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Egbarin v. Hoffmann & Associates

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 12, 2019

NITOR V. EGBARIN, Plaintiff,
v.
HOFFMANN & ASSOCIATES & ANDREW S. HOFFMANN, Defendants.

          RULING AND ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case concerns three letters sent by Hoffmann & Associates, Andrew S. Hoffmann (collectively “Defendants”), and Clara Suh, to a United States District Court Judge, a Hartford attorney, and the five attorneys associated with a related case, including Nitor V. Egbarin (“Plaintiff”). Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶¶ 1-17.

         The letters relate to an attorney's fee dispute involving Mr. Egbarin and his former clients, Aleeshia and Charles Hudson (“the Hudsons”). Id. Mr. Egbarin alleges that the three letters constitute vexatious litigation and defamation per se, and that Defendants' conduct, alleged to be extreme and outrageous, caused him to suffer severe emotional distress for which he is entitled to monetary damages. Compl.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the case.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court now GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss, ECF No. 8.

         To the extent that the deficiencies detailed in this ruling can be addressed, Plaintiff must file a motion for leave to amend the Complaint, along with the proposed amended Complaint, by April 12, 2019, or the Court will instruct the Clerk of Court to close this case.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Allegations

         In September of 2014, Aleeshia and Charles Hudson “entered into a retainer agreement with attorneys Nitor Egbarin, Esq. and Gregory Osakwe, Esq. as joint counsel” in the Hudsons' actions against defendants Progressive Financial Services, Inc. and Navient Solutions, Inc. Compl. against Att'y [State of Connecticut Judicial Branch form JD-GC-6 Rev. 9-12] (signed by Charles Hudson, Nov. 6, 2017) (“Charles Hudson Grievance”), ECF No. 1-1 at 20.[1] According to the Hudsons, Mr. Egbarin and Mr. Osakwe reached separate settlement agreements with both defendants. Id. Thereafter, the Hudsons received the proceeds of the settlements less the amounts retained by the attorneys. Id. at 20-21. The Hudsons felt that the amounts retained by Mr. Egbarin and Mr. Osakwe exceeded the amounts they were entitled to under their Retainer Agreement. Id.

         At some point in the fall of 2017, the Hudsons hired Hoffmann & Associates to represent them in their fee dispute against Mr. Egbarin and Mr. Osakwe. Def. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def. Mot. to Dismiss Compl., ECF No. 8-1, at 3.

         On November 6, 2017, the Hudsons filed separate complaints with the Connecticut Judicial Branch against Mr. Egbarin and Mr. Osakwe. Charles Hudson Grievance; Compl. against Att'y [State of Connecticut Judicial Branch form JD-GC-6 Rev. 9-12] (signed by Aleeshia Hudson, Nov. 6, 2017) (“Aleeshia Hudson Grievance”), ECF No. 1-1 at 24-29.

         On November 9, 2017, Clara Suh of Hoffmann & Associates sent by e-mail a letter to the two attorneys. E-mailed Letter from Clara Suh to Nitor Egbarin and Gregory Osakwe (Nov. 9, 2017), ECF No. 1-1 at 15. In the letter, Ms. Suh alleged that “[w]e have tried for months to resolve with you the payments that [the Hudsons] are entitled to receive from the settlement proceeds, and you have been very much less than cooperative.” Id. Ms. Suh then proposed a settlement involving payment of just under $95, 000 (i.e., representing the amount allegedly owed to the Hudsons less costs such as deposition transcript fees). Id. Ms. Suh gave the attorneys roughly twenty-four hours to accept the offer. Id. The next day, Defendants allegedly sent a letter to United States District Judge Michael Shea, of the District of Connecticut, “to report serious misconduct” by Plaintiff. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, ¶ 10; Def. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def. Mot. to Dismiss Compl. at 3.

         On March 22, 2018, Andrew Hoffmann wrote to John J. Quinn, counsel to the Hartford Judicial District Grievance Panel for Geographical Area 13 (i.e., the panel reviewing the Hudsons' grievances). Letter from Andrew S. Hoffmann to John J. Quinn (“Hoffmann-Quinn Letter, ” Mar. 22, 2018), ECF No. 1-1 at 31-33.[2] In that letter, Mr. Hoffmann accused Mr. Egbarin of “twist[ing] facts”, “theft”, and “self dealing.” Id. at 31-32.

         On April 5, 2018, the Hartford Judicial District Grievance Panel for Geographical Area 13 (“Grievance Panel”) dismissed both of the Hudsons' grievances. Letter from John J. Quinn to Aleeshia Hudson (Apr. 5, 2018), ECF No. 1-1; Letter from John J. Quinn to Charles Hudson (Apr. 5, 2018), ECF No. 1-1 at 35-38. The Grievance Panel found that the Hudsons' case involved “fee-shifting” and that “no probable cause exists that the respondent committed misconduct.” Id.

         B. Procedural Background

         Approximately one month after the Grievance Panel dismissed the Hudsons' complaints, Mr. Egbarin sued Andrew Hoffmann, the Hudsons' attorney, and his law firm in the Superior Court for the Judicial District of Hartford. Compl., ECF No. 1-1, 4-12. The Complaint alleges four grounds for relief: (1) vexatious litigation, (2) defamation per se, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. Mr. Egbarin seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, double damages under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-568, treble damages under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-568, fees, and interest. Id.

         On June 1, 2018, Defendants removed the case from the Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford to this Court. Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1.

         On July 2, 2018, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. Notice of Mot. to Dismiss Compl., ECF No. 8.

         On July 9, 2018, Mr. Egbarin opposed the motion to dismiss. Pl. Mem. of Law in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 12.

         On July 24, 2018, Defendants replied. Def. Reply Affirm. of Andrew S. Hoffmann, ECF No. 16.

         On March 7, 2019, the Court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss. Minute Entry [Motion to Dismiss Hearing], ECF No. 27.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Any claim that fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” will be dismissed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), a court applies a “plausibility ...


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