Lawsuit seeking to halt Mayo-Northern Light merger headed to court
DOVER-FOXCROFT — A lawsuit seeking to block the merger of Mayo Regional Hospital with Northern Light Health is heading to court late next month after the Maine attorney general’s office and both health care organizations all filed motions seeking to dismiss the case.
Besides seeking to dismiss the legal case that was originally filed in December in Somerset County Superior Court, the Dover-Foxcroft hospital has also filed a separate motion seeking reimbursement of its legal fees from the plaintiffs.
In December, the town of Cambridge and almost three dozen residents from the other communities that collectively own Mayo Regional Hospital filed the lawsuit trying to block the merger. They argued that special legislation authorizing the merger was unconstitutional and that leaders of the quasi-municipal entity that runs Mayo — Hospital Administrative District 4 — violated that entity’s charter by pursuing the deal without first holding votes in all of its 13 member communities.
On March 25, the various motions to dismiss the case are all scheduled to be heard at the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta, according to one of the plaintiffs, Gerald Nessmann of Sebec.
The original lawsuit named several defendants: Northern Light Health, Hospital Administrative District 4, the state of Maine and Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
The boards of both Northern Light Health and Hospital Administrative District 4 have cast two rounds of votes approving the merger. Both organizations have argued that it will help Mayo Regional Hospital to keep operating after suffering operating losses every year since 2010.
After those boards gave initial votes approving the merger early last year, the Legislature passed the special legislation authorizing it. In January, Lambrew gave the deal its final approval, but it’s not clear how the lawsuit will affect the eventual outcome of the merger.
A copy of Northern Light Health’s motion to dismiss the case was not immediately available. The attorney general’s office pointed to several factors in its motion, including that proponents of the merger had demonstrated to the Legislature that it was for the public good and that it was supported by 13 of the 14 towns in Hospital Administrative District 4 during a round of advisory votes.
Mayo Regional Hospital filed two different motions to dismiss the case, including one that argued Hospital Administrative District 4 was exercising its First Amendment rights to petition the government and abiding by Maine laws when it lobbied for the merger legislation. That motion called for the plaintiffs to repay the hospital’s defense costs based on a Maine law that’s meant to protect the constitutional right to petition the government.
Nessmann declined to comment on that specific motion, but he said the plaintiffs would be filing a response in early March.