Nemo’s owners challenge lawsuit dismissal

BANGOR — The owners of a Tremont restaurant destroyed in a 2013 fire are asking the federal court to reconsider the dismissal of their lawsuit against the town’s firefighters.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby dismissed the lawsuit filed by Robert and Judy Cousins in December 2014, saying the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a federal claim. Last week, the couple, representing themselves, filed a motion to alter or amend that judgment.

The filing rehashes many of the allegations the Cousins made in their complaint in an apparent attempt to convince the court that it erred in its decision.

In their motion, the Cousins agree with the court that firefighters have discretion in fighting fires but allege Chief Keith Higgins of the Tremont Volunteer Fire Department intentionally abused this discretionary power in his decision not to send firefighters into the burning building. The couple alleges this decision was made “to maintain our fire to destroy our lives, business and home” and “was predetermined, premeditated and based upon animus and retaliation with no rational basis.”

Higgins reportedly went to the front door of the restaurant, and after seeing the extent of the blaze, he decided it was unsafe for firefighters to enter. The couple claims that the fire at that point was the size of a small campfire and contained to the top floor of the lighthouse-like tower of the structure.

“We have alleged and can prove that the decision made at the front door was a ruse,” the motion states.

Because Robert Cousins is a disabled veteran, he claims that he and his wife are members of a “suspect class.” Federal law defines suspect classification as those who traditionally have been victims of discrimination, such as members of certain races.

In dismissing the case, Hornby wrote that the Cousins failed to support their claim they were discriminated against in this manner because they were unable to identify others who were “similarly situated” and treated differently than the couple.

In the motion, the couple again raises the issue of discrimination and alleges that firefighters and others conspired to let the building burn if it were to catch fire. The fire, they allege, was an act of arson.

“As a result of the extreme discrimination, a plan to eliminate us from the competition devolved into an illegal act,” the couple state in their motion.

In their initial federal complaint, the Cousins listed 20 named and unnamed firefighters as defendants. The court dismissed the claims against all but the fire chief and four other firefighters, Heath Higgins, Tadd Jewett, Matthew Lindsley and Matthew Tetreault.

The Cousins then filed an amended complaint in which they named the five firefighters, the town of Tremont, the fire department and eight additional defendants, including the Islander’s owner, editor and a reporter.

The Cousins were asking the federal court to award them relief for their losses and also seek punitive damages. The couple claims these losses amount to $1.87 million. Those losses include what they claim was “a rare prepostal stamp collection” and “fantasies and unpublished issues” valued at $1 million.

Robert Bower Jr. and Devin Dean of Norman, Hanson and DeTroy LLC in Portland, who represent the firefighters, have until Aug. 4 to respond to the motion.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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