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Beaucage v. City of Rockland
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2000 ME 184
Docket:	Lin-00-212
on Briefs:	September 27, 2000
Decided:	October 27, 2000




	[¶1]  The City of Rockland appeals from the denial of its motion for
summary judgment entered in the Superior Court (Lincoln County, Cole, J.)
contending that the trial court erred in finding "good cause" for Carol
Beaucage's failure to make a timely notice of claim as required by the Maine
Tort Claims Act, 14 M.R.S.A. § 8107 (1980 & Supp. 1999).{1}  We affirm in
part and vacate in part.
	[¶2]  Carol Beaucage, as personal representative of the Estate of
William Beaucage, brought a suit against the City of Rockland and others
seeking damages for the death of William Beaucage.  William Beaucage was a
passenger in a motor vehicle operated by Dana Rolerson Jr. when that
vehicle left the road at a high rate of speed and crashed, resulting in
Beaucage's death.  In Count III of the complaint (the only claim asserted
against the City, and, therefore, the only count at issue in this appeal),
Beaucage alleges that, approximately 45 to 60 minutes prior to the accident,
agents of the City had direct contact with Rolerson.  Beaucage claims that
those agents, police officers, were negligent because they knew, or should
have known, that Rolerson was driving under the influence of alcohol, and
that "using prudent and proper police practices, they should have detained
Rolerson and/or impounded his vehicle."  Beaucage asserts that she was
unable to give the requisite 180-day notice because information concerning
the City's involvement was not released until after Rolerson had pled guilty
to manslaughter.
	[¶3]  The City moved to dismiss Beaucage's complaint on the basis of
her failure to serve a notice of claim on the City pursuant to 14 M.R.S.A.
§ 8107.  Beaucage responded with the affidavit of Emmet Meara, a reporter
for the Bangor Daily News, asserting that it was not public knowledge that
Rolerson's vehicle had been stopped prior to the accident.  The City
responded to the Meara affidavit with the affidavit of Stephen Johnson, a
former Rockland police officer who had contact with Rolerson on the date of
the accident.
	[¶4]  The court denied the City's motion, finding "good cause" for the
late filing on the basis that "the Sheriff's Department, State Police, DA and
Defense Attorneys pursuant to confidentiality statutes and constitutional
particulars stopped all dissemination of information until [Rolerson] pled
guilty."  The City then appealed.{2}    
	[¶5]  The filing of the affidavits converted the City's motion to dismiss
into a motion for a summary judgment.  See In re Magro, 655 A.2d 341, 342
(Me. 1995) (citing M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)).  The City demonstrated that
Beaucage's notice of claim was not received before the expiration of the
180-day period; therefore, the burden was on Beaucage to "generate an
issue of fact on the question of good cause so as to preclude summary
judgment."  Erickson v. State, 444 A.2d 345, 350 (Me. 1982); see also 
McNicholas v. Bickford, 612 A.2d 866, 869 (Me. 1992) (the plaintiff must
establish good cause to invoke the exception).  Rather than finding a
material issue of fact, the court expressly found that Beaucage had
established good cause.  By making such a finding on the pleadings, the
court effectively found that there were no genuine issues of material fact on
the issue of good cause, and Beaucage was entitled to summary judgment as
a matter of law on that discrete issue.  Faced with a motion for a summary
judgment, the trial court's task is to determine whether there is a material
issue of fact.  Although a summary judgment may be rendered against the
moving party, if an issue of fact exists, the court must deny the motion. See
M.R. Civ. P. 56(c).
	[¶6]  "We review the grant of a summary judgment for errors of law
and independently examine the record to determine if a genuine issue of
material fact exists."  Hefflefinger, Inc. v. City of Portland, 1999 ME 153,
¶ 7, 739 A.2d 844, 847.  "We have interpreted 'good cause' to require a
showing that the plaintiff was unable to file a claim or was meaningfully
prevented from learning of the information forming the basis for his or her
complaint."  Porter v. Philbrick-Gates, 2000 ME 35, ¶ 4, 745 A.2d 996, 998
(citing Smith v. Voisine, 650 A.2d 1350, 1352 (Me. 1994); and McNicholas,
612 A.2d at 869-70).  The difficulty in learning the facts underlying a claim
is not enough for a plaintiff to meet its burden of showing good cause. 
Gardner v. City of Biddeford, 565 A.2d 329, 330 (Me. 1989).  "[P]laintiffs are
expected to endeavor to obtain information on their own . . . ."  Porter, 2000
ME 35, ¶ 11, 745 A.2d at 999.
	[¶7]  Johnson's affidavit reveals that Rolerson's encounter with the
police related to a separate incident which never gave rise to any criminal
charges, and there is no evidence that Beaucage would have been denied
access to any information regarding the earlier incident or that Beaucage
would have been denied access to such information if she had sought to
obtain it.  In addition, Meara's affidavit seeks to establish that there was a
lack of public knowledge, prior to the sentencing hearing, that Rolerson had
contact with the police before the accident.  While these facts are sufficient
to generate an issue of fact on the question of good cause so as to preclude
summary judgment, they do not establish good cause as a matter of law,
entitling Beaucage to summary judgment on this issue.  Where a genuine
issue of material fact exists on the issue of good cause, the trial court should
resolve that issue after a full evidentiary hearing.  The burden is on the
plaintiff to demonstrate that she was unable to file a claim or was
meaningfully prevented from learning the information that formed the basis
of her claim.  See Porter, ¶ 4, 745 A.2d at 998.
	[¶8]  Therefore, on the material facts at issue, the court did not err in
its denial of the City's motion for summary judgment; however, the court did
err in granting summary judgment in favor of Beaucage.
	The entry is:
Judgment affirmed in part and vacated in
part.  Remanded for further action
consistent with the opinion herein.

Attorneys for plaintiff: Charles E. Gilbert III, Esq. Julie D. Farr, Esq. Gilbert & Greif, P.A. P O Box 2339 Bangor, ME 04402-2339 Attorneys for defendant: Jon A. Haddow, Esq. Farrell, Rosenblatt & Russell P O Box 738 Bangor, ME 04402-0738 (for City of Rockland) John S. Whitman, Esq. P O Box 9545 Portland, ME 04112 (for Rolerson)
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . The applicable section of the Maine Tort Claims Act provides, in pertinent part: § 8107. Notice to governmental entity 1. Notice requirements for filing. Within 180 days after any claim or cause of action permitted by this chapter accrues, or at a later time within the limits of section 8110, when a claimant shows good cause why notice could not have reasonably been filed within the 180-day limit, a claimant or a claimant's personal representative or attorney shall file a written notice containing: . . . . 4. Substantial notice compliance required. No claim or action shall be commenced against a governmental entity or employee in the Superior Court unless the foregoing notice provisions are substantially complied with. . . . 14 M.R.S.A. § 8107 (1980 & Supp. 1999). {2} . Beaucage sought a dismissal of this appeal on the basis of the final judgment rule. Contrary to Beaucage's contention, the denial of a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with the requirements of section 8107 of the Maine Tort Claims Act is immediately appealable as an exception to the final judgment rule. Webb v. Haas, 1999 ME 74, ¶ 5, 728 A.2d 1261, 1264.