'Screenplay' filed in federal court pits grandma against state high court

Unconventional approach may leave attorney open to sanctions or discipline

By Pat Murphy
BridgeTower Media Newswires

 BOSTON — A Massachusetts attorney recently gave free rein to his creative impulses in filing a federal lawsuit to vindicate the civil rights of a grandmother who had her driver’s license suspended after being cited for alleged misuse of her husband’s handicap parking placard.

Ilya Liviz wrote the complaint in Maslyakova v. Supreme Judicial Court loosely in the form of a movie screenplay. Labeled a “Legal Code Jurist production,” the complaint/screenplay sets forth a “plot,” with the story told in six acts.

As is true with any effective Hollywood pitch, Liviz summarizes what the lawsuit is all about in a single sentence: “What began as a simple ticket appeal, turned into a Grandma’s bold fight for access to justice!”

The leading character, “Grandma,” is played by plaintiff Lyudmila S. Maslyakova. The lawsuit describes Grandma as a senior citizen married “to the only man she has ever known for more than fifty years.” She’s also partially disabled and qualifies for a handicap parking placard for herself.

Act I is set on a “normal, sunny day”— April 18, 2016, in fact. Grandma drives her husband to a store in Lynn where she parks in a handicap parking spot. The vehicle displays her husband’s placard in the rear window. As the love of her life goes into the store, Grandma begins to pull out of the space to do some shopping elsewhere when a police cruiser arrives at the scene.

The stage directions tell what happens next.

“Slight shadow appears as the officer approaches the unsuspecting Grandma, with his vehicle blocking her in, and the lights fully flashing; the officer approaches her with full governmental authority, with a gun, with mace/pepper spray, handcuffs, authoritative demeanor, radio is making chirping and other sounds, and begins to interrogate,” the complaint states.

Meanwhile, Grandma is “confused and struggles to locate her driving license, registration and is unable to explain as to why it was her husband’s and not her handicap placard hanging from the rear-view window.”

The officer writes her a ticket for handicap parking plate/placard misuse in violation of G.L.c. 90, §2. Grandma is required to pay a fee of $505 and faces a suspension of her license if the ticket is not overturned.

Alas, in Act II Grandma fails to convince the Lynn District Court that she shouldn’t be responsible for using someone else’s handicap placard. She then retains Liviz, but the District Court rejects the attorney’s motion for reconsideration. Act III sees Grandma suffering a similar fate in the Appellate Division of the District Court.

In Act IV, the Appeals Court first denies Grandma’s request to stay the suspension of her license. Then in February, the Appeals Court enters a dismissal on the ground that her appeal from the District Court was untimely (Liviz insists all the requirements of his client’s notice of appeal were met).

In Act V, Grandma goes to the SJC with a petition for review. All for naught, however. According to her suit, the court refuses to even docket the case.

Like the U.S. Cavalry in any good western, Act VI is a plea for the federal court to come to Grandma’s “rescue.”

The complaint seeks monetary, injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging a number of claims including injury “based on procedural due process, denial of access to the highest court [and] a violation of Fifth & Fourteenth Amendments that are administratively regulated by Honorable Justices of the state’s highest court who are defendants to this litigation.”

In a letter filed the day after Grandma’s lawsuit, Liviz asks U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani to indulge his filing the complaint in the form of a screenplay.

He concludes: “I hope this letter succeeded in laying the proper foundation for me to urge this Honorable Court, to not form any opinions as to the validity of my client’s Civil Rights Complaint ... and in further support thereof I leave you with: ‘your kids will love it.’”

Liviz declines to be interviewed but in an email clarifies that Maslyakova is not his grandmother. The attorney maintains that his client’s complaint conforms to the requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Liviz says he’s not concerned over whether the form of the complaint might obscure his legal points, which he thinks “should be obvious.”

Nor is he concerned that Judge Talwani may see the complaint as frivolous.

“In fact, if there was a finding that it was ‘frivolous,’ it would probably be beneficial because I would be able to actually get a ‘hearing’ and have an opportunity to ‘back-door’ the complaint’s legal arguments that are undeniable,” he writes.

But could his unconventional approach leave him open to sanctions or discipline? Liviz is philosophical, writing that the “loss of ability to practice law is not the risk I am concerned with, but living with regret for failing to act is.”