2016-09-15 / News

Biddeford lawsuits won’t be dismissed

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A federal judge has denied motions to dismiss three lawsuits against the city related to allegations of sexual abuse by police officers years ago. In several Sept. 9 orders, U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby denied motions to dismiss the lawsuits – by both the city and former police Sgt. Stephen Dodd – allowing the lawsuits to proceed.

On Feb. 2, two men filed suit against two separate police officers and the city. Matt Lauzon, who is now a candidate for state representative, filed suit against Dodd, Police Chief Roger Beaupre and the city, alleging that Dodd sexually abused him as a minor; Lawrence Ouellette filed a similar suit against former police Cpt. Norman Gaudette, Beaupre and the city. Both men are represented by Augusta attorney Walter McKee. On March 11, Bertrand Girard, represented by Portland attorney Daniel Lilley, also filed suit against Dodd, Beaupre and the city over similar allegations of sexual misconduct by Dodd.

The city sought dismissal of all three cases on the grounds that the statute of limitations for alleged acts of sexual misconduct had expired; according to the complaints by the plaintiffs, Lauzon alleged he was abused by Dodd starting in 1999, Ouellette alleged abuse by Gaudette in the 1980s and Girard alleged abuse by Dodd from 1977 to 1982. Lauzon and Ouellette eventually dismissed their complaints against Dodd and Gaudette as individual officers respectively, acknowledging a statute of limitations to claims of sexual abuse, but retained their complaints against Beaupre and the city in how the allegations of abuse were initially handled by the city.

Before issuing the orders, Hornby had asked the parties to address whether he should “dismiss the plaintiffs’ claim against Chief Beaupre and the City of Biddeford because the plaintiffs have dismissed their (civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C.A § 1983) against the individual officers, Dodd and Gaudette,” citing another First Circuit decision, Nieves vs. McSweeney, in which the district court had determined that claims against individual police officers were time-barred and the therefore the municipality liability claims against the chief and town “also must fail.”

After reviewing each party’s briefs however, Hornby wrote in an order denying the dismissals of the Lauzon and Ouellette complaints, that the Nieves vs. McSweeney decision “does not control the issue.”

“It is also undeveloped as to when the plaintiffs knew or should have known, through the exercise of due diligence, that Chief Beaupre and the city of Biddeford were the proximate causes of their injuries,” Hornby wrote. “These cases shall proceed in the normal course.”

In his order denying the city’s motion to dismiss the Girard complaint, Hornby wrote that unlike Lauzon and Ouellette, Girard has not dismissed his complaints against Dodd individually as being time-barred.

“And second, that the plaintiff raises a mental illness basis under 14 M.R.S.A. § 853 (2015) for tolling the running of the statute of limitations,” Hornby added.

On Aug. 4, Dodd, acting pro se, representing himself without an attorney, had also sought to dismiss the Girard suit on accounts of lack of personal jurisdiction, insufficient process and insufficient service of process. In the Sept. 9 order denying the motion, Hornby wrote in response to Dodd’s claim that the court had no jurisdiction over the complaint, “Girard has put forth facts that Dodd was employed as a Biddeford, Maine police officer during the time period when he allegedly sexually assaulted Girard. There is no persuasive argument that Dodd did not purposefully avail himself to the jurisdiction of Maine when he engaged in tortious conduct in Maine, against a Maine resident, while he was living and working in Maine.

“Dodd is already litigating a related case in this court; Maine has an interest in adjudicating the dispute since the alleged conduct occurred in Maine, between a Maine resident and a Maine police officer; the plaintiff Girard lives in Maine and has an interest in obtaining convenient and effective relief in this court; it may be a more efficient use of judicial resources to litigate the case here because of the similarity between this case and a related case involving the defendant Dodd; and the final factor – the common interests of all sovereigns in promoting substantive social policies – does not cut one way or the other. I conclude, therefore, that the plaintiff Girard has made a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction.”

When the Courier contacted Dodd for a comment on Monday, Sept. 12, Dodd told the Courier he would not comment and to speak with his lawyer. However, according to court records, Dodd filed a notice to the court on Aug. 23 entering in his own pro se appearance, meaning that he does not have an attorney. Dodd currently lives in Crestview, Florida.

As for Hornby’s orders denying the motions to dismiss the cases, Lauzon said, “It’s a relief in the sense that it’s been almost two years since I reported (the allegations), and it’s been hard to remain patient while there are these attempts to dismiss the case or stall things. It was definitely great to hear the news that at this point, I will absolutely have my day in court. The flip side is that my lawyer and I were never concerned that the suit could would be dismissed.”

Beaupre told the Courier that while he “would love to comment” on the case and Hornby’s decision, he could not. City Solicitor Keith Jacques did not respond to requests for comments before the Courier’s deadline.

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