Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Munson Hardisty, LLC v. Legacy Pointe Apartments, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

May 30, 2017

MUNSON HARDISTY, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
LEGACY POINTE APARTMENTS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This civil matter is before the Court on defendant's Objection [Doc. 56] to United States Magistrate Judge C. Clifford Shirley Jr.'s December 8, 2016, Order [Doc. 54]. Plaintiff responded to the objection [Doc. 64], and defendant replied [Doc. 66].[1] For the reasons explained herein, the Court will affirm the ruling of the magistrate judge.

         I. Standard of Review[2]

         The Motion to Disqualify Counsel [Doc. 17] was before the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). That provision states: “A judge of the court may reconsider any pretrial matter under [28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)] where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A)]. Moreover, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) provides that a district judge must “set aside any part of [a nondispositive] order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). As the instant matter is nondispositive, this Court will consider defendant's objection and set aside the magistrate judge's order only if it is “clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Nisus Corp. v. Perma-Chink Sys., Inc., 327 F.Supp.2d 844, 848 (E.D. Tenn. 2003). This standard mandates that the district court affirm the magistrate's decision unless, “on the entire evidence, [it] is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Heights Cmty. Congress v. Hilltop Realty, Inc., 774 F.2d 135, 140 (6th Cir. 1985).

         II. Analysis

         Judge Shirley disqualified defendant's counsel Long, Ragsdale & Waters (“LRW”) from this case based on his finding that LRW attorney Taylor Forrester was substantially involved in the representation of plaintiff in a related case. Defendant objects to the disqualification, arguing that it is clearly erroneous because: 1) Judge Shirley improperly relied on the Bond Action to disqualify LRW; 2) the Order applied the incorrect legal standard by improperly conflating exposure to allegedly confidential information with substantial involvement; and 3) the Order erroneously relied upon plaintiff counsel's description of undisclosed documents not in the record in holding that plaintiff had carried its burden of proof. Defendant also argues that in the event that the Court disagrees with defendant's objections, the Court should defer a ruling to permit the state court handling the Interpleader Action to determine the disqualification issue. The Court will address each of these arguments in turn.

         A. Whether the Disqualification Is Based on the Bond Action

         Defendant first contends that the Order is clearly erroneous because Judge Shirley relied upon the Bond Action in disqualifying LRW. Defendant argues that any reliance on the Bond Action was improper because it was not pending at the time Forrester changed firms.

         The Court has considered this argument in light of the Order, and finds that it is not well taken. While Judge Shirley did find in the Order that both the Bond Action and the Interpleader Action are substantially related to this case, Judge Shirley actually based the disqualification on the fact that Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action, not the Bond Action [See Doc. 54 p. 19 (“Accordingly, the Court finds that Attorney Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action and that pursuant to Rule 1.10(d) LRW is disqualified from this case.”)]. Therefore, because Judge Shirley based LRW's disqualification on Forrester's substantial involvement in the Interpleader Action and not the Bond Action, the Court will overrule defendant's objection in this regard.

         B. Finding of Substantial Involvement

         Defendant next contends that Judge Shirley applied the incorrect legal standard in disqualifying LRW. Specifically, defendant argues that instead of basing the disqualification on whether Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action, Judge Shirley based the disqualification on the fact that Forrester was exposed to confidential information in that case. In particular, defendant points to portions of the Order that state that Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action “because he was privy to conversations that involved theories, ” and because he had access to plaintiff's file [Doc. 54 p. 18]. Thus, defendant asserts that the Order “erroneously equates the access to confidential information with being substantially involved in the Interpleader Action” [Doc. 57 p. 12].

         The Court notes that while Judge Shirley did base his finding of substantial involvement in part on the fact that Forrester was privy to conversations that involved theories, Forrester's presence and participation in these conversations shows more than the mere access to confidential information. Rather, as Judge Shirley noted, it shows that Forrester participated in strategic telephone conferences, and even possibly at one point summarized the legal theory of the Interpleader Action [Doc. 54 p. 18]. Furthermore, Judge Shirley also based his decision that Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action in part on Forrester's participation in a deposition [Doc. 54 p. 18]. Indeed, Forrester concedes in his declaration that he was the attorney covering this deposition [Doc. 26 pp. 3-4]. Therefore, because the activities Judge Shirley described go far beyond the access to confidential information, defendant's argument that Judge Shirley misapplied the standard for substantial involvement by conflating it with access to confidential information is not well taken.

         While defendant argues that Forrester's participation in the conferences and deposition do not rise to the level of substantial involvement due to Forrester's status as an associate attorney and the limited preparation required for the deposition, it is not the Court's role to substitute its judgment for that of Judge Shirley. Rather, “the clearly erroneous standard only requires the reviewing court to determine if there is any evidence to support the magistrate judge's finding and that the finding was reasonable.” See Nisus Corp. v. Perma-Chink Sys., Inc., 327 F.Supp.2d 844, 851 (E.D. Tenn. 2003). Forrester's participation in the deposition, as well as his participation in discussions of legal theories, constitutes evidence that supports Judge Shirley's conclusion that Forrester was substantially involved in the Interpleader Action.[3] In addition, Judge Shirley's conclusion is supported by other evidence in the record, such as the affidavit of John Hardisty [See e.g., Doc. 17-1 pp. 3-4 (“Mr. Forrester was also involved in discussions with my California counsel concerning, inter alia, strategy in the litigation in several jurisdictions . . . .”)].

         In sum, the Court finds that Judge Shirley did not apply an incorrect standard for substantial involvement, and the Court will ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.