Defense Win!
Christie Law Group
Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Section: Fall 2022

Megan Coluccio is a partner at Christie Law Group. Licensed in Washington and Oregon, she has extensive experience defending corporations and local entities and focuses her complex litigation practice on civil rights, product, professional, and municipal liability cases, often involving premises liability, road design claims, and catastrophic injury or wrongful death claims. Megan is known for her creative strategic approach and case analysis. She is results-oriented and prides herself on providing solutions and resolutions to clients at all stages of the litigation process.
Megan Coluccio, Salim Lewis, Ann Trivett, and Stu Cassel recently obtained a defense verdict for the City of Yakima, the former City Manager, a former Deputy Fire Chief, and a Fire Code Inspector in a federal jury trial in the Eastern District of Washington.

In 2013, the City of Yakima renewed its fire inspection program under the new City Manager, after it had been subject to budget cuts.  The Yakima Fire Department took over the inspection program and set out to inspect every public building in the City.  When performing a fire code inspection, inspectors specifically look for hazards that can cause injury to people or loss of property in public buildings.  

The plaintiff owns a business in Yakima that occupies two buildings built in the 1920s.  Since 2001, he has been vocal against certain City projects.  In the 2012-2013 timeframe, the City hired a new City Manager and looked to reinvigorate the downtown area after the 2008 recession.  Plaintiff opposed the project.  In November 2013, the plaintiff attended a public meeting about the project and asked the City Manager questions.  Later that day, a Fire Code Inspector arrived at the plaintiff’s business for a fire code inspection.  Several violations were found and documented, and a date was set for a compliance reinspection.  Prior to the inspection, neither the Fire Code Inspector nor Deputy Fire Chief had ever heard of the business or the plaintiff, nor were they aware of the plaintiff’s opposition to the City’s plan to reinvigorate the downtown area.  Later that same day, the plaintiff attended a City Council meeting and spoke in opposition to the plan to reinvigorate the downtown.

Plaintiff did not correct the fire code violations or allow the Fire Department to complete a compliance reinspection.  After repeated efforts to complete the compliance reinspection, the matter was turned over to the City Attorney’s Office in February 2014 and reviewed by the criminal division.  A criminal complaint was filed against the plaintiff for refusing to allow a fire code inspector to inspect his business.   After plaintiff filed a second motion to dismiss in late October 2014, the prosecutor decided to dismiss the case rather than potentially risk losing at trial because of “muddy facts.”

The plaintiff business owner sued the City and employees claiming civil rights violations, including First and Fourth Amendment retaliation, wrongful prosecution under the Fourth Amendment, due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, and ratification and final policy maker claims under Monell, in addition to state law claims for civil conspiracy and malicious prosecution.  At summary judgment, the Court dismissed the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims, the ratification theory under Monell, and the First Amendment claims against the Deputy Fire Chief and Fire Code Inspector, finding they were just doing their jobs and had no knowledge of plaintiff’s protected speech.    

The case went to trial based on the First Amendment claim against the former City Manager and the City only, as well as well as state law claims for civil conspiracy and malicious prosecution against the three individual employees.  The trial lasted one week.  The jury deliberated for a half day, returning a unanimous verdict in favor of the City and the three individuals.