New Britain woman repeatedly files lawsuits without having to pay any moneyPosted: Updated:
Over the past two years, a New Britain woman has filed more than 70 lawsuits and 40 appeals.
Cecelia Lebby said she's fighting for her rights, but some of the people she's suing think she needs to be stopped. And now a proposed bill has been designed to make it harder for her to file more.
When searching the courts database and seeing her heavy case load, one may think that Lebby is a top lawyer at one of the state's bigger law firms.
However, she is a self-trained litigator who spends almost every day at the New Britain Superior Court, where she researches claims, handwrites her lawsuits and files them for free.
"I feel like I've been violated. I feel like I've been discriminated against," said Lebby, who often wears casual attire and sunglasses inside the courthouse. "And I feel like if people don't take action and explore their legal rights, then these other people who've got more power will just walk all over them. And think they can get away with anything."
All of the more than 70 lawsuits filed by Lebby since 2005 were done Pro Se, which means that the were handled with a lawyer. She handwrites her pleadings and argues her cases on her own.
Most are dismissed almost immediately, and Lebby has never won in the courtroom. However, she had one lawsuit against the World Wrestling Entertainment settled out of court, where the company paid her $8,000.
In the settlement, she agreed to stop suing the WWE, but later sued some of their employees anyway.
"Oh my gosh, a lot of money, I'd say in the thousands, I'd say a million," said Lebby when asked what it would cost her to file all these suits with a lawyer. "And I don't got the money."
During the past eight years, Lebby has sued the following organizations:
- New Britain Police Department (Multiple times)
- Torrington Police Department (Multiple times)
- Farmington Police Department (Multiple times)
- Department of Children and Families
- Attorney General Office
- Connecticut Light & Power
- Rock star Bret Michaels Fan Club
- The state of Connecticut
- Stephanie Levesque, who is the daughter of the former senate candidate Linda McMahon's and the WWE executive vice president (Multiple times)
Lebby has also sued several individuals including police officers, lawyers, government workers, and some are just people she's come across who did something she felt was wrong. One defendant has complained to Eyewitness News that she has spent thousands in attorney's fees defending herself against Lebby.
All of the former defendants of Lebby worried about her suing them again and refused to speak with Eyewitness News because they were afraid of another lawsuit.
Recently, Lebby told Eyewitness News that she was suing the town of Farmington because their police officers made fun of her for filing too many lawsuits.
Lebby told Eyewitness News that she does not listen to the people who are upset because they feel she is wasting the taxpayers' money.
"I say, 'Don't listen to those people. I listen to God.' Because I know in my heart that I'm doing this for the right cause," she said. "They can say I'm wasting time and I'm wasting taxpayer dollars, but I'm not, really, I'm getting robbed and cheated no matter how it's looked at, but I refuse to listen to people who say that because it's not true."
"Cases take many different turns, and it often can require many appearances," said Peter Murphy of Shipman & Goodwin.
Murphy has never met Lebby in the courtroom, but said he has faced Pro Se litigants who sue his clients over and over.
The problem is, no matter how outrageous the claim, defendants have to hire lawyers and defend the case. Or they could lose by default and end up owing Lebby damages. In many case,s she sues for millions.
"They have to take action. If they ignore it, a default could enter against them, and damages could be awarded," Murphy said. "So they have to incur the administrative and financial costs of responding to it and seeking to convince the court that it's frivolous and should be dismissed."
Lebby's a fixture at the New Britain courthouse, but she's not alone. The I-Team dug into records from the state judicial branch showing the top Pro Se plaintiffs over the past two years.
Lebby is in the top 10 and is in a group that accounts for 201 lawsuits filed just since 2011. Seven of those 10 are similar to James Giulietti, whose cases are nearly all summary process, or eviction cases.
Giulietti, who is a landlord with 300 units, told the I-Team that while he tries to be lenient, some evictions can't be helped.
Sometimes the court will enter an order that these Pro Se plaintiffs need a judge's permission before their suit can be filed, and that's what happened for Levesque. After several lawsuits making various claims, Lebby now needs a judge's permission before she can sue her.
"It's often difficult to tell whether a case is frivolous or not, for the court," Murphy said. "However in certain situations with certain plaintiffs and repeated lawsuits against the same target, it becomes more apparent."
Wyatt Kopp of Gales Ferry told the I-team that he is worried about plaintiffs such as Lebby for another reason.
"In a lot of cases, they can't get a lawyer to take their case because a lot of these cases are frivolous and the lawyers know the likelihood of prevailing is slim and next to none," he said
Kopp said Lebby meets minimum income guidelines that qualify her for a fee waiver, which means she doesn't have the pay the $350 filing fee for each new case. The fees charged by a state marshal to serve the paperwork on the defendant is picked up by taxpayers.
"Just for Cecelia Lebby alone, it would be about $44,000 just in waived fees," Kopp said.
Kopp grew frustrated with fee waivers while working as a temporary employee at the courthouse in New London. He wrote this bill and convinced his state representative to introduce it at the capitol. If its passed by the general assembly this session, it would require Pro Se plaintiffs to earn their fee waiver by working community service. Kopp said right now there's no incentive for Lebby not to sue.
"They literally have nothing to lose, and in fact, you could argue that they have everything to gain because in the off-chance that they get a judgment," Kopp said. "They don't even have to repay the fees that were waived."
The right to access the courts is so fundamental in our state it's listed specifically in Connecticut's constitution. The current fee waiver system came about two decades ago when the United States Supreme Court said the old system was unconstitutional because it made filing lawsuits in Connecticut too hard.
"That's the concern with courts. You don't want to prevent legitimate claims from being filed, and at the same time, you don't want to burden the courts and defendants with frivolous claims, and it is a balancing act," Murphy said.
"No one's fee waiver would be taken away," Kopp said. "What it does is it simply encourages self-regulation. It encourages Cecelia Lebby to say 'Do I want to work for 20 hours in community service to file this lawsuit?'"
Lebby told the I-Team that she will be filing more lawsuits.
"I keep fighting and fighting and fighting," she said. "And the defense counsel thinks I'm going to give up, but I never give up."
In 2010, Lebby made it to a trial against Levesque. However, she lost, but not before calling witnesses and arguing the rules of evidence.
Last month, Lebby told the I-Team that she is planning on suing rock star Ted Nugent, who she said shortchanged her at a recent concert by not playing enough songs.
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