TREMONT — After the town filed a Rule 80K in court against Robert and Judy Cousins in 2018 for not addressing several code violations on their property in the appropriate time, the Cousinses have filed a countersuit against the town.
Under the Maine Rules of Civil Procedure, a Rule 80K specifies legal proceedings that must be followed in prosecuting land use or environmental violations.
In a 38-page document filed Nov. 9 in the U.S. District Court of Maine, the Cousinses claim the town is squelching their freedom of speech and not allowing due process in appealing the violations. Their countersuit is not only a response to the town’s 80K action, but one that also highlights incidents that go back as far as 2006, many of which are unrelated to the 80K filing.
At this time, the naming of those additional incidents is saving the town money on legal costs to combat the countersuit. If a case is seen as an extension of a previous case, legal counsel through Maine Municipal Association is covered under the town’s insurance policy. Were the court to throw out all incidents that do not relate to the 80K action, the town would have to pay a $5,000 deductible for their insurance to cover them in a new lawsuit, according to Town Manager Chris Saunders.
“We believe the court will throw out all that has been adjudicated,” said Saunders in a phone conversation with the Islander. “If they do, then the MMA will say, now you have to pay your deductible.”
There have been at least two previous lawsuits filed by the Cousinses that have included the town among those named. In each lawsuit, the Cousinses have served as their own legal counsel.
In 2014, a year after their restaurant, Cap’n Nemos, burned to the ground, the Cousinses sued members of the town’s volunteer fire department, claiming they had been negligent in fighting the fire. The court dismissed the claims against all but the fire chief and four other firefighters.
The Cousinses 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 former owner, a former editor and a former reporter of the Islander.
In a lawsuit filed in July 2017, Robert and Judy Cousins claimed mistreatment by town employees and defamation of character in news accounts. Judge Robert Murray ruled that the Cousinses failed to substantiate the claims.
In May 2019, the town of Tremont filed a Rule 80K action regarding a notice of violation and order to correct violations of the state’s junkyard statute against the Cousinses. Under the rule, the court can order violators to pay fines and to stop or correct a violation.
Within a month of the 80K action, the Cousinses asked to have a jury trial to decide the outcome of the suit. That request was denied by the court.
“We have sued them in order to enforce our code about driveways and junkyards and living in a camper for more than 90 days,” Saunders in a conversation with the Islander. “The Cousins strategy is to throw everything and the kitchen sink at us. We believe many of the claims in this case were already adjudicated.”
According to the Cousinses in their countersuit case filing, “The issues presented in the 80K Complaint are frivolous and malicious and without merit or basis in fact and is rife with fraud and deceit.” Elements of the previous suits are also listed in the countersuit filing, including actions taken by the code enforcement officer in place in 2014 and actions surrounding the fire at the property in 2013.
Former Code Enforcement Officer John Larson issued a notice of violation in September of 2018 after driving by the Cousins’ property at 45 Harbor Drive several times in a year and seeing multiple violations. An order to correct violations of Title 30-A Junkyard, a state statute, was also included in the notice of violation, which included removal of all unregistered and uninspected vehicles, removal and proper disposal of all worn-out and discarded items, as well as an after-the-fact permit for living in an unpermitted camper.
In response, the Cousinses requested a consent agreement be drafted by the town, in which several deadlines for correcting violations had been extended. According to Saunders, after it was drafted, that consent agreement was never signed by the couple. In their countersuit documents, the Cousinses stated they didn’t sign the consent agreement because it contained several falsities.
In their countersuit under damages, the Cousinses state, “Damages to Plaintiffs are serious and severe as a result of the constant stress of dealing with the town and the fabrications and erroneous accusations that started in 2006 until the present 2020.” They also claim a total loss of $1.397 million due to the actions of the town that include loss of income from their business and replacement of their home.
As a final statement in the countersuit, the Cousinses wrote, “What started out as an aggressive campaign of disparaging remarks and falsities designed to damage Plaintiffs’ reputation progressed to a fire, a stop–work order, a notice of violation with no BOA (board of appeals) appeal right, another notice of violation with yet another disclaimer to our right to appeal the BOA returning the application and $100 check without comment, formulated a consent agreement that was unsignable by asking us [sic] agree that we had done things we had not done, and then an 80K complaint with “equitable relief” of over $140,000. The town of Tremont has continuously employed their official powers for the purpose of injuring plaintiffs rather to serve the proper ends of their governmental duties.”