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Lawyer sought $1.3M from D.C. suburb in speed camera suit

A non-practicing Gaithersburg lawyer has drawn scorn — and potentially sanctions — from a federal judge who questioned the attorney’s competence in suing the Village of Chevy Chase for more than $1.3 million after being caught by a speed camera and, months later, being stopped by a police officer.

In his complaint — the first one he has ever filed— Kenneth A. Quittman alleged the village, through its officer’s actions, intentionally and negligently inflicted emotional distress upon him and invaded his privacy. Quittman, whose full-time job is home-schooling his elementary school-age daughter, also claimed the village’s use of speed cameras has resulted in its unjust enrichment and created an “improper impediment to free travel by motorists.”

But U.S. District Court Judge Roger W. Titus dismissed the “utterly groundless” complaint, stating in part that “any reasonably competent lawyer who exercised any diligence in the preparation of a complaint” would know Maryland does not recognize negligent infliction of emotional distress as a legal claim.

That lawyer would also know motorists have “no reasonable expectation of privacy” in their cars on a public street and that intentional infliction of emotional distress applies only to “truly outrageous conduct,” not to a routine traffic stop, Titus wrote in an 11-page memorandum opinion dismissing the case Friday.

“Even the most minimal level of legal research would have revealed to Quittman that the vast bulk of his complaint, if not its entirety, is utterly devoid of any merit and that his pleading was a jumbled, hopeless mishmash that utterly failed to comply with basic” Maryland and federal pleading rules, added Titus, who presides at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt.

Titus’s opinion accompanied his order giving Quittman 30 days in which to show cause why he should not be sanctioned for submitting a complaint “wholly without merit.”

Under Maryland and federal rules, lawyers can be ordered to pay the opposing party’s court costs, attorneys’ fees and reasonable expenses incurred in defending a lawsuit filed in bad faith or without substantial justification.

“I intend to give a response as required,” Quittman said Tuesday. “I will take very seriously the court’s admonitions and instructions regarding the format of that response.”

Quittman, a member of the Maryland bar since 1999, said he had “a meritorious case or I would not have bought it.”

“I respectfully do not agree with the judge’s decision,” he added. “I am considering my options, including whether or not an appeal would be appropriate.”

In his complaint, Quittman alleged he was driving on Connecticut Avenue near Maryland’s border with Washington, D.C., on March 27, 2010, when he was nearly struck by a Chevy Chase Village police car being negligently driven over the speed limit.

Less than a minute later, the officer activated the car’s emergency lights and initiated a traffic stop, Quittman stated in the complaint. The officer approached Quittman’s car, he said, but gave no reason for the stop and then permitted him to drive away.

“These intentional steps taken by defendant, just a moment after defendant’s negligence nearly caused a possible car accident … added to the emotional distress felt by plaintiff, and compounded the situation needlessly by putting plaintiff in apprehension of possible legal jeopardy for a situation that in his view was entirely the fault of defendant,” Quittman wrote in the complaint.

With regard to the speed cameras, Quittman said that on a prior occasion, his car had been photographed traveling over the speed limit. In 2009, he unsuccessfully challenged in district and circuit court the ensuing citation he received and the village’s use of speed cameras.

In his complaint, Quittman called the speed cameras “an improper impediment to free travel by plaintiff (and tens of thousands of similarly situated motorists) and an intentional infringement of due process rights under color of state authority.”

Chevy Chase has denied all allegations.

Quittman sought a total of $111,000 in compensatory damages for the intentional and negligent inflictions of emotional distress; invasion of privacy; and the village’s unjust enrichment from the speed cameras. He also sought $1 million in punitive damages due to the speed cameras and $100,000 each in punitive damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy.

Titus said he could not discern from Quittman’s complaint what specific state or federal constitutional rights were allegedly violated. The judge gave Quittman 30 days from last Friday to amend his complaint and provide “a more definite statement” of what rights were violated.

However, Titus added Quittman might want to pass.

“This may, perhaps, be an opportunity to exit from the stage without further harm inflicted on either the defendant or the plaintiff himself,” Titus wrote.


4 comments

  1. Oh, my! Is this another pants-lost-at-the-dry-cleaners case? Home schools his daughter? Yikes!

  2. He’s a ’99 grad. Interesting.

  3. He was admitted in ’99, but the story does not say when he graduated from law school. It might have been earlier. This is the kind of person who takes the bar exam more than once. If he didn’t pass the first time he probably sued. It’s not clear whether these are weirder times than usual, or the pervasiveness of media guarantees that no weirdness goes unreported. I do feel bad for the daughter.

  4. Kenneth Quittman

    Graduated in ’99, took and passed bar in ’99, first time. Have never sued anyone before or since — did you read the article?

    This case was never about money — see the filings, e.g., including the complaint, counts 1 & 2 of which was for minimum compensatory damages permissible in Circuit Court ($1,00 for count 1, $10000 for count 2), and clearly stated that as to other counts plaintiff would gladly accept injunctive relief regarding the manner or use of scam-eras “in addition to or instead of” any monetary award.

    Daughter is a terrific kid, very sociable, friendly polite, respectful of authority, her elders, and her peers, and who tested at middle school level reading and math at 5 years old, has her own views and opinions, and makes up her own mind about all topics.

    She also believes as I do that safe driving is a paramount responsibility, but that due process and protection of the accused from “gotcha” tactics, for-profit policing, and undue surveillance are important as well.

    We all want our kids to grow up in a free and better world, do we not?