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Camps Newfound/Owatonna v. Town of Harrison
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1998 ME 20
Docket:  	Cum-94-336
Argued:  	November 12, 1997
Decided:	January 26, 1998


	[¶1]  The Town of Harrison and six of its municipal officers
(collectively, "the Town") appeal from the summary judgment entered in
the Superior Court (Cumberland County, Lipez, J.) in favor of Camps
Newfound/Owatonna Corporation ("the Camp") on its constitutional
challenge to 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) (1990 & Supp. 1997).  The Camp
cross-appeals from the judgment entered in the Superior Court
(Cumberland County, Perkins, J.) dismissing pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 12(c)
its claims for relief pursuant 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.  We affirm in part
and vacate in part.
	[¶2]  This case returns on remand from the United States Supreme
Court.  Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, 117 S.Ct. 1590
(1997).  In its decision, the Supreme Court determined that 36 M.R.S.A. §
652(1)(A)(1) (1990 & Supp. 1997), which denied property tax exemptions,
otherwise available, to any nonprofit institution "that is in fact conducted or
operated principally for the benefit of persons who are not residents of
Maine and makes charges that result in an average weekly rate per person
. . . in excess of $30 . . . ," violated the Commerce Clause of the United
States Constitution.  Id. at 1608.  In so doing, the Supreme Court vacated
our decision in Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, 655
A.2d 876 (Me. 1995).  In light of § 652(1)(A)(1)'s unconstitutionality, we
now address the issues that remain between the parties.
	[¶3]  The Camp contends that the Superior Court erred by dismissing
its claims for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988.  We disagree
and affirm the dismissal.
	We review the dismissal of a cause of action by examining:
the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine
whether it sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts that
would entitle the plaintiff to relief pursuant to some legal theory.  We
will uphold a dismissal 'only when it appears beyond doubt that a
plaintiff is entitled to no relief under any set of facts that he might
prove in support of his claim.'  
Shaw v. Southern Aroostook Community Sch. Dist., 683 A.2d 502, 503 (Me.
1996) (quotations and citations omitted).  In National Private Truck Council,
Inc. v. Oklahoma Tax Commission, the Supreme Court held that state courts
must refrain in tax cases from granting relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
when state law provides an adequate legal remedy.  515 U.S. 582, 592
(1995).  The Camp's § 1983 claim is comprised solely of its Commerce
Clause and Privileges and Immunities Clause challenges to 36 M.R.S.A. §
652(1)(A)(1).  Thus, if our law provides an adequate remedy, the Camp
cannot maintain a § 1983 claim.{1}  
	[¶4]  We find that Maine law does provide an adequate remedy. 
Section 841 of Title 36 sets forth the statutory mechanism for seeking a tax
abatement.  The legislature has provided that:

The assessors, either upon written application filed within 185 days
from commitment stating the grounds for an abatement or on their
own initiative within one year from commitment, may make such
reasonable abatement as they consider proper to correct an illegality,
error or irregularity in assessment, provided that the taxpayer has
complied with section 706.

The municipal officers, either upon written application filed after one
year but within 3 years from commitment stating the grounds for an
abatement or on their own initiative within that time period, may
make such reasonable abatement as they consider proper to correct
any illegality, error or irregularity in assessment, provided the
taxpayer has complied with section 706.  The municipal officers may
not grant an abatement to correct an error in the valuation of property.

36 M.R.S.A. § 841(1) (1990 & Supp. 1997).  Pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. §§ 843-
844 (1990 & Supp. 1997), taxpayers may appeal administrative decisions on
their abatement requests to the Superior Court in accordance with M.R. Civ.
P. 80B.  We have observed: 

[a]n abatement proceeding is a proper vehicle in which to challenge
the taxation of property claimed to be exempt.  Abatement
proceedings and the Administrative Procedure Act clearly provide
taxpayers with 'the essential elements of adjudication' and with an
adequate opportunity to obtain direct judicial review of the taxing
authority's denial of a request for an abatement . . . .  

Maine Central R.R. Co. v. Town of Dexter, 588 A.2d 289, 292 (Me. 1991)
(citations omitted).  Alternatively, we have acknowledged that the Superior
Court's declaratory judgment authority, bestowed by 14 M.R.S.A. §§ 5951-63
(1980 & Supp. 1997), may be invoked in tax exemption cases.  Id. at 293.     
	[¶5]  We reject the Camp's argument that because it had to pursue its
constitutional claim to the United States Supreme Court this statutory
scheme does not provide an adequate remedy.  A taxpayer cannot argue that
a legal remedy is inadequate merely because such taxpayer had to seek
appellate review to secure it.  Moreover, in this case, the Camp raised an
issue of constitutional law never before addressed by the Supreme Court, a
fact that that Court explicitly acknowledged.{2}  The Camp cannot reasonably 
contend that the several stages through which this litigation has progressed
render our adjudicatory process inadequate.
	[¶6]  The Camp relies, however, upon dictum contained in a footnote
of the National Private Truck opinion in which the Supreme Court stated,
"there may be extraordinary circumstances under which injunctive or
declaratory relief is available even when a legal remedy exists."  515 U.S. at
591 n.6.  Assuming arguendo that parties may invoke this "exception," we
reject the Camp's assertion that this case presents extraordinary
circumstances.  To the extent that the tax lien mortgage certificate filed by
the Town on the Camp's property has cast a cloud on the Camp's title, the
Camp may seek a declaratory judgment that the lien certificate is invalid
pursuant to the Declaratory Judgments Act, 14 M.R.S.A. §§ 5951-5963
(1980 & Supp. 1997).   
	[¶7]  Thus, we find no error in the dismissal of the Camp's § 1983
claim.{3}  Accordingly, we find no error in the dismissal of the Camp's § 1988
claim, because "when no relief can be awarded pursuant to § 1983, no
attorney's fees can be awarded under § 1988."  National Private Truck, 515
U.S. at 592.
	[¶8]  Contending that the doctrines of res judicata and collateral
estoppel bar the Camp's claims for refunds of its 1989 and 1990 taxes, the
Town argues that the Superior Court erred in granting the Camp a summary
judgment.  A party is entitled to a summary judgment if no genuine issue of
material fact exists and if the party on the undisputed facts is entitled to a
judgment as a matter of law.  Seashore Performing Arts Ctr., Inc. v. Town of
Old Orchard Beach, 676 A.2d 482, 484 (Me. 1996).  We review the grant of a
summary judgment for an error of law, viewing the evidence in the light
most favorable to the party against whom the judgment has been granted. 
Key Trust Co. of Maine v. Nasson College, 1997 ME 145, § 9, 697 A.2d 408,
	[¶9]  In 1989, the Town assessed the value of the Camp's property at
$2,099,300.  The Camp applied to the Town for an abatement, contending
that because the property was subject to a twenty-five year irrevocable
conservation easement, its value was only $575,000.  After the Town
assessors granted the Camp a partial abatement that reduced the assessed
value of the property to $1,687,668, the Camp appealed to the Cumberland
County Commissioners.  The County Commissioners denied a further
abatement and the Camp then appealed to the Superior Court.  In its appeal
to the Superior Court (hereinafter, "the 1989 abatement challenge"), the
Camp contested the sufficiency of the abatement only; it did not challenge
the validity of 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1).  The Superior Court affirmed the
judgment of the County Commissioners, and, on February 28, 1992, we
affirmed the Superior Court's judgment in Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc.
v. Town of Harrison, 604 A.2d 908 (Me. 1992) ("Camps I").  On April 15,
1992, the Camp wrote to the Harrison Town Manager to demand both a tax
refund for 1989, 1990, and 1991 and a continuing tax exemption, asserting
that 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) violated the Commerce Clause, the
Privileges and Immunities Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment.  After
the Town's Board of Assessors denied this request, the Camp initiated this
	[¶10]  In 1994, the Superior Court granted the Camp's motion for a
summary judgment, which argued the merits of its constitutional claims,
and denied the Town's motion for a summary judgment, which argued in
part that the Camp's constitutional claims were barred by res judicata
because the Camp could have raised them as part of its 1989 abatement
challenge.  In denying the Town's motion, the court stated that because "the
Board of Assessors does not have authority to determine the constitutionality
of state taxing statutes[,] [i]t would have been futile for plaintiff to challenge
the constitutionality of Maine's charitable exemption statute before the
Board of Assessors."   
	[¶11]  "The doctrine of res judicata 'is a court-made collection of rules
designed to ensure that the same matter will not be litigated more than
once.'"  Machias Sav. Bank v. Ramsdell, 1997 ME 20, ¶ 11, 689 A.2d 595,
599 (quoting Beegan v. Schmidt, 451 A.2d 642, 643-44 (Me. 1982)). 
"Unlike the related rule of collateral estoppel or 'issue preclusion,' which
merely prevents the reopening in a second action of an issue of fact actually
litigated and decided in an earlier case, the doctrine of bar, or 'claim
preclusion,' prohibits relitigation of an entire 'cause of action . . . .'"  Beegan
v. Schmidt, 451 A.2d 642, 644 (Me. 1982).  Claim preclusion bars the
relitigation of a claim "'if:  (1) the same parties or their privies are involved
in both actions; (2) a valid final judgment was entered in the prior action;
and (3) the matters presented for decision in the second action were, or
might have been litigated in the first action.'"  Machias Sav. Bank, 1997 ME
20, ¶ 11, 689 A.2d at 599 (quoting Department of Human Serv. v. Comeau,
663 A.2d 46, 48 (Me. 1995)).  To determine whether the matters presented
for decision in the instant action were or might have been litigated in the
prior action, we examine "'whether the same 'cause of action' was before
the court in the prior case.'"  Connecticut Nat'l Bank v. Kendall, 617 A.2d
544, 547 (Me. 1992) (quoting Currier v. Cyr, 570 A.2d 1205, 1208 (Me.
1990)).  We apply a transactional test to define a cause of action, pursuant to

the measure of a cause of action is the aggregate of connected
operative facts that can be handled together conveniently for purposes
of trial.  A prior judgment bars a later suit arising out [of] the same
aggregate of operative facts even though the second suit relies on a
legal theory not advanced in the first case, seeks different relief than
that sought in the first case, and involves evidence different from the
evidence relevant to the first case.

Id. (quotations and citations omitted).
	[¶12]  A plaintiff may not split a cause of action and prosecute each of
its parts in separate lawsuits.  Kradoska v. Kipp, 397 A.2d 562, 567 (Me.
1979).  "Judicial economy, fairness to litigants, and the strong public
interest favoring finality in judicial proceedings demand that a plaintiff
present all relevant aspects of his cause of action in a single lawsuit."  Id. 
Res judicata prevents a litigant from splitting the litigant's claim and
pursuing it "'in a piecemeal fashion by asserting in a subsequent lawsuit
other grounds of recovery for the same claim'" that the litigant had a
reasonable opportunity to argue in the prior action.  Id. at 569 (quoting
Neeld v. National Hockey League, 439 F. Supp. 446, 458 (W.D.N.Y. 1977)).
	[¶13]  In this case, the Camp does not contest that our decision in
Camps I was a valid final judgment.  The Camp does contend, however, that
the requirement of an identity of parties is not satisfied, because the
defendant in its 1989 abatement challenge was the Town itself whereas the
defendants in this action are the Town's assessors and tax collector.  This
argument lacks merit.{4}  
	[¶14]  In Brown v. Osier, the plaintiff, a boiler operator at the
Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, sued the School, the State, and two
School employees, alleging wrongful suspension and forced retirement.  628
A.2d 125, 126 (Me. 1993).  While that case was pending, the plaintiff
initiated a suit in federal court against the School only, seeking relief
pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-
634, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219.  Id.  The
School prevailed in the federal forum and then argued in the Superior Court
that the plaintiff's state cause of action was barred by the res judicata effect
of the federal judgment.  Id. at 126-27.  We found that, although the School
was the only named party in the federal action, the State and the two School
employees were in sufficient privity with the School to satisfy the identity of
the parties element of res judicata.  Id. at 128.  With respect to the two
School employees, we reasoned, "'[s]uits against employees in their official
capacities are essentially suits against the government entities for which
they work . . . .'"  Id. (quoting Gray v. Lacke, 885 F.2d 399, 405 (7th Cir.
1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1029 (1990)).  
	[¶15]  In the instant case, although the Camp named as defendants the
Town's assessors and tax collector, its suit for a refund of its 1989 taxes is
really a suit against the Town.  The Camp's complaint explicitly states that
the Town's tax collector and tax assessors were being sued in their official
capacities only.  Cf. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71
(1989) ("Obviously, state officials literally are persons.  But a suit against a
state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but
rather is a suit against the official's office.  As such, it is no different from a
suit against the State itself.") (citations omitted); Kentucky v. Graham, 473
U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985) ("Official-capacity suits . . . 'generally represent
only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is
an agent.'  As long as the government entity receives notice and an
opportunity to respond, an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than
name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.") (citations omitted). 
Moreover, should we award a tax refund, the monies will be paid by the
Town, not by the individual defendants.  Thus, the Town's assessors and tax
collector are in sufficient privity with the Town to warrant a finding of an
identity of parties between the 1989 abatement challenge and this action.
	[¶16]  The Camp further argues, however, that the Superior Court
properly determined that its constitutional claims could not have been
litigated as part of its 1989 abatement challenge.  The Camp contends:  (i)
because the factual record developed before the Board of Assessors only
addressed the property's valuation, the Board lacked the factual predicates
necessary to resolving the Camp's constitutional claims; and (ii) because the
Board of Assessors lacked the authority to decide the constitutionality of the
exemption statute, an attempt to litigate its constitutional claims would have
been futile.  The Camp's reasoning is unpersuasive.
	[¶17]  In its 1989 abatement challenge, the Camp appealed from the
Cumberland County Commissioners to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R.
Civ. P. 80B, which permits a party to join its claim for review of government
action "with a claim alleging an independent basis for relief."  M.R. Civ. P.
80B(i).  We have previously considered constitutional claims asserted in
appeals from administrative decisions pursuant to Rule 80B.  E.g., Your
Home, Inc. v. City of Portland, 501 A.2d 1300 (Me. 1985).  Thus, assuming
arguendo that an attempt by the Camp to raise its constitutional claims
before the Board of Assessors would have been futile, the Camp could have
joined its constitutional claims in its Rule 80B action in the Superior Court
to secure it a proper adjudication of those claims.  The Camp's decision to
wait until we had disposed of its 1989 abatement challenge to initiate a
separate constitutional challenge to the exemption statute was in effect a
decision to split its cause of action impermissibly.  Hence, res judicata bars
the Camp's claim for a refund of its 1989 tax payment.
	[¶18]  We reject, however, the Town's contention that the doctrine of
collateral estoppel barred the Camp's action for a refund of its 1990 taxes. 
Collateral estoppel "prevents the relitigation of factual issues already
decided if 'the identical issue was determined by a prior final judgment, and
. . . the party estopped had a fair opportunity and incentive to litigate the
issue in a prior proceeding.'"  Machias Sav. Bank, 1997 ME 20, ¶ 11, 689
A.2d at 599 (citations omitted).  The Camp's application for an abatement of
its 1990 taxes, a proceeding separate and apart from the 1989 proceeding,
is still pending before the Cumberland County Commissioners because all
parties agreed to stay that proceeding pending the final disposition of this
litigation.  That claim has not been litigated to a final judgment.  The Camp
therefore is not barred by collateral estoppel from seeking a refund of its
1990 taxes.
	[¶19]  We also reject the Town's argument that any tax refund
awarded the Camp should only include the interest that has accrued from
the date of the filing of Camp's complaint, pursuant to 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602
(1980 & Supp. 1997).  We have previously determined that "specific
statutory provisions take precedence over general provisions."  Ziegler v.
American Maize-Prod. Co., 658 A.2d 219, 222 (Me. 1995).  Section 1602
states that "[i]n all civil actions, except those actions involving a contract or
note which contains a provision relating to interest, . . . If no notice of claim
has been given to the defendant, prejudgment interest shall accrue from the
date on which the complaint is filed."  By contrast, 36 M.R.S.A. § 506-A
(1990 & Supp. 1997) states, "a taxpayer who pays an amount in excess of
that finally assessed must be repaid the amount of the overpayment plus
interest from the date of overpayment . . . ."  Because 36 M.R.S.A. § 506-A is
more specific than is 14 M.R.S.A. § 1602 and because it addresses precisely
the issue before us -- the date from which interest should be computed on
an overpayment of taxes that must be refunded to the taxpayer -- we find
that the Camp's refund should include interest accruing from the date of its
	[¶20]  Additionally, this refund should include the late payment
penalties and lien fees that the Camp paid, as well as the interest thereon. 
Pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. § 505 (1990 & Supp. 1997), interest on delinquent
tax payments "shall be added to and become part of the taxes."  Similarly,
pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. § 943 (1990 & Supp. 1997), lien fees "must be
added to and become a part of the tax."
	[¶21]  Finally, the Town urges us to modify the Superior Court's
injunction "to provide that the injunction does not prevent the Town
Assessors from requiring the Camp to establish their charitable and
benevolent status under 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1) for the tax years which are not
the subject of this litigation."  We decline to do so.  The Superior Court only 
enjoined the enforcement of § 652(1)(A)(1); its order in no way interferes
with the operation of the rest of § 652.  Moreover, the Camp has not
contested that it must establish its status as a benevolent and charitable
institution before receiving an exemption for tax years 1992-97.  Thus,
whatever future controversy the Town envisions is not ripe for adjudication
by this Court.  
	The entry is: 
Judgment modified to strike the order of a refund of
Plaintiff's 1989 taxes and as modified affirmed.

Attorneys for plaintiff: William H. Dale, Esq., (orally) Emily A. Bloch, Esq. Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry P O Box 4510 Portland, ME 04112 Attorney for defendant: William L. Plouffe, Esq., (orally) Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon P O Box 9781 Portland, ME 04104-5081
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} The Camp urges us to find that Maine law does not provide a "plain, speedy and efficient" remedy. The language "plain, speedy and efficient" derives from the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1341, which does not apply to state courts. The Supreme Court, in its National Private Truck opinion, held that § 1983 "does not call for either federal or state courts to award injunctive and declaratory relief in state tax cases when an adequate legal remedy exists." 515 U.S. at 589 (emphasis added). {2} The Supreme Court stated, "[t]his case involves an issue that we have not previously addressed--the disparate real estate tax treatment of a nonprofit service provider based on the residence of the consumers that it serves." Camps Newfound/Owatonna, 117 S.Ct. at 1596. {3} The Camp's Privileges and Immunities Clause claim has not been preserved for this remand. Our decision in Camps Newfound/Owatonna held that 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) does not violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause. 655 A.2d at 880. This determination was not challenged in the Supreme Court. See Camps Newfound/Owatonna, 117 S.Ct. at 1595 n.4 ("As for the privileges and immunities claim, the Supreme Judicial Court found petitioner's argument unavailing. Th[is] claim[] [is] not before us."). Regardless of whether the Supreme Court's finding that 36 M.R.S.A. § 652(1)(A)(1) imposes a discriminatory tax burden would alter our privileges and immunities analysis, the Camp lacks any procedural means to resurrect this claim on remand. {4} The Camp's argument on remand contradicts its original brief in this case, which stated: "[t]he first element of res judicata -- identity of parties -- is present."