Ossipee — February 9, 2018 — A Carroll County Superior Court judge has denied the town of Ossipee’s request to block a resident from selling her beach property to anyone but the town. The judge also said that the resident, Dianne Sheehan, has the right to speak out against the town’s efforts to purchase her land.
On Nov. 28, Ossipee residents were asked to vote on buying Sheehan’s Camp Sokokis property for use as a town beach. The purchase price was $1.2 million. The property consists of 53 acres with 200 feet of beach frontage, room for 40 parking spaces and access to Route 16B from private Gretchen Road. Town officials billed it as the town’s only chance to own a beach on the lake. The proposal received a 297-171 majority vote but needed a two-thirds majority to carry, so it failed.
At the request of the town, Superior Court Judge Amy Ignatius in December issued a temporary restraining order that prevented Sheehan from selling to anyone but the town. In January, a hearing was held to determine if the court should continue the injunction as well as prevent Sheehan and intervenors John Seda and Paul Fitts from discouraging residents from voting against acquiring the beach if the town is given the chance to vote again next month. Seda and Fitts are seeking to buy the property.
Ossipee — represented by Richard Sager, of Sager and Smith PLLC of Ossipee — maintained that Sheehan broke implied good faith and fair dealings when she lobbied voters to oppose the sale after she had signed a purchase-and-sales agreement Aug. 16 with the town. Sheehan even put up signs on the beach property, urging people to vote no.
Sheehan’s attorney Phillip Marbury said that had residents voted to purchase the beach, Sheehan would have honored her commitment to sell the land. He also said a gag order would infringe on her First Amendment rights.
Ignatius sided with Marbury and denied the town’s motion for the injunction, as the town had failed to show that Sheehan had caused it to lose “a substantial portion of the agreement’s value.” It would be impossible for the town to prove that 15 people changed their votes because of Sheehan’s actions, the judge said.
“Because the town has not offered facts to show that Sheehan’s actions had the ability to or in fact did deprive the town of the funding to complete the purchase, the court finds that the town has not shown that its breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim has a likelihood of success on the merits,” said Ignatius.
The town also had to show it would suffer “irreparable harm” if the injunction were not granted and that such harm would be greater than the harm suffered by the defendant.
Ignatius said that the town could not demonstrate irreparable harm because the purchase was contingent on a vote of residents to authorize a bond to buy the property and therefore the town could not prove it had the means to purchase the property.
In terms of the free speech issue, Ignatius wrote, in part, “Any harm to the town is far outweighed by the consequences of the prior restraints the injunction would impose on the defendants’ constitutional right to free speech.”
Finally, Ignatius said the contract between Sheehan and the town didn’t bar the land owner from speaking her mind.
“Her act of signing the agreement despite its language regarding the town vote does not amount to a waiver of her constitutional right to free speech,” wrote Ignatius.
The case, however, isn’t over. The target date for a structuring order is March 5. The town also has withdrawn a fraud claim against Sheehan.
Sheehan told the Sun on Thursday she would be meeting with Marbury to figure out what to do next.
Sager had no comment.