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Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee v. Coakley

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 10, 2016

Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee and Melissa Lucas, Plaintiffs,
v.
Martha Coakley, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Brian Mannal, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Jobs First Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee (“Jobs First”) and Melissa Lucas (“Lucas”) (collectively, “plaintiffs”) bring this action for 1) declaratory judgment challenging the constitutionality of a certain Massachusetts statute and 2) alleged violations of plaintiffs' First Amendment rights by both defendants. The First Amendment claims are against State Representative Brian Mannal (“Mannal”), in his individual and official capacities and against the Massachusetts Attorney General in her official capacity.

         Defendants filed separate motions to dismiss the claims asserted against them. For the following reasons, 1) the motion of defendant Mannal to dismiss will be allowed, in part, and denied, in part, 2) the motion of defendant Mannal for attorney's fees and costs will be denied and 3) the motion of defendant Healey to dismiss will be allowed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Defendant Mannal is the incumbent representative for the 2nd Barnstable District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Mannal is also a practicing attorney who receives appointments to represent clients in Massachusetts trial courts.

         Leading up to the November, 2014, election, Jobs First created and published several brochures and press releases criticizing Mannal's legislative record. Specifically, Jobs First circulated multiple brochures criticizing Mannal's apparent support for legislation concerning sex offenders. Each brochure includes a small disclaimer that reads “[p]aid for by Jobs First Independent Expenditure PAC, Melissa Lucas, Treasurer.” Jobs First and Lucas maintain, however, that Lucas had nothing to do with the creation of these published materials.

         On October 21, 2014, Mannal filed an application for a criminal complaint with the Barnstable District Court. In the complaint, Mannal alleged that Jobs First and Lucas violated M.G.L c. 56, § 42 (“§ 42”). That same day Mannal issued a press release and gave statements to the media describing the criminal complaint.

         A probable cause hearing on Mannal's application for a criminal complaint was scheduled for November 20, 2014, before a Clerk Magistrate. On October 27, 2014, plaintiffs filed a motion to dismiss the application, contending that the statute was facially unconstitutional. On October 30, 2014, the Barnstable District Court transferred the application to the Falmouth District Court. At Lucas's request, the probable cause hearing was postponed until December, 2014.

         Mannal won re-election to his seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives on November 4, 2014, by a narrow margin.

         On December 5, 2014, plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against Mannal and then Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.[1] On the same day, plaintiffs also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the Clerk Magistrate of the Falmouth District Court who is not a party to these proceedings.

         Also in December, 2014, this Court denied plaintiffs preliminary injunctive relief. The probable cause hearing in state court went forward, and a criminal complaint against Lucas was issued on December 31, 2014, charging her with two violations of § 42.

         In February, 2015, Lucas sought review by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (“SJC”) of the constitutionality of § 42. All proceedings in state and federal court were then stayed pending the SJC's decision. In May, 2015, the SJC concluded that § 42 was facially unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution and dismissed the criminal complaint against Lucas.

         On December 31, 2015, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in this Court. In the amended complaint, plaintiffs allege four claims against defendant Mannal for 1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count III), 2) damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Count IV), 3) violation of M.G.L. c. 231, § 59H (Count V) and 4) abuse of process (Count VI). Plaintiffs also assert two claims against defendant Healey for 1) violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Count II) and 2) damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (Count IV). Finally, plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that M.G.L. c. 56, § 42 is unconstitutional (Count I). Now pending before the Court are the separate motions of the defendants to dismiss and defendant Mannal's motion for attorney's fees and costs.

         II. Defendant Mannal's Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs

         Defendant Mannal moves to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against him pursuant to the Massachusetts “anti-SLAPP” (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, M.G.L. c. 231, § 59H (“§ 59H”). Defendant also requests attorney's fees and costs should the Court allow the motion.

         A. Legal Standard

         Section 59H allows civil defendants to resolve expeditiously lawsuits “designed to deter or retaliate against individuals who seek to exercise their right of petition.” Keegan v. Pellerin, 920 N.E.2d 888, 891 (Mass. App. Ct. 2010).

         The SJC has provided a two-step process for special motions to dismiss brought under § 59H. First, the moving party must make a showing that the claim of the non-moving party is based on the movant's protected petitioning activities and has no other substantial basis. Bargantine v. Mechs. Coop. Bank, Docket No. 13-11132, 2013 WL 6211845, at *2 (D. Mass. Nov. 26, 2013). If the moving party makes such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the “petitioning activities lacked any reasonable factual support or any arguable basis in law.” Id. (quoting Fustolou v. Hollander, 920 N.E.2d 837, 840 (Mass. 2010)). The Court may consider pleadings and affidavits without making inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Id. (citing M.G.L. c. 231, § 59H).

         B. ...


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