BANGOR — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the owners of Cap’n Nemo’s Restaurant against members of the Tremont Volunteer Fire Department that claimed firefighters and others conspired to let their restaurant burn to the ground in December 2013.
In his June 15 decision, U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby wrote that Robert and Judy Cousins failed to demonstrate a federal claim in their case. Hornby further denied the Cousins’ motion to amend their complaint “because the amendment is futile.”
The Cousins, who represented themselves, first filed their complaint in U.S. District Court in December 2014. The complaint listed 20 named and unnamed firefighters as defendants. The court later that month dismissed the claims against all but five of the defendants, Chief Keith Higgins, Heath Higgins, Tadd Jewett, Matthew Lindsley and Matthew Tetreault.
The Cousins then filed a request to file an amended complaint in which they named the five firefighters, the town of Tremont, the fire department and eight additional defendants, some of whom had previously been dismissed by the court. In that complaint, they alleged they have constitutional rights “to recover from the assault put upon [them] by the outlandish acts of the local cabal of prejudiced cowards who hide beneath their official cloaks.” The couple also alleged the firefighters of “terroristic arson” and claimed that “these actors wait until we are gone to ply their distress upon we innocent and disabled veterans who dare to do well within their midst.”
In March, Robert Bower Jr. and Devin Deane of Norman, Hanson and DeTroy LLC in Portland, who represent the firefighters, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim.
“He [Robert Cousins] essentially threw the kitchen sink at the defendants,” Deane said Tuesday.
Along with claiming that their constitutional rights had been violated, the Cousins alleged that the defendants violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
In Hornby’s decision, the judge concluded that the “Cousins’ description of small-town acrimony and their assertions that Tremont firefighters intentionally failed to protect the Cousins’ home and business … are, if true, shocking and scandalous for which there should be consequences. But the consequences are not for this court to determine because neither the originally filed complaint nor the proposed amended complaint shows grounds for relief from a federal court under federal law.”
Hornby did find that some of the allegations in the proposed amended complaint, while not federal claims, might be claims under Maine law.
“From our perspective, the court got it exactly right,” Deane said. “The claim was without merit. This is a big win for our people.”
Deane said if the Cousins were to file a complaint in state court, he would respond with an affirmative defense that firefighters have immunity from such actions under state law.
The publisher of the Mount Desert Islander, Alan Baker, Editor Earl Brechlin, and this reporter also were named in an amendment to Cousins’ suit for “their coverage of disputes between the Cousins and the town,” Hornby noted. “There appears to be no federal claim because there is no assertion that these media defendants were operating under color of state law or that they actively conspired with other defendants to deprive the Cousins of federal rights,” the judge wrote.
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, and because Robert Cousins is a disabled veteran, they are entitled to three times that amount. Those losses include what they claim was “a rare prepostal stamp collection” and “fantasies and unpublished issues” valued at $1 million.
Attempts to contact Cousins were unsuccessful.