Attorney John Wheatley secured a pair of recent Appeals Court victories, finally bringing an end to protracted litigation that began as a simple landlord-tenant dispute, but eventually grew to encompass seven lawsuits, multiple appeals, and several awards of attorneys’ fees and costs. The outcome demonstrates that tenacity and steadfast professionalism in the face of a vindictive and uncooperative litigant will eventually win the day.
The saga began when the tenant withheld rent payments, claiming her apartment was “drafty.” Despite repeated efforts to appease her by eliminating any conceivable source of the purported draft, the tenant refused to pay her rent, and our clients – a respected residential landlord and its property manager – were eventually forced to initiate proceedings to evict her. This triggered a spate of retaliatory counterclaims and other lawsuits in various forums, including baseless discrimination and defamation claims. The tenant cycled through a series of attorneys and repeatedly flouted procedural rules and court orders, ignoring discovery requests and failing to appear for deposition or at trial. Even after judgment entered against her, she disregarded eviction notices and adamantly refused to vacate the apartment. When the landlord sought assistance from law enforcement – for the first time ever – the ensuing confrontation with police and counsel led to criminal charges against the tenant.
Meanwhile, our clients pursued a vigorous defense to her claims, including substantive arguments, invocation of the Massachusetts Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute (the “anti-SLAPP” statute), and progressive requests for sanctions. When the dust settled, all of her claims had been dismissed, her appeals had been rejected, and not one but four awards of attorneys’ fees and costs had been granted to the defendants (one by the District Court, one by the Superior Court, and two by the Appeals Court). These awards convey a clear message that the courts will not tolerate frivolous, bad faith attempts to exploit civil litigation as a means of exacting revenge. We are pleased that John’s persistence was rewarded, our clients were vindicated, and success was achieved.