2016-09-10 / Front Page

Motion to dismiss sexual abuse case against former Biddeford police officer denied

By ALAN BENNETT
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — A motion to dismiss a lawsuit against a former Biddeford police officer accused last year of sexually assaulting a local teenager in 2001 was denied on Friday by a U.S. district judge.

Judge D. Brock Hornby denied the motion to dismiss the case brought by Matt Lauzon of Biddeford against Stephen Dodd on the grounds Lauzon may not have been aware of Dodd’s wrongdoing until well after his alleged assault.

Another motion to dismiss regarding a separate but similar lawsuit filed by a man who claimed he was assaulted by a Biddeford police officer while the alleged victim was a teen was also denied on Friday.

Lauzon filed a lawsuit against Dodd in October 2015, in which he accused Dodd of sexually abusing him when he was 13 or 14, when Dodd was serving on the Biddeford police force. The case was moved to federal court in February.

Lauzon has also filed a lawsuit against Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre, who was chief at the time of the alleged assaults, and the City of Biddeford. Lauzon claims Beaupre and the city were negligent by failing to protect him, and that they were aware of previous sexual abuse allegations against Dodd.

Lauzon is seeking compensatory damages against each defendant and punitive damages against Dodd and Beaupre. He claims to have suffered psychological damage, pain, suffering, humiliation, permanent impairment and lost wages as a result of his alleged abuse.

On Feb. 10, attorneys Michael E. Saucier and Brendan R. O’Rourke filed a motion to dismiss Lauzon’s case on behalf of Beaupre and the other “city defendants,” including Dodd and the City of Biddeford.

The defendants argued that Lauzon would have had to bring charges of sexual assault against Dodd within six years of his 18th birthday to fall within the statute of limitations. They placed Lauzon’s 18th birthday at no later than Dec. 31, 2003, meaning he would have had to file charges against them by Dec. 31, 2009, to fall within the statute.

The defendants also argued that Lauzon would have had to bring charges against the city for negligent supervision within two years of his reaching the age of majority per the Maine Tort Claims Act. In Lauzon’s case, that date was Dec. 31, 2005.

A supplemental brief to the defendants’ motion to dismiss submitted on Aug. 4 referenced a 2001 First Circuit Court of Appeals police brutality case, Nieves v. McSweeney, which held that a time-barred claim against an individual rules out governmental or supervisory liability in cases violating constitutional rights.

“The Court now presents the following question: ‘Under Nieves, must the plaintiffs’ (civil rights act) claims against the Chief and the City also fail as a result?” the defendants asked in the supplemental brief.

A separate motion was filed on Feb. 9 by Beaupre, the city and former police officer Norman Gaudette to dismiss a case brought by Lawrence “Larry” Ouellette against Gaudette. Ouellette claims Gaudette sexually assaulted him in the 1980s when he was 15, and is suing Beaupre, the city and Gaudette for claims similar to Lauzon’s.

Hornby struck down both motions on Friday, stating that Lauzon and Ouellette may not have been aware until much after their apparent assaults that the city may have been responsible, and that the statute of limitations does not bar the case from going forward.

“It is also undeveloped as to when the plaintiffs knew or should have known, through the exercise of due diligence, that Chief Beaupre and the City of Biddeford were the proximate cause of their injuries,” Hornby said. “After full briefing, I am satisfied that Nieves is not controlling and therefore deny the defendants’ motions to dismiss. ... These cases shall proceed in the normal course.”

Lauzon said Friday that he is pleased with the decision.

“It’s a ruling that we expected, but it’s been a long time in the making, and it’s good to know that we will definitely have our day in court,” he said.

Walter McKee, Lauzon’s attorney, said in a statement Friday that he is not surprised by Hornby’s decision.

“The law is very clear that the statute of limitations does not bar claims like this,” McKee said. “It is time for the City to stop throwing up roadblocks. But if they don’t, then we will just keep plowing right through them.”

Lauzon said he is anticipating the start of his due process, and that he appreciates the diligence of the court system.

“I know that I have a serious case against Mr. Dodd, because I know what happened to me, and I know it was wrong,” Lauzon said. “I’ve been confident all along that, if we can get our day in court, that it would be very clear what happened and that justice would prevail, and the ruling today ensures that day will come.”

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or abennett@journaltribune.com.

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