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Miller v. Bridgeport Police Department

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 31, 2016

JOSEPHINE MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
BRIDGEPORT POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants.

          RULING GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff is an African-American attorney who alleges in principal part that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race. She claims that she wished to furnish legal representation to certain employees of the City of Bridgeport but that defendants-who include Bridgeport‘s city attorney and other staff attorneys-discriminated against her when they declined to pay for her representation services. Defendants have moved to dismiss, principally on the ground that the complaint is time-barred by the statute of limitations and that it otherwise fails to allege facts that plausibly support plaintiff‘s claim of discrimination. I agree, and therefore I will dismiss plaintiff‘s federal discrimination claims with prejudice, and dismiss her state law claims without prejudice to re-filing of her state law claims in state court.

         Background

         The following facts are drawn from plaintiff‘s second amended complaint. Doc. #31. Plaintiff is an African-American female who has been a licensed attorney for 35 years. The defendants named in the caption of plaintiff‘s complaint are the Bridgeport Police Department as well as the City Attorney for the City of Bridgeport (Mark Anastasi) and two attorneys with the Bridgeport Office of the City Attorney (Russell Liskov and Arthur Laske).[1]

         The complaint focuses on plaintiff‘s effort to furnish legal representation to two city employees-Gilberto Valentin and Albert Karpus-who were named as defendants in civil lawsuits in connection with their police job responsibilities. Connecticut state law requires that for certain kinds of legal claims brought against municipal employees, the municipality must ―protect and save harmless" such employees from lawsuits including for legal fees and costs. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-101a.[2] As is the practice in many municipalities, lawyers from the Bridgeport Office of the City Attorney often represent city officers or employees who are subject to suit unless it appears that there may be a conflict of interest between the employee and the City, in which case the Office of the City Attorney selects counsel from an outside law firm to represent the officer or employee. See Bridgeport City Charter, Ch. 7, Sec. 4.[3]

         According to the complaint, a state court lawsuit was filed in December 2009 against Gilberto Valentin of the City‘s police department. In January 2010, Valentin advised the City that he wished for plaintiff to represent him to defend against this lawsuit. According to the complaint, Valentin ―contracted with Plaintiff to perform legal services for him in the state court action, " and ―Valentin‘s contract with Attorney Miller to perform legal services on his behalf in the state court action created a right of indemnity for said legal expenses to be paid by Defendant Police Department and [the] Office of the City Attorney." Doc. #31 at 4 (¶¶ 15 & 16) (citing Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-101a).

         Rather than acknowledging plaintiff‘s representation of Valentin, the City attorney‘s office at first purported to represent Valentin and then later in 2010 tried to arrange for Valentin to be represented by a white male attorney, and did so without Valentin‘s consent. Plaintiff subsequently submitted invoices in August 2010 and December 2013 to the City for the services that she had performed on Valentin‘s behalf, but the City has refused to pay them. See Id. at 3-7 (¶¶ 6-45).

         The complaint further recounts a similar episode with a second police officer client, Albert Karpus, who-like Valentin-was also in need of representation because he had been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit. In September 2010, plaintiff filed a notice of appearance on Karpus‘s behalf but the City again refused to pay for plaintiff‘s services. See Id. at 10-11 (¶¶ 65-69).

         Plaintiff alleges that the Office of the City Attorney wrote her letters in October 2010 contending that she had a conflict of interest with respect to representing city employees because of the fact that she also represented other clients in litigation against the City of Bridgeport as a defendant. Id. at 11 (¶ 69). Thus, as the complaint alleges, ―[o]n October 29, 2010, Plaintiff received a letter threatening some action against her and once again contending that she may not represent any city employees because of ‗legal and ethical‘ concerns." Id. at 11 (¶ 71). The letter advised plaintiff that she was free to be retained by and paid by a city employee to represent the employee‘s personal interests, but ―under no circumstances should you assume, or act upon a belief, that you have received any authorization to perform any legal services on behalf of any city employee pursuant to an obligation by the City of Bridgeport to provide a defense or indemnification under C.G.S. Sec. 7-465 et seq. and/or 7-101a et seq." Doc. #41-2 at 1. It further stated that ―your filing of an appearance on behalf [of] an individual does not, and will not, entitle you to payment from this office for any legal services rendered by your office on behalf of such individual." Ibid.[4]

         According to the complaint, plaintiff responded to this letter by filing a grievance complaint against the Office of the City Attorney with Connecticut‘s Statewide Grievance Committee alleging an ongoing interference by the Office with plaintiff‘s representation of her clients. Doc. #31 at 11 (¶ 71). But, as the complaint itself recounts, a grievance panel dismissed her claim and concluded instead ―that Plaintiff had engaged in illegal actions." Id. at 11 (¶ 73).[5]

         Apart from these allegations with respect to her failure to be paid by the City for her representation of clients Valentin and Karpus, the complaint includes additional allegations of discriminatory wrongdoing by one or more of the defendants (and sometimes by non-defendants such as the grievance panel who ruled against her). For example, plaintiff alleges about midway through the complaint that defendants ―maintained a policy, practice, and custom of engaging only majority white law firms to perform legal services pursuant to C.G.S. § 7-101a, " and that they ―retained no African-American lawyers similarly situated to Plaintiff to perform legal services pursuant C.G.S. § 7-101a." Doc. # 31 at 7-8 (¶¶ 45 & 46).

         Plaintiff further alleges that she spoke in October 2013 to Errol Skyers, an Assistant City Attorney, who told her that her name was on a ―no pay" list maintained by the City Attorney‘s office and that ―certain attorneys who have multiple cases against the City of Bridgeport would not be permitted to have their cases settled under any circumstances." Id. at 8 (¶ 51). In similar fashion, the complaint alleges that plaintiff was told by an unnamed client in October 2013 that defendant Russell Liskov of the Office of the City Attorney had recommended to the client that the client not use plaintiff as an attorney for a federal lawsuit that the client was planning to file against the City and that plaintiff use another attorney, Thomas Bucci. Id. at 8-9 (¶¶ 52-56). Liskov told the client that there were some attorneys with whom the City did not settle cases and that plaintiff was one of those attorneys, but that Bucci was someone with whom the City did reach settlements. Id. at 9 (¶¶ 56-57).

         The complaint alleges additional wrongdoing by Deputy City Attorney Arthur Laske in March 2015. Laske allegedly falsely claimed in a legal proceeding before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities that plaintiff had been ―referred to the Statewide Grievance Counsel for disciplinary action and temporarily suspended from the practice of law." Id. at 12 (¶ 79) (emphasis in original). Laske allegedly told the same thing to certain of plaintiff‘s clients. Id. at 12 (¶ 80).

         Paragraph 84 of the complaint summarizes plaintiff‘s claims of wrongdoing by the defendants as follows:

The Defendant municipal agencies, municipal officers, municipal attorneys and outside attorneys committed overt acts in further of such conspiracy, including but not limited to the following acts: Defendant municipal agencies refused to compensate Plaintiff for valuable legal services performed by her on behalf of city employees while compensating Caucasian attorneys for the same or similar legal services; Defendant municipal officers and attorneys placed Plaintiff on a ‗no pay‘ list in order to discourage clients from utilizing Plaintiff; Defendant municipal officers and attorneys tortuously [sic] interfered with Plaintiff‘s business relationship with her clients in order to discourage them from utilizing her services; Defendant municipal attorneys encouraged Plaintiff‘s clients to utilize a Caucasian attorney with whom they would prefer to deal while discouraging said clients from utilizing Plaintiff; Defendant municipal officers and attorneys instructed an outside attorney to file an appearance and represent Plaintiff‘s client when they knew that he was being represented by Plaintiff; Defendants maintained a policy, practice and custom of not retaining similarly situated African-American attorneys to perform legal services pursuant to C.G.S. § 7-101a.

Id. at 13 (¶ 84).

         Counts One and Two of the complaint allege federal claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 of race discrimination in the making and enforcing of contracts.[6] Counts Three, Four, and Five allege state law claims of quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, and tortious interference with contract. Count Six alleges a claim of federal civil rights conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ...


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