PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court is considering the case of a Madawaska man embroiled in a dispute against another man over ownership of a home lost to foreclosure more than three years ago.
The high court heard oral arguments in the case of Jeffrey Stoops v. Richard Nelson on Tuesday at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.
Jeffrey Stoops and his wife, Jeanne, were represented by attorney Jeff Ashby of Presque Isle. Richard Nelson was represented by Richard Solman, a Caribou attorney.
Jeffrey and Jeanne Stoops were the original owners of a home in Madawaska, which they lost to foreclosure in 2006 for failure to pay municipal taxes. The town subsequently sold the property in 2009 to Richard Nelson. Jeffrey and Jeanne Stoops have retained residency while attempting to seek relief in court.
Before the Law Court, Jeffrey Stoops was appealing a judgment entered in Aroostook County Superior Court by Justice E. Allen Hunter. It granted summary judgment to Richard Nelson and his wife, Betty, declaring them the owners of the home lost by the Stoops to foreclosure.
On Tuesday, Ashby argued that the Superior Court erred in granting the motion because the town of Madawaska failed to give his clients proper notice of the pending foreclosure in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. He also argued that the town failed to strictly adhere to a state statute which outlines the steps a municipality must take in order to foreclose a municipal tax lien.
According to court documents, a 30-day notice sent by the town of Madawaska to Jeffrey and Jeanne Stoops regarding 2004 delinquent taxes was accepted and signed by Jeanne Stoops. Such a notice is required by law and informs the party that they could lose their property if the taxes are not paid.
Later, the town also sent a notice of impending foreclosure relating to a 2005 tax lien, which was also required by law. It was addressed to the couple and accepted and signed by Jeanne Stoops. It warned that foreclosure would occur in December 2007 and if that happened, the town would own the home.
Solman said Tuesday that the town went “above and beyond” its statutory obligations as far as notifying the couple that their taxes were delinquent and that they were at risk of losing their home.
Ashby, however, argued that Jeffrey Stoops was a key part of the process and the town should have done more to assure that both property owners were aware of what was taking place. The town mailed letters related to delinquent taxes to Jeffrey Stoops, but both attorneys acknowledged confusion over whether they were received. One notice sent certified mail was returned unclaimed.
Chief Justice Leigh I. Saufley questioned Ashby about how the couple could not have understood that they were in danger of losing their home.
“Jeanne Stoops signed the two letters sent by the town,” she said on Tuesday. “How can she say that she did know the process?”
Solman said on Thursday that his clients were just anxious for the case to be over.
“They lawfully purchased this home back in 2009 and they have not even had a chance to live in it,” he said. “And they are paying the taxes on it. They are just hoping to get this resolved so they can take possession.”
Ashby did not return calls seeking further comment.