Third Circuit Affirms Elliott Greenleaf’ Jury Verdict in Favor of Montgomery County and It’s Commisioners in Civil Rights Case

On January 14, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the United States District Court jury verdict in a civil rights case in favor of Elliott Greenleaf’s client, Montgomery County and its former Commissioners. On February 6, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit denied Plaintiff’s Petition for Rehearing before the full Court of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Plaintiff Robert Wright sued Montgomery County and its Commissioners under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1986 alleging that he was terminated for racial and/or political reasons, and also asserted state law claims for (1) breach of contract/wrongful discharge, (2) defamation, (3) infliction of emotional distress, (4) fraud, (5) tortious interference with contract, (6) malicious prosecution, (7) false swearing to authorities, obstruction of justice and official oppression and (8) invasion of privacy.

Montgomery County and its Commissioners retained Elliott Greenleaf to defend this civil rights case in Philadelphia federal court. Throughout trial, Plaintiff’s settlement demand was $4.5 million, a seven figure attorney’s fee, reinstatement, and an apology. In light of HUD’s findings and to protect continued multi-million dollar federal funding and the integrity of the County’s housing program that benefits low-income citizens, the County could not agree to these demands.

Plaintiff alleged that he was terminated as Director of the Montgomery County Department of Housing Services (“MDHS”) in retaliation for protesting against mistreatment for being African-American. However, Plaintiff was one of three MDHS employees terminated after the HUD Office of Inspector General audited the MDHS. The HUD Audit disclosed his conflicts of interest, mismanagement, misconduct, nondisclosure and misrepresentations in the federally funded community development housing programs, in violation of Montgomery County, State, and HUD Regulations.

The jury found that Defendants’ reasons for termination were not pretextual, and that they acted rationally and reasonably in terminating Plaintiff, after the findings of the HUD Audit, which was triggered by the complaints of elderly African-American women, whose homes were victimized by the shoddy work of conflicted HUD/MDHS contractors. Their publicly funded work was inspected, supervised and approved for payment by Plaintiff, while these same contractors were also secretly working at Plaintiff’s private investment properties, in conflicts of interest.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the jury verdict in favor or Elliott Greenleaf’s client in this civil rights case. See Wright v. Montgomery County, 2004 WL 65247 (3d Cir. January 14, 2004), United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Appeal No. 03-1536; and Wright v. Montgomery County, 2003 WL 177093 (E.D. Pa., Jan 23, 2003), United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Civ. Action No. 96-cv-4597.

John M. Elliott, Timothy T. Myers and Eric J. Bronstein served as trial and appellate counsel for all Defendants.