Friday, November 15, 2013

Bulldog Attorneys and Bloodsucking Lawyers: Is Threatening Plaintiff With Aggressive Defense Intimidation Under the FHA and DCHRA?

In Neithamer v. Brenneman Prop. Servs., Inc., 81 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 1999), Judge Kessler denied summary judgment to defendants on plaintiff’s claim that, among other wrongful acts, defendant had attempted to “coerc[e] and intimidate[e]” plaintiff in violation of the federal Fair Housing act and D.C. Human Rights Act.  Plaintiff, who also claimed that defendant had discriminated against him on the basis of perceived disability, claimed that, when he confronted defendant about his suspicions defendant retorted that “if you try to sue me, I have a pack of bloodsucking lawyers who will place countersuits against you for libel and drive you into the ground.”  Defendant, while admitting to the conversation, recollected stating that he had “a bulldog of an attorney” and that defendant may countersue plaintiff.  Finding that “the material fact of what transpired during that conversation [was] in dispute”, the court denied defendant’s motion for summary judgment as to this claim.

It is not entirely clear from the opinion what material facts the court believes are in dispute regarding this claim: both parties admitted that the conversation took place, both admit to an aggressive characterization of the lawyer in question, and both admit that defendants raised the possibility of counterclaims.  The only difference, in other words, between the two versions of events seems to be one of semantics rather than substance.  If so, and if bombastic rhetoric can transform otherwise permissible statements into actionable coercion or intimidation, then this case stands as a warning to attorneys to impress on their clients the need for civility to their potential adversaries even in the face of threatened litigation. 

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