Similar, But Not the Same – Statutes of Repose, Miranda, and Constitutional Claims


Last week the SJC handed down a series of decisions worth discussing, and I am happy to say that our newest member of the Appellate Practice Group here at Pierce Atwood, Joshua Dunlap, is taking a turn on commenting on two of them – here is his entry.  I will blog on the last decision from last week, Fortier v. City of Lewiston, in the next go-round. 



The SJC recently handed down a decision, Godbout v. WLB Holding, Inc., 2010 ME 46, relating to the constitutionality of a statute of repose. [] In itself, the decision is fairly unremarkable – but it suggests an interesting issue. 


As to the case itself: The Godbouts had sought to bring a products liability complaint against WLB Holding, a dissolved corporation, but the claim was barred by a statute of repose.  Undeterred, the Godbouts challenged the statute as unconstitutional under Article 1, Section 19 of the Maine Constitution, which guarantees that “every person” who suffers injury “shall have remedy by due course of law.”  Noting that it had previously held that statutes of limitations are constitutional under this “open courts” provision, the SJC declined to find the statute of repose unconstitutional – any burden imposed by the statute on access to the courts is “not one of constitutional dimension.”


The decision in Godbout raises an interesting issue regarding the differing protections available under the U.S. Constitution and Maine Constitution.  Of course, the U.S. Constitution contains no “open courts” provision comparable to Maine’s provision, but many federal and state constitutional provisions provide identical protection.  So, for instance, as the SJC said in State v. Eastman, 1997 ME 39, 691 A.2d 179, [] the privileges against self-incrimination under the federal and state constitutions have been interpreted “co-extensively.”

But the privilege against self-incrimination also illustrates the different protections available under the federal and state constitutions.  According to State v. McKechnie, 1997 ME 40, 690 A.2d 976 [], the Law Court has never required Miranda-type warnings as a matter of state constitutional law.  But will that always be the case? Recently, in Berghuis v. Thompkins, 560 U.S. ___ (2010), [], the U.S. Supreme Court limited Miranda by holding that silence alone is not enough to invoke the Miranda right to silence.  This raises the question of whether the Maine Court will feel compelled to impose stronger Miranda-type safeguards under the state constitution (which is, of course, distinct from the question whether the SJC should impose stronger Miranda-type rights).  If past is prologue, it won’t; in State v. Melvin, 390 A.2d 1024, the Court declined an invitation to reject a federal exception to the Miranda exclusionary rule. Only time will tell if the Court sees the Berghuis limitation in the same light.