United States District Court, D. Minnesota
David J. Sample, Plaintiff,
City of Woodbury, a Minnesota municipal corporation, Eckberg, Lammers, Briggs, Wolff & Vierling, PLLP, Mark J. Vierling, Sean P. Stokes, Rebecca Christensen and Joseph Van Thomme, Defendants.
K. Shoeberg, Kevin K. Shoeberg, P.A., for Plaintiff.
Leonard J. Schweich and Vicki A. Hruby, Jardine, Logan &
O'Brien, P.L.L.P., for Defendant City of Woodbury.
C. Peterson and Ryan P. Myers, Lind, Jensen, Sullivan &
Peterson, PA, for Defendants Eckberg, Lammers, Briggs, Wolff
& Vierling, PLLP, Mark J. Vierling, Sean P. Stokes,
Rebecca Christensen, and Joseph Van Thomme.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant City of
Woodbury's Renewed Motion to Dismiss (“Renewed Mot.
to Dismiss”) [Doc. No. 56]. For the reasons set forth
below, that Motion is granted in part and denied in part.
lawsuit arises out of the prosecution of Plaintiff David J.
Sample (“Sample”) by Defendant Eckberg, Lammers,
Briggs, Wolff & Vierling, PLLP (the “Firm”),
the law firm retained to prosecute certain criminal matters
on behalf of Defendant City of Woodbury (the
“City”). (See Second Am. Compl. at
¶¶ 3, 5, 17 [Doc. No. 7].) Defendants Mark Vierling
(“Vierling”), Rebecca Christensen
(“Christensen”), Sean Stokes
(“Stokes”), and Joseph Van Thomme
(“Thomme”) (collectively, the
“Attorneys”) were all lawyers at the Firm during
the time in question. (Id. at ¶ 4.) The
contract between the City and the Firm contained the
following relevant clause:
Conflicts of Interest: The Law Firm will
notify the City if the Law Firm represents or has ever
represented an opposing party in a legal matter, whether
within or outside of any of the retainers.
(Aff. of Jamie L. Jonassen [Doc. No. 19], Ex. 1
(“City-Firm Contract”) at 2 [Doc. No.
to Sample, the Woodbury Police Department responded to a 911
call at Sample's Woodbury residence on August 29, 2013,
regarding an incident in which Julie Dale
(“Dale”) was the alleged victim. (Sec. Am. Compl.
at ¶¶ 6, 8.) Sample contends that the police
impermissibly (i.e., without a warrant or permission)
searched a saddlebag on a motorcycle in his garage and seized
a handgun. (Id. at ¶ 8.) He also claims that
the following day, police reports regarding the incident were
forwarded to the Washington County Attorney's Office, but
that Washington County declined to prosecute. (Id.
at ¶ 10.)
to Sample, on September 13, 2013, Vierling filed a
certificate of representation in Hennepin County District
Court, indicating that he represented Dale in a civil matter.
(Id. at ¶ 13.) At some point that month, Dale
filed a petition for an order for protection against Sample.
(Id. at ¶ 16.) Meanwhile, Sample alleges,
Vierling obtained copies of the police reports regarding the
August 29 incident, despite knowing that he and his firm had
a conflict of interest due to their representation of Dale in
the civil matter. (Id. at ¶ 12.) On September
26, 2013, Christensen filed a criminal complaint on behalf of
the City against Sample. (Id. at ¶ 17.) Less
than two months later, however, the Firm requested that
another law firm prosecute the case due to the conflict of
interest. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Sample subsequently
brought a motion to dismiss the criminal charges in
Washington County District Court, alleging prosecutorial
misconduct and a violation of his constitutional rights,
which was granted on August 29, 2014. (Id. at
¶¶ 22, 24 & Ex. A.) The state court held that
the Firm violated Sample's constitutional right to due
process by failing to refer Sample's prosecution to
another law firm considering its conflict of interest (i.e.,
the fact that the Firm was representing Dale at the same time
it was prosecuting Sample). (Id., Ex. A at
alleges that two additional incidents involving him and Dale
occurred in 2014. First, Sample contends that Dale assaulted
him in January 2014. (Id. at ¶ 27.) According
to Sample, the Firm acted as the prosecutor in that matter
and provided Sample with a victim notice, but Sample's
attorney notified the Firm of the conflict of interest at the
pre-trial conference in June 2014. (Id. at
¶¶ 27-28.) The Firm apparently then dismissed the
assault charge against Dale. (Id. at ¶ 29.)
Second, Sample alleges that, in May 2014, the Firm brought
two new criminal citations against him. (Id. at
¶ 30.) Sample's attorney advised the Firm of the
conflict of interest at Sample's first appearance and the
Firm subsequently sent the file to a different firm in
September 2014. (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) There
is no allegation that the City was ever aware of any of the
conflicts of interest described above until this lawsuit was
filed this lawsuit in February 2015 and amended the complaint
twice. (See Compl. [Doc. No. 1]; Am. Compl. [Doc.
No. 5]; Second Am. Compl.) The Second Amended Complaint is
now the operative complaint and it asserts four causes of
action against Defendants. Counts I and II contain state law
claims for abuse of legal process and malicious prosecution,
respectively. (See Id. at ¶¶ 33-44.) In
Count III, Sample asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1983. (See Id. at ¶¶ 45-52.) In
particular, Sample alleges that Defendants violated his
constitutional rights by “bringing criminal charges
against him” because the Firm disregarded the conflict
of interest and because Defendants “had no policy in
place that would have required [the Firm] to conflict the
case out or that did not allow the City Attorney to also
represent other people or businesses when the action was
adverse to one of their own residents.” (See
Id. at ¶¶ 46- 49.) Finally, Count IV alleges a
claim for negligence based on the theory that Defendants
violated their “duty to the Plaintiff to ensure that
proper conflict procedures were in place, ” their
“duty to properly train the Woodbury Police
Department on the Plaintiff's rights to bear arms and be
free of unreasonable searches and seizures, ” and their
duty to “properly train [their] officers and employees
and contractors.” (Id. at ¶¶ 54-56.)
Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and this Court
granted that motion. (See Order dated 9/3/2015 [Doc.
No. 41].) In relevant part, the Court dismissed all of
Sample's claims against the City, the Firm, and the
Attorneys, with prejudice, based on a finding that Defendants
were entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. (See
id.) Sample appealed this decision and the United States
Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed in part,
reversed in part, and remanded. Sample v. City of
Woodbury, 836 F.3d 913 (8th Cir. 2016). The Eighth
Circuit affirmed this Court's dismissal of Sample's
claims against the Firm and the Attorneys based on absolute
prosecutorial immunity. See Id. at 916-17. However,
it also held that this same immunity did not bar Sample's
claims against the City and reversed this Court's
decision on that basis. See Id. at 917-18.
City now moves that Sample's remaining claims be
dismissed with prejudice, and for an award of the City's
reasonable costs. (See Renewed Mot. to Dismiss;
City's Mem. in Supp. [Doc. No. 57]; City's Reply
[Doc. No. 62].) Sample opposes the City's Renewed Motion.
(See Pl.'s Mem. in Opp. [Doc. No. 61].)