Posted by: Patricia Salkin | January 19, 2014

ME Supreme Court Upholds Judgment Finding Petitioner Maintained Automobile Graveyard Without a Permit

Althenn was the owner of four unregistered and uninspected vehicles retained on his property: “a 1978 GMC Grumman box van, a 1962 GMC C60 truck, a 1984 3/4 –ton truck, and the body of a 1978 Ford van.” Althenn seldom used the vehicles and did not maintain all of the vehicles in working condition; for example, “[a] a family of raccoons lived in the 1978 Ford van.” The Town brought suit against Althenn arguing that he was in violation of 30-A M.R.S. § 3753 (2012), for the operation of an automobile graveyard on his property. The District Court found in favor of the Town and ordered Althenn to remove the vehicles from his property, pay a civil penalty of $1,500, and attorney fees in the amount of $8,509.46. Althenn then filed a motion for additional findings of fact, which the Town opposed and requested an additional $555 in attorneys fees. The trial court adjusted its order to reflect that Althenn was only required to remove three of the vehicles from his property because the box van qualified as an “antique auto” pursuant to the statutory definition. Althenn appealed.

On appeal, Althenn essentially argued that the trial court incorrectly applied the standards used to determine whether the vehicles met the statutory definitions of “antique auto” and “logging tractor.” The Supreme Court of Maine found that there was ample evidence in the record to find that the three vehicles did not constitute antique autos. The Supreme Court found the trial court did not erroneously apply the antique auto legal standard based on Althenn’s own admission that he rarely used the vehicles, and that although Althenn maintained he intended to use the vehicles for exhibitions at some unknown point in the future, such was not their primary purpose at the time, and therefore, the vehicles were not antique autos.

Althenn also argued that his ¾-ton truck was used for logging and the trial court “impermissibly created a legal test to determine whether his activities met the definition of ‘logging.’” The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not err because Althenn admittedly used the truck to haul firewood, which may or may not have constituted logging, but also used the truck to plow snow and to harvest spare parts for other vehicles.

Lastly, Althenn argued that the trial court erred when it found his 1962 GMC truck constituted an “altered vehicle” under 29-A M.R.S. § 101(2) (2012) because altered vehicles are precluded from being antique autos under § 101(3)(F). The bulk of Althenn’s argument rested on the trial court’s purportedly incorrect use of his answer to the Town’s interrogatories, in which he stated the truck was an altered vehicle. Althenn contended that the court should not have relied on his lay opinion to determine the vehicle was an altered vehicle. The Supreme Court found that the trial court did not err by accepting the interrogatories into evidence because Althenn owned the truck, stored it on his property, and “it [was] highly unlikely that his answer reflected anything other than his own perception of the truck’s characteristics.” Therefore, the trial court was permitted to consider Althenn’s interrogatories in determining the truck’s status as an altered vehicle. Based on the foregoing, the Supreme Court of Maine affirmed the judgment.

Town of China v Albert W. Althenn, 2013 WL 6448595 (M.E. 12/10/13)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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