Town, code enforcement officer seek dismissal of lawsuits

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FARMINGTON — The attorneys for the town and code enforcement officer who were named in lawsuits filed in Franklin County Superior Court by a Main Street resident have recently asked the court to dismiss the complaint against them.

Dr. Christie James filed a lawsuit against the town of Farmington and Code Enforcement Officer J. Stevens Kaiser in November, claiming defamation of character based on wording in a memo written by Kaiser that was sent to the town’s Planning Board and the appeals board.

Kaiser and attorneys for the town filed for the special motion to dismiss the case in December, based on Maine’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law. They claim the SLAPP suit against Kaiser is “an attempt to silence him and chill his free speech rights,” according to court documents.

James’ defamation suit claims that Kaiser in the April memo indicated that James had lied to the boards during her opposition to a proposed condominium project. The project was to be located on William Marceau’s property at 223 Main St., abutting James’ property at 225 Main St.

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After the Planning Board approved the Farmington Riverview condominium project in August 2011, James appealed its decision. The appeals board sent its concerns back to the Planning Board, which stayed with its decision. James went back to the appeals board, which disagreed with the Planning Board on one aspect.

The development application was denied.

An appeal is pending in Superior Court over the permitting of that project.

The lawsuit against the town and Kaiser relates to interactions between James and Marceau dating back to 2006. According to the court document, James complained that the exterior lighting on Marceau’s property fell on to her property in violation of the town’s Zoning Ordinance standards.

Records indicate that Kaiser visited the properties to inspect the lighting at least 27 times. At first, the lighting was not in compliance. Then Kaiser deemed the lighting was OK during inspections made after Marceau fixed the lighting. The town and Kaiser were not notified again about the lighting until the condominium project in 2011, the record states.

The lighting was again inspected by Kaiser several times in January and February of 2012, after statements were made during the Riverview application process. Kaiser found the lighting in compliance with the town’s Zoning Ordinance, as detailed in a letter to James in February.

During reviews of the project by the town’s planning and appeals boards, James noted that violations of the town’s ordinance by Marceau “had been allowed to continue despite complaints to the board and to the code enforcement officer.”

The motion to dismiss addresses a statement made by James to the Planning Board in April where she told the board, “Nobody has come to my property on multiple requests to look at that lighting that violates the light ordinance.”

The defense states Kaiser’s memo was in response to his explanation that her statements were false and misleading. His statements, the record says, have a factual basis, are accurate and are a “constitutionally protected exercise of his free speech right to petition government.”

James’ suit claims the statements that “she lied” to the boards were “false and defamatory” and “disparaged her personal and professional character.”

She seeks an amount determined by the court for “general and special damages, lost income and punitive damages,” from the town and Kaiser.

Both the town and Kaiser in the special motion seek dismissal with legal costs and fees awarded to each.

Based on whether the court approves the motion to dismiss, the next step in the court process is a court Alternate Dispute Resolution, a form of court mediation, sought by the end of this month, according to the record.

abryant@sunjournal.com

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