Justia Maine Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment entered by the district court terminating Mother's parental rights to three of her children, holding that the court did not clearly err in finding at least one ground of parental unfitness by clear and convincing and did not abuse its discretion in concluding that termination was in the children's best interests.The district court terminated Mother's parental rights to three of her children pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 22, 4055(1)(A)(1)(a), (B)(2)(a), (b)(i)-(iv). The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the express findings the court made were sufficient to support its determination to terminate Mother's parental rights. View "In re Children of Loretta M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated Defendant's convictions for trafficking in prison contraband, unlawful possession of a scheduled drug, and violating a condition of release, holding that the trial court erred in its handling of the void dire process and in admitting certain evidence.On appeal, Defendant argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his race-related voir dire questions and erred in partially denying his motion to suppress statements he made to a corrections officer upon his arrival to jail after his arrest. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) the voir dire process was not sufficient to disclose facts that would reveal juror bias; and (2) the trial court erred in denying Defendant's motion to suppress, and the error was not harmless. View "State v. Fleming" on Justia Law

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In this personal injury action, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying the motion for summary judgment filed by the City of Portland on immunity grounds, holding that the plaza where Plaintiff was injured fell within the public building exception to governmental immunity.Plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of ice after exiting the lobby of the Portland Police Department headquarters building. Plaintiff filed a complaint alleging negligence. As an affirmative defense, the City asserted that it was immune from suit because the claims did not fall within an exception to immunity contained in the Maine Tort Claims Act, Me. Rev. Stat. 14, 8104-A(2). The court denied the City's motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the plaza where Plaintiff fell was an appurtenance to a public building within the meaning of the Act, and therefore, the City was not immune from Plaintiff's claims. View "McDonald v. City of Portland" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court terminating the parental rights of Parents in anticipation of adoption pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 18-A, 9-204, holding that the court did not err or exceed the bounds of its discretion.The child's maternal aunt and uncle - the child's legal guardians - petitioned to terminate Parents' parental rights and for adoption of the child. After a hearing, the court entered judgment terminating both Parents' parental rights, finding that both parents abandoned the child and that termination of Parents' parental rights was in the child's best interest. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the court's findings that Parents were unfit to parent the child were supported by competent evidence. View "Adoption by Jessica M." on Justia Law

Posted in: Family Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court denied the motion filed by Plaintiffs to stay the effect of the mandate of this Court's decision issued in this matter on September 22, 2020 pending Plaintiffs' petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States, holding that Plaintiffs did not satisfy the test in order to stay the effect of the mandate.Plaintiffs argued that they will suffer irreparable harm if a stay is not granted because the ranked-choice-voting law will be in effect for the November election despite what they argued were an adequate number of signatures in support of the people's veto petition. The Supreme Judicial Court declined to stay the mandate, holding (1) the balance of harms and the public interest weigh against this Court's grant of Plaintiffs' requested stay; and (2) Plaintiffs did not establish a substantial possibility of success on the merits. View "Jones v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the probate court granting in part Petitioner's petition for discovery of property pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 18-C, 3-110 but limiting the scope of the examination of Lorraine Kerwin, holding that Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely and that the limitation of the discovery was not an abuse of discretion.Petitioner's father, the decedent, married Kerwin in 2005. After the decedent died in 2018, Kerwin filed an application for informal probate of a will and appointment of a personal representative. Petitioner field a claim against the estate concerning certain real estate that was held in a trust and for which Kerwin was a trustee. Kerwin disallowed the claim. Petitioner then filed a petition for discovery of property asserting that the transfer of real estate to the trust was the result of undue influence or fraud. The probate court granted Petitioner's request to examine the creation of the decedent's trust but limited Petitioner's examination of Kerwin. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's notice of appeal was timely filed; and (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in limiting discovery. View "In re Estate of Robert W. Kerwin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Trusts & Estates
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In this medical malpractice action, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the portion of the superior court's order compelling discovery of the redacted medical records of fifty Mid Coast Hospital (MCH) patients, nonparties, and the personnel file of Dr. Mia Marietta, a former employee of MCH who performed the surgery at issue in this case, holding that the trial court erred in ordering the production of the nonparty operative notes under the circumstances of this case.Dr. Marietta performed a gallbladder removal on Carol Kennelly at MCH. Kennelly's Estate brought this action alleging that Dr. Marietta, who was not a party to the action, performed the surgery in a manner that violated the appropriate standard of care and that MCH was vicariously liable as Dr. Marietta's employer. The State filed a motion to compel the production of Dr. Marietta's operative notes, with certain redactions, for the twenty-five gallbladder removal surgeries she performed on nonparty patients before Kennelly's surgery and the twenty-five gallbladder removal surgeries she performed on nonparty patients after Kennelly's surgery. MCH appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the appeal from the portion of the order compelling production of the personnel file was interlocutory; and (2) the medical records of the nonparty patients in this case must be deemed to remain privileged in their unredacted and redacted forms. View "Estate of Carol A. Kennelly v. Mid Coast Hospital" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court awarding Plaintiff $91,172, plus costs and interest, on her legal malpractice complaint arising from Defendant's representation of her in a divorce action, holding that the jury was correctly instructed concerning Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause.On appeal, Defendant challenged the jury instructions concerning some of Plaintiff's claims for damages. Specifically, Defendant argued that the court erred in instructing the jury on Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause using language first discussed in Niehoff v. Shankman & Associates Legal Center, P.A., 763 A.2d 121 (Me. 2000). The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the "modified" or "failure to plead" proximate cause standard in Niehoff and other cases is not an independent alternative test but is, rather, a case-specific application of the proximate cause standard applied in legal malpractice cases; and (2) the trial court properly instructed the jury in this case. View "Reppucci v. Nadeau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court vacating the Secretary of State's determination that an inadequate number of valid signatures had been submitted to place on the ballot a people's veto of An Act to Implement Ranked-choice Voting for Presidential Primary and General Elections in Maine, holding that the superior court erred in concluding that Petitioner had satisfied his burden of overcoming the presumption of constitutionality.Upon a petition for review of the Secretary of State's decision, the superior court determined that it was unconstitutional for the State to require that every circulator who collected signatures be registered to vote in the circulator's municipality of residence. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Petitioner failed to demonstrate that the constitutional and statutory requirement that a circulator be a registered voter in the circulator's municipality of residence when collecting signatures violates the First Amendment. The Court remanded the cause with instructions to affirm the Secretary of State's determinations that the signatures contested on appeal were invalid and that an inadequate number of valid signatures had been submitted to place the people's veto on the ballot. View "Jones v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court in favor of Gagne & Son Concrete Blocks, Inc. on the claims brought by Thomas and Lisa Coward that arose out of an accident at the Cowards' home involving Thomas's son, Philip Coward, holding that the court misapplied the contemporaneous perception factor as articulated in precedent regarding bystander actions.Philip died after a one-ton load of rebar fell on him while a Gagne & Son employee was unloading the rebar from a truck using a forklift. The Cowards' complaint alleged, in part, claims of bystander negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The Cowards argued that Thomas contemporaneously perceived the accident because he heard the accident occur, arrived seconds later, and witnessed his injured son die. The trial court entered summary judgment against Thomas on his bystander NIED claim, concluding that Thomas did not meet the contemporaneous perception factor for a bystander NIED claim. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a bystander may satisfy the "contemporaneous perception" element by demonstrating that he otherwise perceived that event as it occurred and then witnessed the immediate aftermath of that event; and (2) Gagne & Son was not entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. View "Coward v. Gagne & Sons Concrete Blocks, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury