SJC Round-up

Practice area:

Let’s take a look at what the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s been up to recently.

First, they’ve asked for amici briefs on some interesting issues.  As I’ve said before, I think the practice of asking for such briefs is a great idea.  Among other things, it lets the bar know when an issue of potentially broad import is pending before the Court.  Even if no one files such a brief, everyone has been give notice that a ruling on the issue may be coming, and can plan accordingly.

The relevant issue in one appeal is whether the language in 23 M.R.S. § 63(1)(A), providing that records in the possession of the MDOT relating to appraisals of property, are “confidential and may not be disclosed,” puts the appraisals of other properties outside the scope of discovery as defined in M.R. Civ. P. 26(b) or otherwise prevents the production or disclosure of the information in discovery.  This may be an important issue to people challenging MDOT appraisals who want to claim that the appraisal in their matter is out of whack with what MDOT has done in similarly situations.

The other appeal involves a matter where the District Court terminated the father’s parental rights and he appealed claiming that the District Court erred by relying solely on his incarceration and resulting inability to physically care for the child to establish parental unfitness and that termination of his rights was in the child’s best interest.  Again, this is an issue that may be important in a significant number of cases.

The SJC is also asking for comments on a proposed administrative order regarding documents under seal.

As to recent decisions of note, I always like appeals in which one relevant question is whether a private cause of action existed when Maine separated from Massachusetts in 1820.  Faith Temple v. Steven DiPietro, 2015 ME 166.  This case involves bankruptcy law, and the folks in our bankruptcy department say that it sounds like the Law Court got the issue before it exactly right.

Finally, looking at a recent decision involving a Freedom of Access Act claim – one of my favorite areas of the law – the Law Court basically held that if a board says in one of its meetings that it’s going into executive session for “consultation with legal counsel,” that’s good enough to meet FOAA requirements.  Hughes Bros., Inc. v. Town of Eddington, 2016 ME 13.  Given that FOAA is supposed to be construed strictly, one might argue a little more specificity might be helpful.  See 1 M.R.S. §  405(4) (“A motion to go into executive session must indicate the precise nature of the business of the executive session”).  On the other hand, the members of these boards are voluntary lay people, context is probably self-explanatory, and boards have to take all actual action openly.    

We’ll visit the federal Court of Appeal and what’s new there next time.