand the last point – denying summary judgment to both sides if the Court thinks the rule hasn’t been followed (so stand warned and try to keep those SMFs down).  I’m not clear as to why the trial court could granted the defendants’ judgment based on what the SJC described as a mutual violation.  Didn’t the defendants, not the plaintiff, start this with a SMF that the Court thought was too long and violated the rule?  



I also have a question regarding this decision.  It has a complicated history, which we will dispense with and the issue relates to a question of contract interpretation under Maine law.  The panel (CJ Howard, and Judges Barron and Lipez, opinion by J. Lipez) remanded for further factual development because they found the contract language was ambiguous.

Here’s my question.  This wasn’t a summary judgment.  It was presented to the trial court on a stipulated record, and it’s my understanding that when that happens, it’s the parties saying, “this is what we got, you decide,” just like a trial.  So just like at a trial, the judge doesn’t say, “I want more evidence on X, Y and Z.”  Instead, the party with the burden of proof loses.  Why didn’t that happen here?