f-l-r-Defamation-Suit-Dismissed-05-26-17

154

RAYMOND – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by one former Raymond Selectman against another. 

In a 6-1 decision, Maine’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling from Cumberland County Superior Court dismissing former Selectman Dana Desjardins’ claim against former Selectboard Chairman Mike Reynolds. The case had bounced between federal and state court before the ruling on May 18. 

“I am glad the Maine Law Court and the other courts along the way agreed with my belief that the claims against me should be dropped,” Reynolds said in a statement provided by his lawyer. “I am pleased that we prevailed and I look forward to having this chapter behind me.”

Attempts to reach Desjardins and his lawyer for comment were unsuccessful. 

In the case dating back to 2013, Desjardins had sued Reynolds for defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotion distress and false light invasion of privacy.

According to court documents, Desjardins alleged that Reynolds had “made various false statements to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office about Desjardins’s alcohol use for the purpose of humiliating and harassing Desjardins.” 

Desjardins also claimed that as a result of those statements, he was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy on the way to a town meeting and investigated for potentially driving under the influence. The same court documents that that he “sought damages for his ‘humiliation,’ ’emoitional distress,’ and ‘loss of reputation.'” 

Desjardins also launched a defamation suit against current Raymond Town Manager Don Willard for the same reasons. The suit against Willard had already been dismissed in U.S. District Court in 2014. 

Reynolds and Willard were both represented by the same lawyer, Daniel Murphy of the Portland-based firm Bernstein Shur. Murphy expanded on the court’s ruling last week in his own statement. 

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome, which was the correct result,” Murphy said. “Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute provides an expedited procedure for dismissal of baseless lawsuits where a plaintiff sues an individual based on his or her exercise of legally protected petitioning rights. In this particular case, the Law Court agreed with the trial court that Dana Desjardins failed to meet his legal and factual burdens under the statute, warranting early dismissal of his claims and exposing him to an award of attorney fees and costs. The Maine Supreme Court sent a strong message that petitioning activity is protected under Maine law and the U.S. Constitution.”

The Maine Anti-SLAPP statute referenced in Murphy’s statement is designed to speed up the process and protect defendants from merit-less lawsuits that are brought only to cause them to incur legal fees. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The statute allows defendants to file a special motion for dismissal when the claims against them stem from exercising their constitutional right to petition the government. 

Six out of seven Justices agreed in the majority opinion that a) Reynolds contacting the Sheriff’s Office constituted petitioning activity under the Anti-SLAPP statute and b) that no “actual injury” was done to Desjardins in the process. 

Justice Joseph Jabar disagreed with his colleagues and wrote a dissent in which he argued that “the Court’s decision overstates the protection afforded to petitioning activity” and that the definition of “actual injury” in Anti-SLAPP cases should be expanded to include non-out-of-pocket damages.

“A person engaged in petitioning activity is not immune from a meritorious defamation action,” Jabar wrote in his solitary dissent. 

The tensions on the Raymond Selectboard had stretched back even further than the 2013 traffic stop, including a 2010 dispute about Desjardins’ town-issued laptop

Current Chairman Joe Bruno has served on the selectboard throughout the defamation saga.

“Look, I’m glad for Mike’s sake that it’s been resolved,” said Bruno in a phone interview, adding that he “didn’t think it was a valid lawsuit.” 

“There’s been some heated times … that just didn’t make it pleasant to be on the selectboard,” Bruno continued, saying that relationships among board members have since improved significantly. 

Bruno stressed that current board members “don’t always agree,” but that there is “more civil discourse” than there had been previously at times. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

RAYMOND – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought in 2013 by one former Raymond Selectman against another. 

In a 6-1 decision, Maine’s Supreme Court upheld a ruling from Cumberland County Superior Court dismissing former Selectman Dana Desjardins’ claim against former Selectboard Chairman Mike Reynolds. The case had bounced between federal and state court before the ruling on May 18. 

“I am glad the Maine Law Court and the other courts along the way agreed with my belief that the claims against me should be dropped,” Reynolds said in a statement provided by his lawyer. “I am pleased that we prevailed and I look forward to having this chapter behind me.”

Attempts to reach Desjardins and his lawyer for comment were unsuccessful. 

In the case dating back to 2013, Desjardins had sued Reynolds for defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotion distress and false light invasion of privacy.

According to court documents, Desjardins alleged that Reynolds had “made various false statements to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office about Desjardins’s alcohol use for the purpose of humiliating and harassing Desjardins.” 

Desjardins also claimed that as a result of those statements, he was stopped by a sheriff’s deputy on the way to a town meeting and investigated for potentially driving under the influence. The same court documents that that he “sought damages for his ‘humiliation,’ ’emotional distress’ and ‘loss of reputation.'” 

Desjardins also launched a defamation suit against current Raymond Town Manager Don Willard for the same reasons. The suit against Willard was dismissed in U.S. District Court in 2014. 

Reynolds and Willard were both represented by the same lawyer, Daniel Murphy of the Portland-based firm Bernstein Shur. Murphy expanded on the court’s ruling last week in a statement. 

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome, which was the correct result,” Murphy said. “Maine’s Anti-SLAPP statute provides an expedited procedure for dismissal of baseless lawsuits where a plaintiff sues an individual based on his or her exercise of legally protected petitioning rights. In this particular case, the Law Court agreed with the trial court that Dana Desjardins failed to meet his legal and factual burdens under the statute, warranting early dismissal of his claims and exposing him to an award of attorney fees and costs. The Maine Supreme Court sent a strong message that petitioning activity is protected under Maine law and the U.S. Constitution.”

The Maine Anti-SLAPP statute is designed to speed up the process and protect defendants from merit-less lawsuits that are brought only to cause them to incur legal fees. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The statute allows defendants to file a special motion for dismissal when the claims against them stem from exercising their constitutional right to petition the government. 

Six out of seven Justices agreed in the majority opinion that Reynolds contacting the Sheriff’s Office constituted petitioning activity under the Anti-SLAPP statute and that no “actual injury” was done to Desjardins in the process. 

Justice Joseph Jabar disagreed with his colleagues and wrote a dissent in which he argued that “the Court’s decision overstates the protection afforded to petitioning activity” and that the definition of “actual injury” in Anti-SLAPP cases should be expanded to include non-out-of-pocket damages.

“A person engaged in petitioning activity is not immune from a meritorious defamation action,” Jabar wrote in his solitary dissent. 

The tensions on the Raymond Selectboard had stretched back even further than the 2013 traffic stop, including a 2010 dispute about Desjardins’ town-issued laptop

Current Chairman Joe Bruno has served on the selectboard throughout the defamation saga.

“Look, I’m glad for Mike’s sake that it’s been resolved,” said Bruno in a phone interview, adding that he “didn’t think it was a valid lawsuit.” 

“There’s been some heated times … that just didn’t make it pleasant to be on the selectboard,” Bruno continued, saying that relationships among board members have since improved significantly. 

Bruno stressed that current board members “don’t always agree,” but that there is “more civil discourse” than there had been previously at times. 

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

SHARE