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Sample v. City of Woodbury

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 12, 2017

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.

          Kevin 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.

          Paul 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.


          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, United States District Judge

         This 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         This 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. 19-1].)[1]

         According 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.)

         According 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 11-19[2].)

         Sample 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.

         B. Procedural Posture

         Sample 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.)

         Previously, 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.[3] See Id. at 917-18.

         The City now moves that Sample's remaining claims be dismissed with prejudice, and for an award of the City's reasonable costs.[4] (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].)

         II. ...

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