180 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1999), 98-1076, Lynch v. City of Boston

Docket Nº:98-1076, 98-1112
Citation:180 F.3d 1
Opinion Judge:CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judge.
Party Name:HELEN A. LYNCH, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. CITY OF BOSTON, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees. HELEN A. LYNCH, Plaintiff, Appellee, v. CITY OF BOSTON, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees, KELLEY CRONIN, Defendant, Appellant
Attorney:Ellen J. Messing with whom James S. Weliky, Messing & Rudavsky, P.C., Stephen M. Voltz, Nathan & Voltz and Carolyn Koch were on brief for plaintiff, Helen A. Lynch. Kevin S. McDermott with whom Merita A. Hopkins, Corporation Counsel, Dawna McIntyre, Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston L...
Judge Panel:Before Stahl, Circuit Judge, Aldrich and Campbell, Senior Circuit Judges.
Case Date:June 16, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
 
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180 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1999)

HELEN A. LYNCH, Plaintiff, Appellant,

v.

CITY OF BOSTON, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.

HELEN A. LYNCH, Plaintiff, Appellee,

v.

CITY OF BOSTON, ET AL., Defendants, Appellees,

KELLEY CRONIN, Defendant, Appellant

Nos. 98-1076, 98-1112

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

June 16, 1999

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. [Hon. Robert E. Keeton, U.S. District Judge].

Reversed and vacated the district court's award of $ 4,000 in emotional distress damages in connection with Lynch's intentional tort claim. Affirmed judgment of the district court in all respects.

Ellen J. Messing with whom James S. Weliky, Messing & Rudavsky, P.C., Stephen M. Voltz, Nathan & Voltz and Carolyn Koch were on brief for plaintiff, Helen A. Lynch.

Kevin S. McDermott with whom Merita A. Hopkins, Corporation Counsel, Dawna McIntyre, Assistant Corporation Counsel, City of Boston Law Department, were on brief for City of Boston, et al.

Before Stahl, Circuit Judge, Aldrich and Campbell, Senior Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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CAMPBELL, Senior Circuit Judge.

Helen Lynch brought this action in the district court against the City of Boston and, inter alia, Kelley Cronin, a City employee. Lynch alleged that Cronin told her to " clear out your desk" and removed Lynch from her volunteer position on the Mayor's Hunger Commission in retaliation for a phone call Lynch made to the Mayor's office during which Lynch complained

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that the City's Emergency Shelter Commission (" ESC" ), of which Cronin served as the Executive Director, was under-staffed at a time when homeless persons in the City were in need of services. Lynch alleged that the statement that she must " clear out her desk" was tantamount to a refusal by Cronin to renew her contract of employment as Can Share coordinator and that this adverse action, along with Lynch's removal from the Hunger Commission, violated the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Lynch also brought claims under Massachusetts law, including a claim against Cronin for intentional interference with her advantageous relations with the City. The jury answered special verdict questions on Lynch's section 1983 and intentional interference with advantageous relations claims, and awarded $ 40,000 in compensatory damages and $ 10,000 in punitive damages against Cronin. The district court entered judgment in favor of Lynch on the section 1983 and intentional tort claims against Cronin and in favor of defendants on the remaining claims.

The parties filed post-judgment motions. The district court thereupon entered an amended judgment holding (1) that Cronin was entitled to qualified immunity on Lynch's First Amendment claim, both as to the allegations concerning her failure to re-hire Lynch for the 1994 Can Share program and Lynch's removal from the Mayor's Hunger Commission, (2) that the City was not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, (3) that Lynch was entitled to $ 4,000 in damages for emotional distress on her intentional tort claim, 1 and (4) that Lynch would be entitled to $ 10,000 in punitive damages and $ 60,000 in attorneys' fees if section 1983 liability were reinstated against Cronin on appeal.

In these consolidated appeals, Lynch challenges the district court's qualified immunity and municipal liability rulings, asserts that the district court erred in reducing her requested attorneys' fees and costs, and seeks a new trial because of alleged errors in evidentiary rulings and jury instructions. In her cross-appeal, Cronin asserts that the district court erred in awarding Lynch $ 4,000 in emotional distress damages in connection with her intentional tort claim because Lynch failed to demonstrate any pecuniary loss, as Cronin asserts is required under Massachusetts law.

For the reasons that follow, we affirm, although on grounds different from those relied upon by the district court in its judgment dismissing the section 1983 claims against Cronin and the City. We conclude that Lynch is not entitled to a new trial. Finally, we reverse and vacate the district court's award of emotional distress damages in connection with Lynch's intentional tort claim.

I. BACKGROUND

We recite the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict. See Alvarez-Fonseca v. Pepsi Cola of Puerto Rico Bottling Co., 152 F.3d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 1998). As the coordinator of the City's Can Share food drive, Lynch worked as a seasonal employee of the City of Boston under a series of contracts beginning in 1987. The purpose of the Can Share program was to provide food for the homeless and hungry in the Boston area. The program was conducted under the auspices of the City's Emergency Shelter Commission (" ESC" ), and took place annually over the course of several months usually beginning in October and concluding in December. Each year, Lynch was paid on a weekly basis while the drive was in progress and, sometimes, during periods just before and after the drive. During

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the remainder of each year, when not on the City's payroll, Lynch typically performed pre- and post-drive tasks without reimbursement. In addition to serving as the Can Share coordinator, Lynch had also been appointed each year since 1986 to serve, on a volunteer basis, on the Mayor's Hunger Commission, an honorary body formed to address city-wide hunger issues.

In December, 1993, Lynch received a flyer that had been distributed to all City employees by the newly elected Mayor, Thomas Menino, in which the Mayor encouraged employees to provide suggestions to his office for the improvement of City services. On January 12, 1994, Lynch placed what she intended to be an anonymous phone call to the Mayor's office. During the phone call, Lynch complained about a lack of staffing at the ESC that day. Unfortunately for Lynch, her call did not remain anonymous. Lynch's call was answered by John Greeley, a City employee who was the husband of defendant Kelley Cronin, Lynch's supervisor at the Can Share program and the Executive Director of the ESC. Greeley told Cronin of his conversation with Lynch. Cronin immediately requested Lynch to come to City Hall for a meeting concerning the phone call.

On January 13, the day after Lynch's telephone call to the Mayor's office, Lynch met with Cronin at the ESC office. Lynch was not then on the ESC payroll, having received her last paycheck in connection with the 1993 Can Share drive in December, 1993. Nor, at the time, had she been specifically told she would be re-hired for the 1994 Can Share drive that was to commence in the fall of 1994. Cronin was upset that Lynch had complained to the Mayor's office instead of speaking to her directly. At the conclusion of the meeting, which was attended only by Lynch and Cronin, Cronin told Lynch to " clear out your desk." Both Lynch and Cronin testified that they did not specifically discuss whether Lynch would be working on the forthcoming 1994 Can Share campaign. After the meeting, Lynch returned to her desk and continued working on a letter she had begun drafting.

Later the same day, Lynch met with Ann Maguire, the former director of the ESC who had been promoted to director of the City's Office of Neighborhood Services and Office of Boards and Commissions, and was responsible in that capacity for overseeing the ESC. Lynch told Maguire about her earlier meeting with Cronin and expressed the belief that she had been " fired." Maguire assured Lynch that she had not been fired, that she need not clear out her desk, and that she should continue working on the 1993 Can Share wrap-up tasks. Maguire suggested that Lynch wait a few months before approaching Cronin about the 1994 Can Share drive, and assured Lynch that by that time everything would be fine.

Later on January 13, 1994, Lynch met again with Cronin. At this second meeting, Cronin testified that she told Lynch that she had not been terminated. 2 Cronin told Lynch that she had asked her to " clear out her desk" because space was needed for a new full-time employee who was coming to work at the ESC. Cronin also testified that she told Lynch to clear out the desk because the 1993 Can Share campaign had ended and Lynch no longer needed the desk. Cronin and Lynch did not specifically discuss whether Lynch would be working on the 1994 Can Share drive. Lynch testified, however, that Cronin asked her what she was working on with regard to Can Share and that the two discussed goals for the 1994 Can Share drive and various tasks that needed to be performed to meet those goals. Lynch also testified that Cronin gave her the " impression" that she (Lynch) would be working on the 1994 campaign. In fact,

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Lynch testified on cross-examination that she believed, based upon her meeting with Maguire and this second meeting with Cronin, that she had a " verbal contract" to work on the 1994 Can Share drive:

Q: Is it your contention that you had a contract to conduct the 1994 Can Share drive?

A: Yes. Q: And this verbal contract that you allege was made was made between you and Kelly Cronin on January 13, 1994, the time of your meeting, is that true? A: Yes. Q: And it was that meeting on January 13, 1994 which formed the basis of your understanding or belief of what the contract was, is that true? A: Yes. Q: And you believed that the contract was to conduct the 1994 can Share campaign, is that true? A: Yes.

After the second meeting with Cronin, Lynch returned to her desk. She cleared out the desk and placed her belongings in boxes, which she left in the cubicle near the desk. Thereafter, Lynch continued to prepare for the 1994 Can Share...

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