The legal saga surrounding a former volunteer at the Southampton Animal Shelter is finally poised to be heard by a jury.
A federal judge last week declined to dismiss charges of conspiracy brought by former volunteer Patricia Lynch against Southampton Town officials and the private foundation that now operates the shelter.
The judge did toss out other charges of discrimination leveled by Ms. Lynch, a Southampton resident who has sued the town and operators of the shelter three times, and been sued once in return, over its operating policies and continued refusals to let her volunteer at the shelter.
In his decision, Federal District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt said that the issue of whether town officials sought to influence the decision of private employees at the shelter to deny Ms. Lynch volunteer privileges was one that would have to be settled at trial.
“We’re excited that a jury is going to hear what happened to her and about them preventing her from exercising her First Amendment rights,” Ms. Lynch’s attorney Steve Morelli said. “We’re very pleased about that—it will all be public record once this thing goes to trial.”
Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato did not return a phone call seeking comment on the case.
Ms. Lynch claims that her application to volunteer at the shelter was denied by employees of the now privately run shelter as retaliation for her lawsuits against the town in the years it ran the shelter.
The 27-page decision traces the circuitous details of Ms. Lynch’s turbid involvement with the shelter as a volunteer. The legal jousting began in 2004, when the volunteer dog-walker filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the shelter’s practice of euthanizing some unadoptable dogs.
She lost the suit and, three days after the decision was issued, was informed by the director of the then town-operated shelter, Donald Bambrick, that she could no longer volunteer at the shelter. Ms. Lynch again sued, charging that her dismissal was retaliation for her exercising her right of free speech. She won the case and was awarded more than $100,000 in damages.
In 2010, she appeared in person at the shelter, which had been taken over by the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation, to volunteer. According to accounts of testimony in Judge Spatt’s decsion, Ms. Lynch apparently expected to be allowed to walk dogs immediately and became angry and “began to protest loudly” when she was told she’d have to fill out an application and wait to have it reviewed before she would be allowed to volunteer.
Her application was ultimately denied by shelter employee Susan Kelly based on, according to her testimony, Ms. Lynch’s disruptive conduct the day she filed her application, which she had personally witnessed, her “general litigious nature,” and information that she had been given by other shelter employees and volunteers that Ms. Lynch had a habit of being disruptive and disregarding shelter regulations.
But in her lawsuit, Ms. Lynch pointed to communications between Ms. Kelly and the shelter’s former director, Mr. Bambrick, who was at the time working both for the shelter and for the town. She claimed that Mr. Bambrick, who she had named as a defendant in her earlier suit, had conspired with Ms. Kelly to bar Ms. Lynch from volunteering.
Ms. Lynch, who for a time wrote a column, “Shelter Stories,” for The Press, is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for emotional distress and restriction of her civil rights.
“This is a really important principle, and the only way they are going to understand it is if they have to pay again,” Mr. Morelli said. He added that he expects the judge to set a trial date sometime in the next few months.