Stone v. Pattis
Attorneys are entitled to absolute immunity for emotional-distress claims that are based on communications made in the context of the judicial process. In 2003, the plaintiffs hired Attorney Norman Pattis and the Law Office of Norman Pattis to represent them in a federal civil-rights suit against a municipality, alleging false arrest and excessive force. The plaintiffs became unhappy that a former associate of Pattis' law firm, Christy Doyle, went to work for the municipality's law firm, Howd & Ludorf. The plaintiffs unsuccessfully filed grievances against Attorney Pattis, who withdrew. The plaintiffs proceeded pro se, then withdrew the federal civil-rights suit and filed a Superior Court suit against Pattis, alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice and fraud. The plaintiffs also sued the municipality's attorneys from the law firm of Howd & Ludorf, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, abuse of process and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The trial court granted the defendants' motions to strike and motions to dismiss. The plaintiffs appealed and argued that the trial court denied their due-process rights, because it ignored their allegations that a conflict of interest existed when the municipality's law firm hired Attorney Doyle. The trial court wrote, "The plaintiffs failed to allege . . . that Doyle was in any way involved in the case on either side." The trial court properly considered the plaintiffs' allegations, and the Appellate Court rejected the plaintiffs' claims they were denied due process. The issue of negligent infliction of emotional distress in connection with litigation privilege is an issue of first impression before the Appellate Court. The substance of the plaintiffs' claim is based on conduct taken and communications made by the municipality's law firm when it defended the town. The municipality's law firm is absolutely immune from suit for communications in the context of a judicial proceeding. The plaintiffs' allegations of "negligent infliction of emotional distress," wrote the Appellate Court, "are based on communications protected by absolute immunity from suit." The trial court's decision to dismiss the plaintiffs' emotional-distress count was not wrong. The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's judgment.