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Mason v. Town of Readfield
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision: 	 1998 ME 201
Docket: 	 Ken-98-45
Submitted 
on Briefs:  	June 22, 1998
Decided:	August 4, 1998

Panel:  	WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, and SAUFLEY, JJ.



SHERRY MASON v. TOWN OF READFIELD

RUDMAN, J.

	[¶1]  Sherry Mason appeals from the judgment entered in the
Superior Court (Kennebec County, Alexander J.) affirming the decision of
the Kennebec County Commissioners that she lacked standing to appeal
from the denial of her application for a poverty abatement.  Finding no error,
we affirm.
I.
	[¶2]  In September of 1985, Mark and Sherry Mason entered into a
land installment agreement to purchase 2.52 acres of land and a mobile
home from Thomas Sawyer.  The contract provides in relevant part:
	3.  As security for the Purchaser's obligation hereunder,
Vendor shall retain title to the Property until Purchaser has fully
paid the principle balance together with interest thereon.  . . . 

	THIS AGREEMENT IS NOT A MORTGAGE AND
PURCHASER DOES NOT HEREBY OBTAIN TITLE TO THE
PROPERTY UNTIL THE PRINCIPLE BALANCE, TOGETHER
WITH THE INTEREST THEREON, IS FULLY PAID.  

	4.  During the term of this agreement and for such further
time as said principal balance or any part thereof shall remain
unpaid, Purchaser agrees to pay all taxes, assessments . . . against
the property . . . .
In May of 1995, Mark and Sherry Mason divorced.  Pursuant to the divorce
decree, their joint interest in the property was set aside solely to Sherry. 
	[¶3]  In October of 1996, Sherry Mason applied to the Town of
Readfield for a poverty abatement pursuant to 36 M.R.S.A. § 841(2) (1990).{1} 
Mason sought an abatement of property taxes that had been assessed against
Thomas and Kathy Sawyer, the record owners of the property.  The Board of
Selectmen denied her request on the ground that she was not the legal
owner of the property.  Mason appealed this denial to the Kennebec County
Commissioners, who determined:  "the taxes on the property in questioned
[sic] are being assessed to Thomas and Kathy Sawyer, Sherry Mason is not
the owner of the property.  The County Commissioners do not feel there is
any justification in their reviewing this appeal for poverty abatement." 
Mason appealed this decision to the Superior Court pursuant to M.R. Civ. P.
80B.  The Superior Court affirmed.  This appeal followed.
II.
	[¶4]  Mason contends that the County Commissioners erred in
determining that she lacked standing to appeal from the denial of her
poverty abatement application.{2}  We disagree.  "Rights of appeal from
decisions of administrative tribunals are statutory, and capacity of any
appellant to prosecute an appeal therefrom, i.e. standing to appeal, must . . . 
depend on the particular wording of the specific appeal statute involved." 
Singal v. City of Bangor, 440 A.2d 1048, 1050 (Me. 1982).  "In order to have
standing to obtain judicial review of administrative action, a person 'must
demonstrate a particularized injury [therefrom].'"  Seaborne v. Look, 464
A.2d 221, 222 (Me. 1983) (quoting In re Lappie, 377 A.2d 441, 443 (Me.
1977)). 
	[¶5]  Section 844(1) of Title 36 governs appeals from the denial of an
abatement request.  See 36 M.R.S.A. § 844(1) (1990 & Supp. 1997).
Pursuant to this section: 
if the assessors or the municipal officers refuse to make the
abatement asked for . . . the applicant may apply to the county
commissioners within 60 days after notice of the decisions from
which the appeal is being taken or within 60 days after the
application is deemed to have been denied. 
 
36 M.R.S.A. § 844(1) (emphasis added).  In this case, Mason is "the
applicant" for a poverty abatement.  She therefore has standing to appeal the
Board of Selectmen's denial of her abatement application if she suffered a
particularized injury from that denial.
	[¶6]  "The requirement of a particularized injury is met when the
judgment adversely and directly affects the party's property, pecuniary or
personal rights."  Great Hill Fill & Gravel, Inc. v. Board of Envtl. Protection,
641 A.2d 184, 184 (Me. 1994) (quotation omitted).  We cannot conclude
that the Town's denial of Mason's abatement request directly affects her
pecuniary interests.  Mason sought an abatement of taxes that had been
assessed against the Sawyers.  The effect of the Town's denial of her request
is that the Sawyers still owe property taxes to the Town.  The provision of
the land installment contract between Mason and the Sawyers that obligates
Mason to pay all taxes assessed upon the property renders her only
indirectly affected by the denial of her abatement request.
	[¶7]  The purpose of the poverty abatement statute is "to prevent
towns from forcing the sale of property in order to collect taxes from those
otherwise unable to pay."  Macaro v. Town of Windham, 468 A.2d 604, 606
(Me. 1983).  Mason argues that the Commissioners' decision thwarts this
purpose because her inability to pay property taxes will cause her to "default
under her Land Installment Contract, which would result in foreclosure and
loss of her home."   Although we are not insensitive to Mason's plight, we
must observe that such a loss of her home would not stem from a forced sale
of the property by the Town; rather, it is a loss that the Sawyers would force
pursuant to the terms of the land installment contract.   
	[¶8]  Mason contends that this result is absurd because "[i]n a
traditional mortgage situation, the mortgagor (the purchaser) is permitted
to apply for a poverty abatement."  Although one who purchases land
through a land installment contract is in many ways similarly situated to a
mortgagor, it is the province of the Legislature, not of this Court, to
determine what statutory protections should be enjoyed by each class of
buyers.  The Legislature has directed municipalities to consider a mortgagor
to be the owner for assessment purposes.  See 36 M.R.S.A. § 554 (1990)
("In cases of mortgaged real estate, the mortgagor, for the purposes of
taxation, shall be deemed the owner, until the mortgagee takes possession  
. . . .").  Mason acknowledges that the Legislature has not directed
municipalities to deem a purchaser to be the owner for assessment
purposes.  Since a municipality may assess property taxes against either the
owner or the person in possession, see 36 M.R.S.A. § 553 (1990) ("All real
estate shall be taxed in the place where it is to the owner or person in
possession, whether resident or nonresident."), the Town's decision to tax
the Sawyers instead of Mason constitutes a lawful exercise of its statutory
discretion.
	The entry is:
Judgment affirmed.

Attorney for plaintiff: Patrick Ende, Esq. Pine Tree Legal Assistance P O Box 2429 Augusta, ME 04338-2429 Attorney for defendant: Lee K . Bragg, Esq. Joan M. Fortin, Esq. P O Box 5057 Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson, P.A. Augusta, ME 04332-5057
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} The statute governing poverty tax abatements provides in relevant part: 2. Infirmity or poverty. The municipal officers . . . within 3 years from commitment, may, on their own knowledge or on written application therefor, make such abatements as they believe reasonable on the real and personal taxes on all persons who, by reason of infirmity or poverty, are in their judgment unable to contribute to the public charges. . . . Municipal officers . . . shall: A. Provide that any person indicating an inability to pay all or part of taxes that have been assessed because of poverty or infirmity shall be informed of the right to make application under this subsection; . . . . 36 M.R.S.A. § 841(2) (1990). {2} "When the Superior Court acts as an intermediate appellate court, we review directly the decision of the Commissioners 'for abuse of discretion, errors of law, or findings unsupported by substantial evidence in the record.'" Quoddy Realty Corp. v. City of Eastport, 1998 ME 14, ¶ 4, 704 A.2d 407, 408 (quoting Weekley v. Town of Scarborough, 676 A.2d 932, 933 (Me. 1996)).