Davis v. Theriault

Docket Number1:22-cv-00275-JDL
Decision Date31 August 2023
PartiesHAROLD JOHN DAVIS, JR., and CRAIG WORSTER, Plaintiffs, v. JANET THERIAULT, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Maine

Plaintiffs Harold John Davis, Jr., and Craig Worster previously served as the Town Manager and Chief of Police of Millinocket respectively. In their Amended Complaint (ECF No. 1-1), they assert a variety of claims against over a dozen Defendants stemming from the termination of their employment. Most of the Defendants have filed motions for judgment on the pleadings or motions to dismiss, including special motions to dismiss[1] pursuant to Maine's anti-SLAPP statute, 14 M.R.S.A. § 556 (West 2023). The Plaintiffs have moved to amend their Amended Complaint (ECF No. 112), to strike two of the Defendants' special motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 78, 93), and for a default judgment as to one of the Defendants (ECF No. 72).

A. Factual Background

The factual background is drawn from the allegations made in the Amended Complaint and the affidavits accompanying the special motions to dismiss. See Thurlow v. Nelson, 2021 ME 58, ¶ 2, 263 A.3d 494.

Craig Worster was hired as the Chief of Police for the Town of Millinocket (“the Town”) in March of 2019. Janet Theriault, then the Deputy Chief of Police, assisted with the interview and selection of Worster. After starting in his new position, Worster began to have concerns about Theriault and raised them with Harold John Davis, Jr., who had been the Town Manager since 2015. Some of Worster's concerns were, for example, that Theriault repeatedly brought her mother along for service calls, misused the compensation time policy, and pressured the Assistant District Attorney not to bring charges against a friend of hers.

Worster's concerns with Theriault came to a head on February 3, 2020, when Theriault was posted at the local high school. Worster was displeased that Theriault was in a closed portion of the school building behind a locked door. After Worster broached the topic with Theriault, Theriault allegedly “became verbally angry” and argued with Worster about his orders. ECF No. 1-1 at 3, ¶ 4. During a heated discussion outside of the high school building, Theriault confronted and yelled at Worster.

A local citizen, who claimed to have witnessed the encounter between Worster and Theriault at the high school, reported the incident to the Town's Director of Human Resources and, later, to Davis. The citizen alleged that it was Worster who had acted unprofessionally and that he had sworn and screamed at Theriault. This report prompted Davis to begin an internal investigation. As part of the investigation, Davis spoke separately with both Theriault and Worster, who both agreed that Worster did not scream or swear at Theriault during the incident.[2] Davis also watched surveillance footage of the incident and concluded that it did not support the citizen's account of events. He felt that although Theriault did not act completely appropriately and both parties could have handled the situation differently, neither party engaged in misconduct.

On April 30, 2020, while Theriault was out of work on medical leave, Theriault's attorney, Michael Cunniff, filed a misconduct complaint with the Town against Worster on Theriault's behalf. The misconduct complaint purportedly also contained some allegations of misconduct against Davis. This was the first time that Theriault raised any formal complaints about either Worster or Davis. The misconduct complaint challenged Worster's conduct at the high school and asserted that he had created a hostile workplace environment. Cunniff subsequently filed supplements to the misconduct complaint that added further allegations against Worster, some of which related to Worster's prior employment with the Police Departments in Wiscasset, Maine, and Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Around the same time as Theriault's misconduct complaint was filed, Lorne Smith, the Secretary-Treasurer for the Teamsters Local Union #340, which represented Theriault, filed a complaint with the Town against Davis based on his handling of Theriault's allegations against Worster. Smith, on behalf of the Teamsters Local Union #340 and Theriault, may also have filed a grievance with the Town. Smith had previously interacted with Cunniff concerning Worster, and the Amended Complaint asserts that Smith “had been deeply involved in the allegations being made against both Plaintiffs by Theriault. ECF No. 1-1 at 18, ¶ 87.

Cunniff also filed what the Amended Complaint characterizes as a “criminal complaint” against Worster with the Attorney General's Office, although the precise timing of this is unclear. ECF No. 1-1 at 20, ¶ 94. The Attorney General's Office declined to prosecute, “and the accusations asserted by Defendant Cunniff were dismissed.” ECF No.1-1 at 20, ¶ 94.

Additionally, Cunniff filed a report with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy (“the Academy”) about Worster's alleged conduct even though, according to the Plaintiffs, he was not legally entitled to do so. The Academy ultimately dismissed the report, but it did issue a letter of guidance to Worster advising him that creating a hostile workplace for female employees constitutes inappropriate conduct.[3]

The Town, through Davis, hired a licensed professional investigator to look into Theriault's accusations. On the Plaintiffs' information and belief, Cunniff agreed to the hiring of this private investigator. The investigator, after a “lengthy and thorough investigation” involving the interviewing of witnesses, determined that Worster had not engaged in misconduct. ECF No. 1-1 at ¶ 113. Although the precise timing is unclear, at some point Davis reviewed the findings of the investigator's report and agreed that Worster did not engage in misconduct, so he closed the investigation.

In June 2020, the public became aware of Theriault's accusations regarding Worster and, the Amended Complaint asserts, [a] public campaign began against . . . Worster, in favor of . . . Theriault,” with Jennifer Murray Stanley and Susan D'Alessandro “at the spearhead.” ECF No. 1-1 at 16, ¶ 73. The “smear campaign” was carried out in part through postings on the “Katahdin Citizen's Group,” a Facebook group, of which D'Alessandro was the administrator and moderator. ECF No. 1-1 at 16, ¶ 74. The Amended Complaint asserts that posts in the group were “used to spread false and misleading information about both Plaintiff Worster and Plaintiff Davis in an attempt to tarnish their names and reputations and also to encourage Town Councilors to terminate both Plaintiffs from their jobs.” ECF No. 11 at 16, ¶ 74.

Murray Stanley and D'Alessandro also organized protests and car parades outside of Davis's residence. Protestors honked their horns and attached signs to their vehicles urging Davis to “do his job” and terminate Worster. ECF No. 1-1 at 1617, ¶ 76. The Amended Complaint asserts that, at some point, Murray Stanley, with the aid and/or encouragement of D'Alessandro” and other individuals “were communicating with Plaintiff Worster's minor child . . . in an attempt to further alienate the child from her father, in what they knew to be an already strained relationship; the relationship is now fatally interfered with.” ECF No. 1-1 at 18, ¶ 83.

While the public campaign was ongoing, Theriault was receiving money from a GoFundMe fundraising drive, organized by another individual, that stated that Theriault “had been on unpaid leave since February 3, 2020 and had been the victim of a hostile workplace environment and bullying tactics by Chief of Police Craig Worster . . . with no protection from the town manager John Davis.” ECF No. 1-1 at 17, ¶ 78. Theriault did not disclose that she had actually been receiving pay while she was out of work and did not rebut any of the characterizations made on the fundraising page.

Throughout the public campaign, confidential documents were disseminated to the public, including, but not limited to, Theriault's misconduct complaints, Smith's complaints, private email correspondence between Smith and Davis, and Worster's employment records. On the Plaintiffs' information and belief, these documents were disseminated to the public by Theriault, Cunniff, and/or Smith through Murray Stanley and D'Alessandro, who were used as a mechanism to disseminate the documents. Some of these documents were records from Worster's former employer, the Wiscasset Police Department, that had been released pursuant to Maine's Freedom of Access Act (“FOAA”). According to the Plaintiffs, “there remains . . . a question as to the ability of the [Wiscasset Police Department] to disseminate some or all of the documents obtained by Defendant Cunniff.” ECF No. 1-1 at 15, ¶ 69.

The Town Council eventually became involved in the public outcry. Members of the Town Council, including Councilor Louis Pelletier, discussed the issues about Davis and Worster on the Katahdin Citizen's Group page. Councilor Pelletier stated that he was looking for a way to fire Davis and have the investigation into Worster reopened. Members of the Town Council, on the Plaintiffs' information and belief, began their own personal investigations into the allegations against the Plaintiffs. Notably, Councilor Michael Madore communicated directly with Theriault during the investigation about her allegations against the Plaintiffs. At a Town Council meeting on June 25, 2020, Councilor Steven Golieb initiated an oral Motion to Condemn Davis that was procedurally improper. Councilor Golieb also made allegedly misleading comments to a newspaper about Davis's tenure as Town Manager. On the Plaintiffs' information and belief, Smith was communicating with the Town...

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