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Interstate Food v. Town of Ft. Fairfield
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision: 	1997 ME 193								
Docket: 	Aro-96-296									
Submitted 									
on Briefs: 	February 7, 1997						
Decided :	August 18, 1997

Panel:	WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, GLASSMAN, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA and LIPEZ, JJ.
Majority: ROBERTS, GLASSMAN, RUDMAN, DANA AND LIPEZ, JJ.
Dissent: WATHEN, C.J. and CLIFFORD, J.

INTERSTATE FOOD PROCESSING CORP. v. TOWN OF FORT FAIRFIELD
	

LIPEZ, J.

	[¶1]  Interstate Food Processing Corp. appeals from the judgment
entered in the Superior Court (Aroostook County, Pierson, J.) affirming the
State Board of Property Tax Review's dismissal of Interstate's tax abatement
appeal.  Interstate argues that its appeal should have been suspended rather
than dismissed.  We agree and vacate the judgment.
	[¶2]  In April 1993, Interstate's food processing plant and related
facilities in Fort Fairfield were valued for property tax purposes at
approximately $5.3 million.  Interstate was assessed property taxes of
approximately $144,000 for the 1993-1994 tax year.  The taxes, due in
February 1994, were not paid until June 1994.  In March 1994, Interstate
sought an abatement from the assessor of the Town of Fort Fairfield.  The
assessor denied the request and Interstate appealed to the Town Board of
Assessment Review.  The Town Board did not act on the appeal and it was
deemed denied in July 1994.  See 36 M.R.S.A. § 843(1) (Supp. 1996),
amended by P.L. 1995, ch. 262, § 4 (appeal deemed denied if board fails to
give written notice of its decision within 60 days).  Interstate appealed the
Town Board's denial to the State Board of Property Tax Review which granted
the Town's motion to dismiss, concluding that the plain language of 36
M.R.S.A. § 843(4), (Supp. 1996), amended by P.L. 1995, ch. 262, § 4,{1}
requires dismissal of appeals brought after the due date of taxes when those
taxes were unpaid as of the due date.  The Superior Court affirmed the State
Board's decision.  This appeal followed.
	[¶3]  When, as here, the Superior Court acts as an intermediate
appellate court, we review directly the decision of the State Board for errors
of law.  See, e.g., Weekley v. Town of Scarborough, 676 A.2d 932 (Me. 1996). 
Interstate argues that the State Board erred in interpreting 36
M.R.S.A. § 843(4) to require dismissal rather than suspension of its appeal. 
Interstate contends that the plain language of section 843(4) specifies only
that taxes must be paid by the due date to enter or continue an appeal.  It
does not state the consequences of failure to pay the required tax.  Interstate
asserts that there are two possible interpretations of the effect of failure to
pay: suspension of the appeal until the taxes are paid or permanent dismissal. 
It contends suspension is the proper interpretation.  We agree.
	[¶4]  When interpreting a statute, we must give effect to the intent of
the Legislature.  Town of Madison, Dep't of Elec. Works v. PUC, 682 A.2d 231,
234 (Me. 1996).  That intent is obtained ordinarily from the plain language of
the statute itself, and such plain meaning is applied so long as it does not lead
to an absurd or illogical result.  See e.g., Central Maine Medical Center v.
Maine Health Care Finance Comm'n, 644 A.2d 1383, 1386 (Me. 1994).  "'The
legislative department is supposed to have a consistent design and policy and
to intend nothing inconsistent or incongruous.'"  Whorff v. Johnson, 143 Me.
198, 204, 58 A.2d 553, 556 (1948) (quoting Cummings v. Everett, 82 Me.
260, 265, 19 A. 456, 457 (1890).{2}  When interpreting a section of a statute
we "remain mindful of the whole statutory scheme . . . so that a harmonious
result may be achieved."  Daniels v. Tew Mac Aero Servs., Inc., 675 A.2d 984,
987 (Me. 1996).
	[¶5]  Here the plain language of the statute provides that if a taxpayer
fails to pay its taxes when due and then attempts to appeal, such an appeal
may not be entered.  The plain meaning of the language appears to require
dismissal of an appeal filed in those circumstances.  Such an interpretation,
however, leads to an illogical result.  That is, an appeal filed the day before the
due date is merely suspended if the taxes are not paid by the due date, but an
appeal filed one day after the due date is dismissed if the taxes were not paid
by the due date.  This illogical result raises a question as to the Legislature's
intent. 
	[¶6]  We look to the purposes of the statute to determine the sanction
intended by the Legislature.  See, e.g., Givertz v. Maine Medical Center, 459
A.2d 548, 554 (Me. 1983) (failure to meet statutory notice-of-claim provisions
subjected malpractice suit to dismissal rather than a stay because a contrary
conclusion would frustrate "the very essence of the object sought to be
accomplished by the Legislature, i.e., the prospective lessening of litigation
and the settlement of meritorious claims . . . ."); see also Michaud v. Northern
Maine Medical Center, 436 A.2d 398, 401-02 (Me. 1981) (when a party fails
to meet a statutory requirement the question becomes what is the appropriate
sanction under the circumstances).  By enacting section 843(4), the
Legislature sought to ensure prompt payment of property taxes.{3}  A provision
within section 843(4) itself reveals that suspension rather than dismissal is
sufficient to accomplish that objective.  See Dunton v. Eastern Fine Paper Co.,
423 A.2d 512 (Me. 1980) (dismissal is inappropriate when that sanction does
not serve the legitimate purpose behind a technical procedural requirement). 
Section 843(4) requires that when an appeal is filed before the due date and
the taxes are not paid by the due date, the appeal is merely suspended until
payment.  In light of the statute's explicit requirement of suspension for
failure to pay taxes when an appeal is filed before the due date, and the
illogical consequence of requiring dismissal of an appeal filed after the due
date when taxes have not been paid, we conclude that the Legislature
intended that the consequence of failing to pay taxes by the due date when an
appeal is filed after the due date is suspension of an appeal until payment.{4}
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded to the
Superior Court for entry of a judgment
vacating the decision of the State Board of
Property Tax Review, and further
proceedings consistent with the opinion
herein.

WATHEN, C.J., with whom Clifford, J. joins, dissenting. [¶7] I respectfully dissent. The statute is unambiguous. The plain meaning of the statute prohibits the filing of an appeal if the taxpayer has failed to pay taxes when due. "A taxpayer must pay an amount of current taxes . . . in order to enter an appeal . . . or to continue prosecution of an appeal. . . ." 36 M.R.S.A. § 843(4) (Supp. 1996). If the meaning of the statute is clear on its face, the language must prevail and no further inquiry is required. Cook v. Lisbon School Committee, 682 A.2d 672, 676 (Me. 1996). Moreover, in this case, the plain meaning of the language unmistakably furthers the purpose of the statute-to ensure prompt payment of property taxes. [¶8] The Court justifies its interpretation of the statute by suggesting that the plain language leads to an illogical result. The statute draws a distinction between delinquent taxpayers who enter an appeal before the due date and delinquent taxpayers who enter an appeal after the due date. When current taxes are not paid, the statute denies an appeal to those who have failed to file before the date taxes are due and suspends the appeal of any taxpayer who has filed in a timely fashion. I disagree with the Court's conclusion that this result is illogical. Reasonable minds may differ over the wisdom or fairness of the line drawn by the Legislature, but the line has been drawn and we should apply it. [¶9] In my judgment, dismissal of the appeal is the only appropriate remedy. "A statute prohibiting the commencement of an action [or appeal] need say no more to require a dismissal of any action [or appeal] filed in violation of its terms." Michaud v. Northern Maine Medical Center, 436 A.2d 398, 403 (Me. 1981) (Wathen J., dissenting). I would affirm the judgment.:
Attorney for plaintiff: Richard N. Solman, Esq. Solman & Hunter, P.A. P O Box 665 Caribou, ME 04736 Attorneys for defendant: Lee K. Bragg, Esq. Janet E. Milley, Esq. P O Box 9729 Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer & Nelson Portland, ME 04104
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . When Interstate filed its appeal, section 843(4) provided: A taxpayer must pay an amount of current taxes equal to the amount of taxes paid in the next preceding year or the amount of taxes in the current tax year not in dispute, whichever is greater, by the due date in order to enter an appeal under this section or to continue prosecution of an appeal pending under this section. If an appeal is in process upon expiration of a due date for payment of taxes in a particular municipality, without the appropriate amount of taxes having been paid, the appeal process must be suspended until the appropriate amount of taxes, together with any accrued interest and costs, has been paid. This section applies to any property tax year beginning on or after April 1, 1993. {2} . We have used a variety of formulations to describe the type of results that lead us to look beyond the plain meaning of a statute to determine the legislative intent. See e.g., International Paper Co. v. Town of Jay, 665 A.2d 998, 1002 (Me. 1995) (results that are absurd, inconsistent, unreasonable, or illogical); Jordan v. Sears, Roebuck & Co. 651 A.2d 358, 360 (Me. 1994) (results that are absurd, illogical, or inconsistent); Woodcock v. Atlass, 393 A.2d 167, 170 (Me. 1978) (results that are inconsistent or unreasonable); Whorff v. Johnson, 143 Me. 198, 204, 58 A.2d 553, 556 (1948) (results that are inconsistent or incongruous). {3} . The emergency preamble of the act enacting the applicable version of section 843(4) provides: Whereas, Acts of the Legislature do not become effective until 90 days after adjournment unless enacted as emergencies; and Whereas, municipalities have certain expenses and liabilities that must be met as they become due; and Whereas, it is necessary that the assessed taxes are paid in a timely manner in order to provide the required revenue for the municipalities; and Whereas, the 90-day period may not terminate before taxes committed after April 1, 1993 are due; and Whereas, in the judgment of the Legislature, these facts create an emergency . . . and require the following legislation as immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety . . . . P.L. 1995, ch. 242, Emergency preamble. {4} . The Legislature's 1995 amendment to section 843(4) explicitly provides suspension as the consequence in these circumstances. See 36 M.R.S.A. § 843(4) (Supp. 1996). Although we do not rely on this fact to reach our conclusion here, the amendment reflects a legislative judgment that suspension addresses adequately the underlying purpose of the statute.