2016-03-17 / Front Page

Civil case moves along, dismissal refuted

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Plaintiffs in two civil lawsuits against the city have filed statements opposing Biddeford’s motions to dismiss the cases.

Matt Lauzon and Lawrence Ouellette are separately suing the city, Police Chief Roger Beaupre and two former police officers, alleging they were subjects of sexual abuse. The defendants of both cases jointly filed motions on Feb. 10 in the U.S. District Court for the district of Maine to dismiss the cases, citing statutes of limitations.

The suits were transferred from York County Superior Court to the federal court on Feb. 2 at the request of the defendants.

Lauzon, who grew up in Biddeford and recently moved back after living in Boston for several years, alleges he was abused by former police Sgt. Stephen Dodd. Ouellette, also of Biddeford, alleges abuse by former police Capt. Norman Gaudette. Lauzon and Ouellette are both represented by attorney Walter McKee of Hallowell.

In a separate lawsuit that remains in the state’s Law Court, Gaudette is suing Mainely Media LLC, owner of the Courier, and reporter Ben Meiklejohn and managing editor Molly Lovell- Keely over articles written about the allegations last year.

McKee filed oppositions to the dismissal motions in both cases, Matthew Lauzon v. Stephen Dodd, et. al., and Lawrence Ouellette vs. Norman Gaudette, et. al., on March 4.

In Matthew Lauzon v. Stephen Dodd, et. al., Portland attorney Michael Saucier represents Beaupre and the city. Dodd is being represented by John Whitman and Joseph Cahoon.

In Lawrence Ouellette vs. Norman Gaudette, et. al., the city is represented by City Solicitor Keith Jacques, while Beaupre has a different lawyer, Portland attorney Timothy Bryant. Gaudette is represented by Kennebunk attorneys Gene Libby and Tara Rich.

The city is paying for Beaupre’s attorney fees, with both Bryant and Saucier, but is not paying for the defenses of Dodd or Gaudette.

In his argument opposing the joint dismissal motion in Matthew Lauzon v. Stephen Dodd, et. al., McKee states, “The claims against Beaupre and the City differ from the claims against Dodd … the claims against Beaupre and the City are for actions and omission made by Beaupre and the City on dates different from the dates of the sexual abuses committed by Dodd.

“(Lauzon) had no reason to know that Beaupre and the City would have taken actions that not only created an environment for Dodd to abuse him in, but then also protected Dodd from punishment and hid his abuse and their actions supporting it. The accrual of this kind of claim against the municipal supervisor of an employee who sexually abused a minor is a far different determination than the accrual of the actual abuse itself.”

McKee makes the same argument in his objection to the defendants’ joint motion to dismiss Lawrence Ouellette v. Norman Gaudette, et. al.

While Dodd’s attorneys had also filed a motion to dismiss the case based on insufficiency of service, that motion was withdrawn after Dodd accepted service on Feb. 26 and requested an enlargement of time in which to respond to Lauzon’s complaints.

Lauzon said he believes the motions to dismiss are more of a stalling mechanism than they are substantive.

“The actions that have been taken by the various defendants are more about stalling than they are about materially trying to dismiss the case,” Lauzon said. “I’m happy that it’s been moved to federal court, and happy that everyone’s been served so this can finally move forward.”

Lauzon said when Attorney General Janet Mills announced in August that criminal charges would not be filed against Dodd, he “was left with the decision to either give up or pursue this civilly.”

“I’m glad we made this choice because it’s looking more and more clear like the truth will prevail,” he said.

In the motion to dismiss Lawrence Ouellette v. Norman Gaudette, et. al., Libby, Jacques and Bryant argued that statute of limitations for Ouellette’s claims expired in the 1990s at the latest, stating, “The conduct for which the defendants are being sued occurred in the 1980s. Thus this action was not filed ‘within 2 years after the cause of action occurred.’

“Extending the two-year period until two years after Plaintiff turned 18 does not change the analysis: if Plaintiff was 16 at the time of the alleged abuse in the 1980s, the latest the abuse could have happened (and he could have been 16) would be 1989, in which case he would have turned 18 no later than 1991. Under section 8110, he would have had to file his lawsuit no later than 1993. Instead, the lawsuit was filed in 2015. It is therefore time-barred.”

In his argument against the dismissal, McKee states, “Defendants’ Joint Motion to Dismiss fails to differentiate between the violation of Ouellette’s constitutional rights at the time he was sexually molested and assaulted by Gaudette in the 1980s and the violation of his rights when Beaupre and the City were aware of Gaudette’s prior sexual assault of a different young man and their failure to protect Ouellette from Gaudette’s sexual assault subsequent to his awareness as well as his protection of Gaudette’s sexual abuse of Ouellette, which allowed these subsequent sexual assaults against Ouellette.”

McKee acknowledged, however, that a portion of Ouellette’s claim against Gaudette could be barred, stating, “For this reason, Ouellette does not oppose dismissal of the section 1983 claim against Gaudette.

“Beaupre, in both his individual and official capacity, and the City, however, cannot rely on the same latest possible accrual date argument because Ouellette’s Complaint clearly alleges facts on its face that those Defendants’ violations were different in nature, and unlike the traumatic and violent sexual assaults Ouellette suffered in the 1980s, theses violations were simply not known to Ouellette in the 1980s … For this reason, Beaupre and the City’s Motion to dismiss is premature …”

McKee argues further that the complaints against the city in allegedly covering up the abuse, are different than the complaints of alleged abuse against Gaudette himself.

“Ouellete’s Complaint alleges that Beaupre knew of the abuse, but instead of bringing the wrong-doing to light, Beaupre altered internal affairs processes so that the abuse could continue without consequence to Gaudette,” McKee wrote.

Meanwhile, on social media, comments made by three city officials on Facebook have drawn ire from supporters of Lauzon and Ouellette’s efforts to seek relief for being allegedly sexually assaulted.

On March 10, Ward 4 City Councilor Robert Quattrone took issue on Facebook with Lauzon’s filing of 30 Freedom of Information Act requests to the city. Screenshots of his post were then circulated to local media outlets.

“You see, when you care so much about frivolous government spending, grinding day-to-day city business to a crawl is the right way to feed your ego,” Quattrone wrote in the post. “Making several city employees stop what needs to be done, and then have them take part in the witch hunt, is about as wasteful as it can get. And when you’re a hero to few and a nuisance to most, you ask for the fees to be waived.”

Quattrone said he went into city hall last week and was amazed at how much time city employees were spending fulfilling Lauzon’s requests for information.

“What I was seeing with the FOIA requests, is some were so over the top,” Quattrone said. “One was, what was the mayor’s marital status? And he wanted proof. One request was, he wanted to know what a non-city-employee’s financial status was, or how many people the mayor has blocked on his Facebook page.

“One request was about the MERC deal. There’s a ton of information on that stuff. People had to work long and hard, and that’s fine, but when you have 30 requests, the focus of city business isn’t city business anymore.”

Quattrone said few, if any of Lauzon’s requests seemed to have anything to do with his lawsuit against the city.

“None of those requests had anything to do with the sexual abuse,” he added.

Lauzon said that many of his requests were made on behalf of other people who feel too intimidated to make the requests themselves.

“What has gone awry to the point where we have a city where thousands of people are too intimidated to engage publicly out of fear of retribution?” Lauzon asked.

Lauzon said he knows a woman who went to a meeting of a city-involved organization, who was told, “If you support Matt Lauzon, you’re not allowed to be a part of this group.”

“On one hand, you have this dynamic where people are literally afraid to come forward,” Lauzon said. “On the other hand, if my FOIA requests literally grinded city hall to a halt, then that’s a problem, too. Why is it so difficult to process these requests?”

Lauzon said his requests are relevant in determining if city government is being transparent.

For example, Lauzon said his requests include identifying sources of income for Randy Seaver while he was Mayor Alan Casavant’s campaign manager, or while he was a member of the city’s airport commission. Seaver is the husband of atlarge City Councilor Laura Seaver.

“I don’t care how much money any citizen has made,” Lauzon said. “What I care about is if money has been paid that led to compromised negotiations that negatively impacted taxpayers and citizens. I do think that should be public information.”

Lauzon said the requests he made are all related to how city government functions and how city officials are influenced.

“It is impossible to be involved on both sides of a negotiation without having some conflict,” he said.

“Or if there was a conflict, then citizens should know about it.”

Lauzon said if Randy Seaver had been getting consulting fees from an entity that owned MERC while managing Casavant’s campaign for mayor, then “he was getting paid by them to get more leverage against the city.”

Lauzon said Seaver may have also consulted pilots while a member of the airport commission.

Randy Seaver said he has never been a city employee and it’s “absolutely ridiculous for someone to ask about how much I got paid by clients.”

Randy Seaver said he volunteered for Alan Casavant’s campaigns and never got paid. If anything, he spent money, he said.

“One thing needs to be clarified,” Seaver said. “I was never at a negotiating table. It was very public that I was working for Casella long before Alan Casavant became mayor. Part of my role was to help people understand what the process would be, what would happen to their trash.”

In 2008, when a municipal referendum asked voters if they wanted to close the airport, Randy Seaver said he was hired by Friends of Biddeford Airport to help them run a campaign.

“I was appointed to the airport commission five years later, in 2013, largely because I had a relationship with a lot of the pilots and users of the airport,” he said. “There never was any money changing hands … I never got a dime from the city of Biddeford.”

Laura Seaver commented on Quattrone’s post, saying, “We are much stronger than one irrelevant being.”

Lauzon said the comment by Laura Seaver, who works for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, was intentionally demeaning.

“To refer to a sexual abuse victim as something less than human, or irrelevant – she knows that’s the equivalent of punching me in the gut,” Lauzon said.

Laura Seaver said her comment was a response to another woman who wrote that she was concerned that people would not run for city council or work for the city because of the FOIA requests. Laura Seaver said her comment was intended to state that the requests were irrelevent to her ability to perform as a city councilor. “(...That negative behavior on social media wouldn’t affect anything I did.”

At-large Charter Revision Commissioner Daniel Boucher also commented of Lauzon on Facebook, “When you profess love for someone, do you avail yourself of any means to discredit, devalue, and disrespect that person? This individual’s professed love for Biddeford is actually domestic abuse every single day.”

Lauzon said he’s not trying to discredit the city, but is trying to find out why the same people are behind every controversy.

“The reality is, it’s the same names that come up over and over again, it’s just being reshuffled into different roles,” Lauzon said. “That group may feel as if they have total transparency of what’s happening, but it’s restricted to a very small group, and there’s always an angry mob on the other side – whether it’s an angry mob who doesn’t want MERC, or an angry mob about the airport, or an angry mob against the police chief.

“It seems the narrative is about when people are concerned about changes, it just goes from one angry mob to another, when the question I think that needs to be answered is, ‘Why is there always an angry mob?’”

Quattrone said when he posted his opinion about Lauzon’s FOIA requests, he did so as an individual and was in no way representing the position of the city as a whole.

“It was just my opinion, but it seemed as though it was a clear abuse of the FOIA process. It seemed to me the intention of this individual was to harass and disrupt city government,” Quattrone said. “You can’t say that you care about wasteful government and then go ahead and do wasteful government spending.”

Quattrone said some people told him they felt his post violated their free speech, but he said he doesn’t see how expressing his own opinion violates anybody else’s free speech.

“I have free speech, too,” he added.

Quattrone said he supports the efforts of alleged victims of abuse to seek justice.

“I support victims,” he said. “I have kids. If anyone ever messed around with them … It’s too bad that it’s as polarizing as it is.”

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