The two Defendants claim title ownership of the four lots of land in issue by virtue of deeds to their predecessors in title from the Town of Poland which the Defendants contend acquired title through the foreclosure of liens placed on the property for unpaid taxes assessed in the years 1961, 1962 and 1964. The Plaintiff, who has the record title to three of the lots of land except for the effect of these tax liens, brings these two real actions to recover the property. The Plaintiff's only title to the fourth lot, the Philip Winslow lot, had been acquired by virtue of a quitclaim deed, dated April 28, 1964, from the Town of Poland, similar to those given by the Town to the Defendants' predecessors in title to the four lots. The facts in the two cases are essentially parallel and the legal issues are identical. The Justice in the Superior Court gave the Plaintiff judgment for possession of the land in
We find that the issue of validity of the appointment of the Town Manager as Tax Collector for the years 1961, 1962 and 1964 proves determinative of both appeals.
After hearing on the two consolidated cases the Single Justice found that:
As we have frequently held, title acquired by virtue of a tax lien is a nullity unless all conditions precedent to its foreclosure have been complied with. The law protects the delinquent taxpayer from forfeiture of his property except under strict construction of statutory requirements. Arsenault v. Inhabitants of the Town of Roxbury, Me., 275 A.2d 598 (1971).
The Defendants, relying upon the foreclosure of the tax lien mortgages and the expiration of the periods of redemption, have the benefit of the statutory principle that the tax lien mortgage is
At this point, we should note that the Selectmen's appointment of the Manager as Treasurer had no validity. During the entire period in question the provisions of R.S.1954, Chap. 91, § 15 and later of 30 M.R.S.A. § 2055 required that the Treasurer be elected by ballot at the annual town meeting and this office was not at that time one which the Selectmen could fill by appointment.
Although it is clear that the Manager was not legally appointed to serve as Treasurer we see little value in discussing the issue of whether a Treasurer's duties are such as to affect the validity of tax liens as we consider that the qualifications of
It was held by this Court in Payson v. Hall, 30 Me. 319 (1849), and reiterated in Baker v. Webber, 102 Me. 414, 67 A. 144 (1907), that the effectiveness of a tax deed executed by a Tax Collector depended upon proof that the Collector has been legally elected to the office.
While these cases dealt with earlier methods of enforcing tax collection there can be little doubt that equally persuasive reasons for proof of qualifications of the Tax Collector are present when the ownership in issue is dependent upon a title obtained under automatic foreclosure of tax lien mortgages which no one but a Tax Collector de jure may execute. A valid appointment of a Tax Collector is crucial to the viability of his tax liens.
The Plaintiff, in light of the statutory declaration of prima facie proof of regularity, has the burden of demonstrating that the appointment of the Manager as Tax Collector did not comply with legal requirements, as she has raised this issue.
The authority for appointment of a Town Manager to other town offices at the times concerned with the 1961 and 1962 taxes is found in P.L. 1957, Chap. 405, § 41 which became R.S.1954, Chap. 90-A, § 41, and reads:
In 1961 and 1962 it was voted at the annual town meeting that the Manager should hold the offices of Treasurer and Tax Collector and it thus became the duty of the Selectmen, when engaging a Manager, to appoint him to these offices also. In 1963 this statute was amended to state that the Selectmen, independently of the town meeting, shall determine what other offices the Manager shall hold.
The Defendants attack the Justice's conclusion that the Town Manager did not hold these offices de jure. They point out that when in 1959 the town adopted the Town Manager form of government this Town Manager's original written contract stipulated that the Manager should exercise the duties of Town Treasurer and Tax Collector. They argue that each annual decision by the Selectmen to continue the same Manager's employment as Manager constituted an appointment to those other offices also.
Although the testimony—and, at least one of the minutes—speak of a successive Manager's contract as a "renewal", none of these annual renewals of the Manager's contracts mention the office of Tax Collector and the original minutes of the Selectmen's meetings are silent as to any appointments of Tax Collector after 1959.
The testimony shows that the Selectmen's annual agreements with the Manager that he should also hold the office of Tax Collector were arrived at very informally. Witnesses testified that there was "a
The testimony of the witnesses as to this is exemplified by this passage during direct examination of Mr. Fernald, a Selectman:
More than six years later, on July 29, 1969, the Secretary of the Board of Selectmen purported to amend the minutes by adding:
A similar amendment was added at the same time for each year now in issue.
We are of the opinion that these late amendments—however well intended— cannot destroy the intervening rights of owners of affected properties. Moreover, they do not purport to show that the appointments of the Collector during the years in question were made in writing—a statutory requirement which none of the rest of the evidence has been able to supply.
P.L.1957, Chap. 405, § 36 subd. II is explicit in its demands for formality of appointment of town officials:
In construing a statute as being mandatory or directory the purposes of the statute as well as the language must be considered. It has been considered by most jurisdictions that the word "shall" should be construed as imperative and mandatory and not merely directory and permissive. Barnes v. State ex rel. Pinkney, 236 Md. 564, 204 A.2d 787 (1964); North Hampton Racing & Breeding Ass'n., Inc. v. Conway, 94 N.H. 156, 48 A.2d 472 (1946); Harvey v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Essex County, 30 N.J. 381, 153 A.2d 10 (1959); 50 Am.Jur., Statutes, § 28; 82 C.J.S. Statutes § 380.
In our opinion the language of this statute lends itself to a logical mandatory interpretation.
We have concluded that the tax lien mortgages in question were invalid unless the Tax Collector held the office de jure during 1961, 1962 or 1964 and that he did not hold the office unless his appointment was in writing. The statute has made the filing of the tax lien mortgage prima facie proof of the regularity of all prior proceedings necessary to its validity including, of course, the proper appointment of the Tax Collector. Inhabitants of Town of Lincolnville v. Perry, 150 Me. 113, 104 A.2d 884 (1954).
While no witness testified specifically that there were no written appointments of the Tax Collector, no written appointments were offered and the witnesses described at length the manner in which the Selectmen had informally and verbally decided that the Manager should serve as Tax Collector and that the Manager "was advised the next day that we had signed his contract [i. e. his contract as Manager]". From the abundance of testimony as to the manner in which the appointment was made, an inference could be drawn that there was no appointment in writing, thus overcoming the statutory prima facie proof of regularity.
While the Single Justice made no specific finding that the appointments of the Tax Collector were not in writing, he found that the procedures followed by the Selectmen fell short of constituting valid appointments to that office. This finding was not clearly erroneous.
There was no error in the Justice's conclusion that the Plaintiff was entitled to judgment for possession of the land described in her complaint against the Defendant Ralph L. Poland, Sr. which is Docket No. 4119 or in his finding that the Plaintiff was entitled to judgment for possession of the first parcel of land described in her complaint against the Defendant Robert D. Merrill which is Docket No. 4118.
A different situation prevails, however, in the Plaintiff's claim against Mr. Merrill for possession of the so-called Philip Winslow lot, the second parcel described in the complaint which is Docket No. 4118.
In order to be entitled to judgment for possession of this parcel the Plaintiff must prove the title she has alleged. Dolloff v. Gardiner, 148 Me. 176, 91 A.2d 320 (1952); Wyman v. Porter, 108 Me. 110, 79 A. 371 (1911); Day v. Philbrook, 89 Me. 462, 36 A. 991 (1897).
The Plaintiff must show a better title than the Defendant's. Coffin v. Freeman, 82 Me. 577, 20 A. 238 (1890). If the Plaintiff shows no title she cannot prevail even though she proves the Defendant has no title. Wyman v. Porter, supra; Derby
It follows that the invalidity of the appointment of the Tax Collector in 1961 rendered the town's tax lien for the 1960 taxes on the Philip Winslow lot ineffective and therefore the town acquired no title to the Philip Winslow lot by virtue of this lien. In short, the record here does not demonstrate any title to this lot in either Plaintiff or Defendant.
The Plaintiff's appeals are dismissed.
The Defendant Ralph L. Poland's appeal is denied.
The Defendant Robert D. Merrill's appeal is sustained. Remanded to the Superior Court for a revised judgment consistent with this opinion.
On Motion for Reconsideration
This opinion is supplemental to our opinion filed on July 25, 1972. On August 7, 1972 the Defendants-Appellants moved for reconsideration of the opinion. Briefs respecting the issue raised by the motion were filed by counsel for both sides.
The issue presented by the Defendants-Appellants concerns the effect which should be given to 36 M.R.S.A. § 943 and the common law presumption of regularity of acts of public officers.
It will be recalled that the Defendants-Appellants claimed title to certain real estate by virtue of deeds from the town of Poland. The Defendants-Appellants contend that the town had acquired title through the foreclosure of liens placed upon the property by the Tax Collector for three years' unpaid taxes. The Plaintiff-Appellee was the owner of the property at the time the taxes were assessed. The dispositive issue before the Justice in the Superior Court was the validity of the appointment of the Tax Collector. The Justice ruled adversely to the Defendants-Appellants, holding that the Tax Collector had acted de facto but that he did not hold his office de jure. The Defendants-Appellants appealed.
We denied the appeal, pointing out that P.L.1957, ch. 405, § 36, §§ II (now 30 M. R.S.A. § 2060, §§ 2) requires that the appointment of town officials be in writing and holding that in the case of Tax Collectors this was a "matter of substance" and that therefore this officer did not hold his office de jure unless his appointment was in writing. We held that the Justice's finding that the procedures followed by the Selectmen fell short of constituting valid appointments to that office was not clearly erroneous.
The Defendants-Appellants now urge us that we inaccurately applied the substantive law relative to presumptions, particularly R.S.1954, ch. 92, § 99 as amended by P.L.1955, ch. 399, § 1 (which is now 36 M. R.S.A. § 943) which reads in part:
The Defendants-Appellants argue that neither the prima facie effect created by the statute nor the common law presumption of regularity in the acts of public officials can be overcome by an inference.
In our opinion of July 25, 1972 we discussed the effect of this statute and held that an inference that there was no appointment in writing could be drawn from evidence thus overcoming the statutory prima facie proof regularity. The Defendants-Appellants
Further consideration of this matter has led us to the conclusion that, in the posture in which the parties stood, the Defendants-Appellants actually derive no benefit from this statute and that we originally gave it more significance than it deserves.
Our Court has frequently recognized the use of disputable presumptions
We have several times discussed the nature of presumptions. In Kittery Electric Light Co. v. Assessors of the Town of Kittery, Me., 219 A.2d 728, 743 (1966) we said:
In Manchester v. Dugan, Me., 247 A.2d 827, 829 (1968) we compared the nature of presumptions with that of inferences:
We pointed out in Hinds v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 155 Me. 349, 354, 155 A.2d 721, 726 (1959) that disputable presumptions are mandatory. That is, it may be declared legislatively or judicially that proof of certain fact-groupings results in proof of a certain presumed fact as a matter of law—if no contrary evidence is offered.
While many courts speak of permissible presumptions—that is, presumptions which the jury is permitted to draw but not compelled to draw—we have concluded that, at least when used in criminal cases, the device is better described as an inference of fact. State v. Poulin, Me., 277 A.2d 493, 498 (1971); State v. Collamore, Me., 287 A.2d 123, 125 (1972).
The effect of both the disputable mandatory presumption and the permissible presumption or inference of fact is to get "to the jury" the proponent who relies upon them.
If evidence is presented which disputes the effect of the mandatory presumption the procedural rule announced in Hinds operates and the presumption persists until the contrary evidence persuades the fact finder that the balance of probabilities is in equilibrium. Hinds v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., supra, 155 Me. at 364, 155 A.2d at 730.
The presumption of regularity of the acts of public officers is a disputable mandatory presumption. Kellar v. Savage, 20 Me. 199, 203 (1841). The phrase "prima facie evidence" requires further examination. In using the phrase "prima facie evidence" in this section, did the Legislature intend to create an entirely new device which has an office distinct from that of either a disputable mandatory presumption or an inference of fact?
Black's Law Dictionary, 1353 (4th ed. 1951) defines prima facie evidence as
The words "prima facie evidence" appear frequently in both our statutes and our decisional law. For example, in The Inhabitants of Augusta v. The Inhabitants of Vienna, 21 Me. 298 (1842) it was held that where a statutory notice which was required preliminary to liability for removal of a pauper had been deposited in the mails timely and had been received, this was "prima facie evidence" that its receipt was also timely. The Court said the result was a "presumption" of timeliness which might be overcome by evidence.
The deposit of a letter, properly addressed, and stamped in the post office, has been held to be "prima facie evidence" of its receipt by the addressee by due course of mail but this principle was held not to apply when the evidence showed the letter was not in fact so received. Chase v. Inhabitants of Surry, 88 Me. 468, 34 A. 270 (1896). See also Ross v. Reynolds, 112 Me. 223, 225-226, 91 A. 952, 953 (1914).
Our Court has often stated that a violation of the law of the road is "prima facie evidence" of negligence on the part of the violator.
The Court used "prima facie evidence" and "presumption" interchangeably in these cases and was describing a procedural device which, for policy reasons, had been judicially established and which (although not evidence to be weighed by the jury), entitled the party making use of it to a determination
In Rand v. Skillin, 63 Me. 103, 104 (1873) we reasserted the rule that "a warranty deed to the plaintiff, or a warranty deed to one from whom the plaintiff has a quit claim deed, is sufficient prima facie evidence of ownership, and will authorize a verdict for the plaintiff, unless the defendant proves a better title."
A similar effect was given to the phrase "prima facie evidence" in the statute which was the predecessor of the paragraph of 36 M.R.S.A. § 943 which is now under consideration.
In 1936 that statute provided that in a trial involving the validity of any sale of real estate for non-payment of taxes,
In City of Old Town v. Thomas, 134 Me. 285, 289, 186 A. 663, 665 (1936) the plaintiff City presented such deeds and also the formal return of the tax sale by which the City claimed the owner had been divested of his title. The return had not been signed by the officer, in violation of a statutory mandate. The defendant offered no evidence. The Court rejected the City's contention that as the tax deed made out a prima facie case and as the defendant had offered no evidence, the City was entitled to judgment, holding that the "prima facie showing" of the tax deeds had been "overcome" by the City's own production of the defective return.
We turn now to the use of the phrase "prima facie evidence" in the statute now under consideration. We believe that the Legislature's purpose was to enable municipalities and litigants claiming title through municipalities to avoid the expensive and time consuming proof of the correctness of every step involved in a municipality's acquisition of title by the tax lien process. The statute is based on what Professor Torcia calls "procedural expediency". 1 C. Torcia, Wharton's Criminal Evidence 144 (13th ed. 1972).
The Legislature was no doubt familiar with the Court's interpretation of the effect of the use of the phrase "prima facie evidence" in other statutes and concluded that the phrase, as so interpreted, would accomplish the purpose of 36 M.R.S.A. § 943. McLellan v. Lunt, 14 Me. 254, 258 (1837).
We are convinced that the statute was intended to create only a procedural device in the nature of a mandatory rebuttable presumption which, in lieu of presentation of evidence as to regularity by the party claiming regularity, was intended to shift the burden of going forward with evidence as to regularity upon the party claiming irregularity. The common law presumption of regularity of the actions of public officials has the same effect. Both are procedural devices. Neither is evidence.
With this understanding of the true nature of the statutory device and its resemblance to a mandatory rebuttable presumption, it becomes clear that neither has significance in this case.
We said in Kittery Electric Light Co. v. Assessors of the Town of Kittery, supra, 219 A.2d at 743:
Here the Plaintiff maintained that she still had title to the property because of an irregularity in the town's claimed acquisition of title through the tax lien procedure. Neither the statute nor the presumption shifted the burden of going forward to her —she had the burden of proof of irregularity from the beginning. The measure of her burden was proof by a fair preponderance of the evidence.
Therefore, it is not necessary for us to consider whether the Legislature intended that the effective weight of the device should disappear when "contrary evidence persuades the factfinder that the balance of probabilities is in equilibrium" (Hinds v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., supra, 155 Me. at 364, 155 A.2d at 730 (1959) or when some other quantum of credible contrary evidence is received. Any expression of opinion as to this would be dicta and particularly undesirable as this precise issue was not argued.
In our opinion of July 25, 1972 we discussed the evidence presented as to the manner in which the Selectmen purported to appoint the Town Manager to the office of Tax Collector. It can be fairly stated in summary that the evidence showed that while the employment of the Town Manager was by means of an annual written contract it was "understood" and mutually agreed that he should also serve as Tax Collector. One Selectman agreed that "technically" the Town Manager wasn't "appointed" but it was "the understanding" that he should also serve in that capacity. Near the close of the trial after a great deal of evidence had been presented as to the informal manner in which the Tax Collector was appointed, the Justice inquired if the manner of the Town Manager's appointment could not be stipulated and Defendants-Appellants' counsel replied, "I can stipulate that the only provisions made are as brought out in the direct testimony and contained in the minutes." From the abundance of direct testimony as to the manner in which the appointment was made and from the minutes an inference could properly be drawn that it was not made in writing. The Justice could have found that by means of this inference the Plaintiff satisfied her burden of proof.
Our reconsideration has satisfied us that the entry on Defendants-Appellants' motion must be:
The opinion of July 25, 1972 shall stand.