Monday, May 22, 2017

This is what a lawsuit looks like: A Little More Complaining

It’s been a balmy week in Bellingham, out here in the upper left corner of the contiguous 48 states.  But a flurry of lawyerly emails today reminded me I needed to finish introducing my lawsuit before it’s time to explain some pressing new development.

Last week we got as far as explaining the caption of my Complaint:







No. 17-2-11921-1 SEA


The body of the Complaint sets forth each of the factual allegations the plaintiff believes entitle him to relief if ultimately proven to be true.  For everyone's convenience, they are always arranged in numbered paragraphs so it's easy to zero in on particular allegations.

The first section is under the heading “Parties.”  Paragraph 1 identifies me.  Paragraph 2 identifies the first defendant, Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC.  “PLLC” stands for “professional limited liability corporation.”  In the United States, only lawyers are allowed to practice law or have an ownership interest in a legal practice.  For many years most law firms organized themselves as old-fashioned general partnerships.  But a couple of decades ago, states like Washington authorized various alternative organizational structures.  For example, my former firm Davis Wright Tremaine is a “limited liability partnership,” owned by a couple of hundred partners.  My first law firm, Bogle & Gates, imploded years ago, but I remember when like Ogden Murphy it adopted the PLLC structure.  The owners of a PLLC are called “members” rather than partners, which caused a lot of tittering at the time.

Paragraph 3 identifies the other defendant, Patrick Pearce, who is a member of the Ogden Murphy firm.  Washington is a community property state, so Paragraph 3 alleges that Mr. Pearce acted on behalf of his marital community, assuming he’s married, so the income of both spouses is available to satisfy any judgment.  A gay friend of mine was recently sued in Washington, and was amused to see his husband named as “JANE DOE” in the caption.  I prefer to avoid stereotyping.

Paragraphs 4-7 and Exhibit A to the Complaint (which is taken from Mr. Pearce’s bio on the Ogden Murphy website) are not part of the typical allegations identifying the parties.  They are relevant here because different legal standards apply to an individual with a law degree when he is performing a nonlegal task, rather than representing a legal client.

Paragraph 8 quotes language from my settlement agreement with my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office.  I released any claims against the State and all of its employees and agents.  Vendors and independent contractors are not covered by my release.

Paragraph 9, under the heading “Jurisdiction and Venue,” confirms that the claims and parties belong here in Superior Court, and not before some other tribunal.

The bulk of the Complaint, Paragraphs 10 through 72, comes under the heading “Facts,” and tells my story.  Defendants will have the opportunity in their Answer to admit each allegation, to deny it, or to deny it in part.  At that point we will know what facts are actually disputed.  The parties will have the opportunity to gather and present evidence, with the jury ultimately responsible for resolving any disputed factual issues.  The judge is responsible for deciding the legal significance of facts that are either undisputed by the parties or determined by the jury.

Paragraphs 73 through 105 identify each of the five legal theories which would entitle me to relief if the jury agrees with my factual allegations.  Under the modern “notice pleading” approach, it’s not necessary for plaintiffs to identify their specific legal theories at this point, just the factual basis of their claim, and requests to amend a complaint are liberally granted.  But as a practical matter, it’s useful for the lawyers and the Court to have a legal framework to work with.

Count One is for negligence:  under the common law, individuals have a responsibility to exercise reasonable care, and may be held liable for damages caused by the failure to meet that duty. 

Count Two is brought under the Consumer Protection Act:  the Washington legislature has authorized plaintiffs to sue defendants for damages caused by deceptive or unfair acts that affect the public interest.  The fact that the same investigator caused a similar harm to another whistleblower just two years before underscores the importance of my CPA claim.

Counts Three and Four are for negligent and fraudulent misrepresentation respectively.

And Count Five is brought under the Washington Law Against Discrimination:  I contend the Ogden Murphy Report has two gaping logical and factual holes where it should have properly considered my sexual orientation and disability.  Instead, defendants acted to further my employers’ implicit and explicit bias.

The final section of the Complaint is the “Prayer for Relief,” which asks for an award of money damages as well as compensation for my litigation expenses.

Defendants’ Answer is due June 1 – then we’ll see what happens next….

Click here for more information about my lawsuit against Ogden Murphy Wallace PLLC and Patrick Pearce

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