U.Va. student’s $40 million suit moved to federal court

By Frank Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch – 4/9/2014

A $40 million lawsuit filed by a University of Virginia student charged with assaulting ABC agents who mistook sparkling water for beer has been transferred to federal court.

Elizabeth K. Daly filed the suit in Richmond Circuit Court last month, but earlier this week the Virginia Attorney General’s Office had the case transferred to U.S. District Court in Richmond, where it has been assigned to Judge Henry E. Hudson.

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said, “The suit involves federal questions that the Attorney General’s Office believes would best be handled by federal courts.”

However, James B. Thorsen, one of Daly’s lawyers, asked, “Does not the (attorney general’s) office have any confidence in the state courts in regards to this case?”

The defendants, seven ABC agents and the state, have 21 days from March 25, when the suit was filed, to respond.

Daly, now 21, was too young to legally possess alcohol last April 11, when the agents, looking for underage alcohol violators, spotted a friend of Daly’s with a case of canned LaCroix sparkling water leaving the store.

They attempted to stop the three young women after they got inside Daly’s Trailblazer. Daly’s suit said she was terrified when the plainclothes agents surrounded her car and banged on the windows ordering her to roll them down.

After one agent drew a gun and another jumped on the car hood, she said she panicked, unsure they were agents, and fled in her vehicle, grazing two of them. She was arrested for assaulting the agents and for failing to stop, and released from jail the next day.

The charges were later dropped and the arrest and court records expunged. In November, the suit alleges, ABC released an investigation that said agents violated policy concerning the drawn weapon and striking the car window with a flashlight.

L. Steven Emmert, a Virginia Beach lawyer, said that in general, there are several other reasons why defendants may move a case from state to federal court.

One is speed — federal courts tend to be faster and defendants with more lawyers and legal support may see an advantage over plaintiffs with fewer lawyers who must perform more work in less time.

Also, in state court, summary judgment motions — ones requesting suits be tossed out prior to trial — are not a preferred resolution of a case, while in federal court, judges effectively test the sufficiency of the plaintiff’s case before it ever gets to a jury, Emmert said.

Finally, he said, a jury drawn only from Richmond may be considered more liberal, based on demographics, than a federal jury for which jurors could be drawn from more conservative jurisdictions and therefore be more inclined to favor those being sued.