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Franklin Printing v. Harvest Hill Press
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT				                                    Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2002 ME 116
Docket:	   Fra-01-772
Submitted 
on Briefs:	May 30, 2002
Decided:	July 25, 2002

Panel:   SAUFLEY, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, ALEXANDER, CALKINS, and
             LEVY, JJ.




                                                       FRANKLIN PRINTING

                                                                        v.

                                                       HARVEST HILL PRESS


SAUFLEY, C.J.

	[¶1]  Harvest Hill Press appeals from the judgment of the Superior Court
(Franklin County, Mills, C.J.) affirming the judgment of the District Court
(Farmington, Mullen, J.) in favor of Franklin Printing.  Harvest Hill contends that
the court erred in denying its motion to dismiss for improper venue and that the
court's factual findings are clearly erroneous.  We affirm the judgment.

                                             I.  BACKGROUND

	[¶2]  Harvest Hill Press has a place of business in Salisbury Cove, in
Hancock County.  Franklin Printing's place of business is in Farmington, in
Franklin County.  A traveling sales representative from Franklin Printing solicited
Harvest Hill's business in Salisbury Cove.  For the next few years, Harvest Hill
and Franklin Printing maintained a successful business relationship in which
Franklin Printing custom-printed various orders for Harvest Hill in return for
payment by Harvest Hill.  Although orders were often taken by the sales
representative at Harvest Hill's place of business, Harvest Hill also communicated
with Franklin Printing by phone, fax, and mail at its Farmington address.  No
representative of Harvest Hill ever travelled to Franklin Printing, but all orders
were produced in and shipped from Franklin Printing's place of business in
Farmington. 

	[¶3]  In the fall of 1999, Franklin Printing completed two orders for
Harvest Hill for payment due in December of 1999.  Sometime during the winter
of 1999 (it is unclear whether before or after the payment due date), Harvest Hill
contacted Franklin Printing to arrange a payment plan for the two invoices.  The
parties agreed that Harvest Hill could make the payments in three equal
installments in June, July, and August of 2000.  In the meantime, Franklin
Printing would store the finished products for Harvest Hill.  Harvest Hill testified
that it demanded the product in the spring of 2000.  Franklin Printing asserts that
it agreed to send the finished product only upon complete payment by Harvest
Hill.

	[¶4]  Harvest Hill made one payment in July and a second payment in
September of 2000, but never made the third payment.  In November of 2000,
Franklin Printing filed a small claims action against Harvest Hill in the District
Court (Farmington), seeking a judgment for the remaining balance, plus interest
and finance charges.  Harvest Hill moved to dismiss the claim for improper venue. 
A hearing was held, following which the court (Mullen, J.) denied the motion to
dismiss for improper venue, and issued a judgment for Franklin Printing in the
amount of $2387 for services rendered.  The Superior Court (Mills, C.J.)
affirmed the District Court's judgment.  Harvest Hill appeals.

                                              II.  DISCUSSION

	[¶5]  When, as here, the Superior Court acts in its appellate capacity, we
review the decision of the District Court directly for abuse of discretion, errors of
law, or findings not supported by the evidence.  Rockland Plaza Realty Corp. v.
City of Rockland, 2001 ME 81, ¶ 7, 772 A.2d 256, 259.  Harvest Hill first
challenges the court's determination that Farmington was a proper venue for
disposition of this case.  

	[¶6]  Venue in small claims actions is governed by 14 M.R.S.A. § 7483
(Supp. 2001), which provides, "A small claim shall be brought in the division of
the District Court where the transaction occurred, where the defendant resides,
where the defendant has a place of business or, if the defendant is a corporation or
partnership, where its registered agent resides."  14 M.R.S.A. § 7483 (Supp.
2001).  Here, the plaintiff, Franklin Printing, filed the complaint in Franklin
County even though the place of business of the defendant, Harvest Hill, was in
Hancock County.  The court concluded, however, that the "transaction occurred"
in Farmington, Franklin Printing's place of business, and therefore that venue
could lie equally in either county.  

	[¶7] The issue presented is whether the court erred as a matter of law in
interpreting the language of section 7483.  We review the court's interpretation of
a statute de novo.  Rockland Plaza Realty Corp., 2001 ME 81, ¶ 7, 772 A.2d at
259.  Section 7483 permits venue "where the transaction occurred."  14 M.R.S.A.
§ 7483.  When the Legislature has not defined a phrase, we give statutory
language its plain and ordinary meaning.  Mullen v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 589
A.2d 1275, 1277 (Me. 1991).  "Transaction" may be defined as "[t]he act or an
instance of conducting business or other dealings[,] . . . [s]omething performed or
carried out; a business agreement or exchange."{1}  Black's Law Dictionary
1503 (7th ed. 1999).  Both this definition and the ordinary meaning of
"transaction" support the court's conclusion that the transaction occurred in
Farmington, the place where the business between Franklin Printing and Harvest
Hill was carried out.

	[¶8]  The legislative history of section 7483 is also instructive.  In its
original form, the bill enacting section 7483 provided for venue only where the
defendant or its agent resided or maintained a place of business.  L.D. 1746
(110th Legis. 1981).  That bill was amended to permit venue "where the
transaction occurred" to "assist plaintiffs in bringing claims," and subsequently
passed in that form.  Comm. Amend. B to L.D. 1746, No. S.P. 743 (110th Legis.
1981); Comm. Amend. B to L.D. 1746, Statement of Fact (110th Legis. 1981). 
Thus, the Maine Legislature explicitly enacted a venue provision that would
address the needs of both plaintiffs and defendants in small claims actions.  

	[¶9]  House debate also indicates the intent of the Legislature to balance the
interests of debtors and creditors, thereby creating venue provisions that both
"protect[] that small debtor from having, in fact, to chase himself around to the
large creditor that isn't so seriously inconvenienced by having to do a little
footwork on his own," and "enable a plaintiff to bring his small claims action in
the district court where in fact the contract was entered into."  Legis. Rec. 402,
403 (1982)  Representative Livesay, of Brunswick, provided an example:


[I]f I bought an automobile from Representative Drinkwater up in his
district court area and I had failed to make payments on that
purchase, he could bring action in the court where he resides as
opposed to having to chase me in the Brunswick district court. . . .
[W]hen you are dealing with small claims, you are dealing with small
amounts of money. If you make it too inconvenient for that plaintiff
who has a just debt owed, he may very well just shrug his shoulders
and give up. . . . [S]mall businessmen and individuals shouldn't have
to chase debtors all around the state in order to collect their money
. . . .


Legis. Rec. 402, 403 (1982).  Thus, the Legislature's intent, by adding the
language "where the transaction occurred" to the bill, was to create a forum for
the small business or individual to seek a judgment for small amounts of money
owed without travelling to the defendant debtor's location and thereby incurring
more cost.  

	[¶10]  This is precisely Franklin Printing's circumstance.  Although
Franklin Printing did establish a presence in Salisbury Cove by soliciting Harvest
Hill's business there, the bulk of Franklin Printing's interaction with Harvest Hill,
including the actual rendering of services, occurred from its place of business in
Farmington.  We conclude, therefore, that the court did not err in denying Harvest
Hill's motion to dismiss for improper venue.{2}
  
	[¶11]  Harvest Hill also contends that the court's factual findings regarding
the nature of its transaction with Franklin Printing are clearly erroneous.  See
State v. Bartlett, 661 A.2d 1107, 1108 (Me. 1995).  We find ample evidence in
the record to support the court's findings, and therefore do not disturb those
findings.

	The entry is:

                 Judgment affirmed.
               

Attorneys for plaintiff:

Peter R. Roy, Esq.
Robert w. Laffin Jr., Esq.
Roy, Beardsley, Williams & Granger, LLC
P O Box 723
Ellsworth, ME 04605-0723

For defendant:

Sherri Eldridge
P O Box 55
Salisbury Cove, ME 04672

FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Although the word "transaction" is not defined by the statute, we have often looked to the dictionary for clarification of the plain meaning of terms. Rockland Plaza Realty Corp., 2001 ME 81, ¶ 12, 772 A.2d at 260. {2} . We note also that Harvest Hill's satisfaction of the judgment of the District Court would fulfill its payment obligation, therefore entitling it to delivery of the printed goods held by Franklin Printing.