Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Attorney

May 2, 2016

The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed a decision of the Superior Court, granting a motion for summary judgment filed by RRD Associate, Peter DeMartini, on behalf of a local attorney. The vexatious litigation and abuse of process claims against the attorney and codefendants, his former clients, arose from a neighborhood dispute concerning the location and the plaintiffs’ later forcible removal of a stanchion holding the neighborhood mailboxes. The attorney brought suit on behalf of the neighbors based on the taking of the land and forcible destruction of the neighbors’ mailbox stanchion without legal process. The case was quickly withdrawn, and the plaintiffs brought suit against the attorney and neighbors.

Attorney DeMartini moved for summary judgment on behalf of the defendant attorney on the grounds that the attorney had an objectively reasonable basis to bring the lawsuit on the neighbors’ behalf and that he had not abused process in doing so. The trial court, Hon. Taggart Adams, determined that the attorney had probable cause to employ the statutory cause of action for forcible entry and detainer and that he had not commenced the suit for any improper purpose.

On appeal, briefed and argued by Attorney DeMartini, the Appellate Court affirmed and adopted Judge Adams’ decision as the decision of the Appellate Court. The Court emphasized that evaluating probable cause does not entail a determination of whether the underlying action would have succeeded on the merits. The Court further rejected the plaintiffs’ focus on whether the attorney had adequately investigated the claim before filing it. In doing so, the Appellate Court noted, for the first time in an appellate decision in Connecticut, that if the underlying lawsuit was objectively reasonable and supported by probable cause, as was the case here, then the vexatious litigation claim cannot go forward based on the alleged inadequacy of the attorney’s investigation or research before filing the suit.

The Supreme Court denied the plaintiff’s petition for certification for further appellate review.