First Franklin Fin. Corp. v. Gardner | Maine Supreme Court - Finding that First Franklin did not mediate in good faith and in granting Gardner's motion for sanctions.

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First Franklin Fin. Corp. v. Gardner | Maine Supreme Court – Finding that First Franklin did not mediate in good faith and in granting Gardner’s motion for sanctions.

First Franklin Fin. Corp. v. Gardner | Maine Supreme Court – Finding that First Franklin did not mediate in good faith and in granting Gardner’s motion for sanctions.

MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT         Reporter of Decisions
Decision: 2013 ME 3
Docket: Yor-12-115
Argued: December 12, 2012
Decided: January 8, 2013
Panel: ALEXANDER, LEVY, SILVER, MEAD, GORMAN, and JABAR, JJ.

FIRST FRANKLIN FINANCIAL CORPORATION
v.
JASON L. GARDNER

PER CURIAM

[¶1] First Franklin Financial Corporation appeals from a judgment of the
District Court (Biddeford, Cantara, J.) granting Jason L. Gardner’s motion for
sanctions and ordering First Franklin to pay monetary sanctions and enter into a
loan modification with Gardner on the terms agreed upon by the parties at
foreclosure mediation, as stated in the mediator’s November 4, 2010, report. See
14 M.R.S. § 6321-A (2012); M.R. Civ. P. 93.

[¶2] On appeal, First Franklin argues that (1) we should reach the merits of
this interlocutory appeal pursuant to the death knell and judicial economy
exceptions to the final judgment rule; (2) the trial court erred in finding that the
parties had reached a binding agreement requiring First Franklin to offer a trial
loan modification plan to Gardner because the terms of any such agreement were
indefinite or conditional; and (3) because the parties had never entered into a
binding agreement, the court erred in granting Gardner’s motion for sanctions
against First Franklin.

[¶3] Gardner requests that we award him sanctions, including treble costs
and attorney fees, for defending this appeal.

DISCUSSION

[¶4] We reach the merits of this interlocutory appeal pursuant to the death
knell exception to the final judgment rule. See Fiber Materials, Inc. v. Subilia,
2009 ME 71, ¶ 14, 974 A.2d 918.

[¶5] Contrary to First Franklin’s contentions, the motion court did not err
(1) in finding that Gardner and First Franklin or its agent, which “had authority to
agree to a proposed settlement [or] loan modification,” agreed in the foreclosure
mediation to the terms of a loan modification and (2) in finding, implicitly if not
explicitly, that the parties entered into a binding agreement requiring First Franklin
to offer the loan modification to Gardner. See Barr v. Dyke, 2012 ME 108, ¶ 13,
49 A.3d 1280 (stating the circumstances under which an agreement is legally
binding); Muther v. Broad Cove Shore Ass’n, 2009 ME 37, ¶¶ 6-7, 968 A.2d 539
(stating that the existence of a binding contract or settlement agreement is a
question of fact; discussing binding settlement agreements and the difference
between a preliminary agreement to agree and a binding agreement).

[¶6] Having reviewed the mediated loan modification agreement, we
determine that it is sufficiently specific and definite to constitute a binding
commitment for a loan modification to be offered to Gardner. See Coastal
Ventures v. Alsham Plaza, LLC, 2010 ME 63, ¶ 26, 1 A.3d 416 (stating that
whether a contract term is ambiguous is a question of law reviewed de novo and
that a contract is to be interpreted to effect the intent of the parties as reflected in
the contract language, construed in light of the “subject matter motive, and purpose
of making the agreement, and the object to be accomplished”); Sullivan v. Porter,
2004 ME 134, ¶¶ 14-15, 861 A.2d 625 (holding that terms of an agreement were
sufficiently definite and did not create unaddressed elements, even though the
duration and interest rate of the loan were expressed as a finite range).1

[¶7] Having found that First Franklin did not mediate in good faith, the
motion court acted within its discretion in granting Gardner’s motion for
sanctions.2 See Gauthier v. Gauthier, 2007 ME 136, ¶ 8, 931 A.2d 1087
(reviewing a court’s decision to sanction a party for an abuse of discretion).

[¶8] We decline Gardner’s request to impose sanctions on appeal pursuant to
M.R. App. P. 13(f).

The entry is:
Judgment affirmed. Gardner’s motion for sanctions
on appeal denied.

On the briefs and at oral argument:

Leslie E. Lowry, III, Esq., Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, Portland, for
appellant First Franklin Financial Corporation

Marshall J. Tinkle, Esq., Hirshon Law Group, P.C., Portland, for appellee
Jason L. Gardner

Biddeford District Court docket number RE-2010-122
FOR CLERK REFERENCE ONLY

footnotes
1 We assume that the motion court found all facts necessary to support its order in the absence of a
motion for findings, see Ward v. Ward, 2008 ME 25, ¶ 5, 940 A.2d 1063, and that the record fully
supports the court’s findings and discretionary choices when no transcript of the motion hearing, or
M.R. App. P. 5(d) statement in lieu thereof, is provided, see Rothstein v. Maloney, 2002 ME 179, ¶ 11,
816 A.2d 812.

2 First Franklin clarified at oral argument that it is not arguing that the motion court exceeded its
discretion in ordering the specific types of sanctions it imposed.

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