May 26, 2018
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State supreme court favors Madawaska in housing dispute

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

MADAWASKA, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court earlier this month upheld a judgment entered in Aroostook County Superior Court officially ruling that a municipality followed all regulations and that a Madawaska couple should have lost their home to foreclosure more than three years ago.

The high court heard oral arguments in the case of Jeffrey Stoops v. Richard Nelson in January at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.

The court on March 5 upheld the ruling by Justice E. Allen Hunter, which granted summary judgment to Richard Nelson and his wife, Betty, declaring them the owners of the home lost by Jeffrey Stoops to foreclosure.

Jeffrey and Jeanne Stoops, who were represented by attorney Jeff Ashby of Presque Isle, 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, 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 also was 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.

Nelson’s attorney, Richard Solman of Caribou, argued before the Law Court 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.

The justices unanimously concluded that the town complied with the applicable laws by sending notices by certified mail with return receipt requested, to the residence owned and occupied by Jeffrey and Jeanne Stoops.

Writing the opinion for the court, Associate Justice Joseph Jabar indicated that the town took additional reasonable steps to notify the Stoopses of notice of pending automatic foreclosure and that the town did not violate the Stoopses’ rights under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Solman said Monday evening that he did not think any further appeals were planned and that his clients were just concentrating on getting the Stoopses out of the home.

While the Nelsons lawfully purchased the home back in 2009, they have never lived in it and are still paying taxes on it, according to Solman.

There is no way to recoup legal expenses from the Stoopses, Solman said Monday evening. Ashby could not be reached for comment.

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