United States District Court, W.D. Washington
For Global Enterprises, LLC, Plaintiff: John R Neeleman, Kristin Beneski, LEAD ATTORNEYS, LANE POWELL PC, SEATTLE, WA.
For Montgomery Purdue Blankinship & Austin PLLC, Defendant: Bradley S Keller, Keith David Petrak, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Devon S Richards, BYRNES KELLER CROMWELL LLP, SEATTLE, WA.
THOMAS S. ZILLY, United States District Judge.
THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment, docket no. 31. Having considered the motion, all materials filed in support of and opposition thereto, and the arguments of counsel, the Court enters the following Order.
Plaintiff Global Enterprises, LLC (" Global" ) alleges that Defendant Montgomery Purdue Blankinship & Austin (" MPBA" ) committed professional negligence and breached fiduciary duties owed to Global. MPBA represented Global in one case (the " Richard Stabbert case" ), in which MPBA succeeded in having all claims against Global dismissed. Global now seeks to hold MPBA responsible for the outcome of a completely separate case.
Based upon MPBA's representation of Global in the Richard Stabbert case, Global argues that MPBA also represented Global in a completely separate case (the " EVYA case" ). Global was represented in the EVYA case by its long term law firm, Bauer Moynihan & Johnson (" BMJ" ) and MPBA appeared in the EVYA case on behalf of Global's co-defendant, Maritime Management Services, Inc. (" MMSI" ). Global also argues that even if MPBA did not represent Global in EVYA, MPBA's fiduciary duties to Global, arising from the Richard Stabbert case, required MPBA to intervene on Global's behalf in the EVYA case.
The Court finds Global's arguments to be completely without merit. The Court has reviewed the entire record and concludes that no reasonable person could believe that MPBA represented Global in the EVYA case. Furthermore, the Court concludes that MPBA's representation of Global in the Richard Stabbert case did not create a duty to intervene in the EVYA case. For the reasons explained below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
A. The EVYA Case
The EVYA case arose from a commercial maritime charter between Global and two Mexican companies, which provided for the use of Global's 270-foot vessel, the Global Explorer. Steuart Decl., docket no. 44, at ¶ 3. Global hired MMSI to operate the Global Explorer during the charter. Id. at ¶ 4. In May, 2006, Frank Steuart, Global's manager, became aware of issues with the charter, including unsafe diving practices and lack of insurance. Id. at ¶ 6. After several weeks of negotiation to cure the breaches of the charter, Global eventually terminated the charter based on the Mexican companies' refusal to pay past due amounts. Id. at ¶ 11. Global took the vessel to Dos Bacos, Mexico, and then to
Houston, Texas, where the Mexican companies' equipment was inventoried, packed and shipped back to Mexico. Id. at ¶ ¶ 14-15.
In January, 2009, the Mexican companies sued Global, Steuart and his wife, MMSI, MMSI's owner Trevor Stabbert and his wife, and Global employee Perrusquia. Id. at ¶ ¶ 16, 18. Steuart and his wife retained the firm of BMJ to represent Global and the Steuarts. Id. at ¶ 16. BMJ, concerned about a potential conflict of interest between Global and MMSI, referred MMSI to Mike Gossler of MPBA, and Stabbert hired Gossler to represent MMSI. Id. at ¶ ¶ 18-19. Steuart, on behalf of Global, agreed to fully indemnify MMSI and assumed full financial responsibility of the litigation, including paying MMSI's attorney fees. Id. at ¶ 20.
In addition to representing MMSI, Gossler was asked by Steuart to represent Perrusquia, a Global employee. Id. at ¶ 31. Perrusquia and Steuart, on behalf of Global, signed an engagement letter with MPBA setting forth Gossler's representation. Id. at ¶ 31; Neeleman Decl., docket no. 46, Ex. 27. The engagement letter states that although Global was paying the fees, Perrusquia was the client. Neeleman Decl. Ex. 27. Perrusquia was dismissed from the case because he was not properly served. Steuart Decl. at ¶ 31.
Following a bench trial in October to November, 2010, the court concluded that Global had terminated the charter in bad faith, and entered judgment against Global for approximately $8.4 million.
B. The Richard Stabbert Case
Richard Stabbert, Trevor Stabbert's estranged step-father, worked for Global procuring charters. Id. at ¶ 24. In May, 2009, Richard Stabbert filed suit against Global and Steuart, claiming he was owed commissions from charters he procured, including a claim that he lost commissions due to Global's termination of the EVYA charter, and that he was sued in Mexico over Global's termination of the charter and forced to pay attorney fees to defend himself. Id. at ¶ ¶ 25-26. Richard Stabbert was represented in the case by the same attorneys who represented the plaintiffs in the EVYA case. Id. at ¶ 25. Steuart hired MPBA to represent Steuart and Global in the Richard Stabbert case, signing an engagement letter with MPBA in June, 2009. Id. at ¶ 29; Neeleman Decl., Ex. 25.
C. MPBA's Role in the EVYA Case
In the EVYA Case, BMJ represented Global Explorer, LLC, Global Enterprises, LLC, and the Steuarts. See BMJ Notice of Appearance, docket no. 36-8, at 57. MPBA represented MMSI and the Stabberts. See MPBA Notice of Appearance, docket no. 36-8, at 60. On February 9, 2009, all of these EVYA defendants, through their respective attorneys, signed a Joint Defense Agreement, agreeing to share information jointly without waiving any applicable privilege. Agreement, Neeleman Decl., docket no. 46, Ex. 22.
Prior to trial, Steuart does not recall Gossler or MPBA ever suggesting it had any role in the EVYA case except as attorneys
for MMSI and Perrusquai. Steuart Dep. at 209-210. Furthermore, Steuart admits that he " didn't have a great deal of interaction," with Gossler " except specifically on the Stabbert related case, up until the trial." Id. at 247:22-24.
In September, 2010, more than nineteen months after the EVYA case was filed, and one month before trial, the defendants in the EVYA case met with the Tsongas trial consulting firm (the " Tsongas meeting" ). Steuart asserts that Gossler offered substantial recommendations at the Tsongas meeting, id. at 217, but could not recall anything that Gossler said or did at the meeting. Id. at 221. Nevertheless, this is the point where Steuart contends he subjectively believed MPBA had become an attorney for Global in the EVYA case. Id. at 239:4-13; 248. However, Steuart admits that Trevor Stabbert also attended the meeting, that it was appropriate for Stabbert to have his attorney there, and that Steuart did not believe anything was said in the meeting about Gossler's role changing to something other than separate counsel for MMSI. Id. at 221:24-222:22.
It is undisputed that at trial in the EVYA case, Matt Crane from BMJ appeared on behalf of Steuart and Global, while Gossler of MPBA appeared on behalf of MMSI. Throughout trial, each attorney identified himself as representing his specific client. Each attorney also questioned witnesses and gave closing argument on behalf of his client, despite objection by counsel for plaintiffs in that case that only one attorney should be allowed to question witnesses on behalf of all defendants. See Trial Transcript, Petrak Decl. Ex. D, docket no. 36-1, at pp. 46-48 of 95. During trial, Steuart sent many emails to Crane but never to Gossler. Steuart Dep. at 251-252.
Steuart nevertheless asserts that he believed Gossler was representing Global's interests in the EVYA case. Steuart Decl. at ¶ 32. Steuart based his belief on several facts: (1) Global was ultimately paying all of the attorney fees MPBA billed to MMSI; (2) Gossler attended and participated in the Tsongas meeting; (3) Steuart had a conversation with Crane regarding whether Gossler should attend trial; (4) Gossler was representing Global in the Richard Stabbert case while the EVYA case was ongoing; (5) Steuart would have discussions with Crane and Gossler during breaks; (6) Steuart would ask Gossler for his thoughts on things occurring during trial; and (7) Crane would ask Gossler if he had any thoughts after examining witnesses. Steuart Dep., docket no. 45-6, at 215-218, 225-228.
In addition, Steuart generally claims that Gossler gave him advice regarding the EVYA case and discussed both the EVYA case and the Richard Stabbert case with him. Steuart Decl. at ¶ ¶ 32, 35. Global provides two emails from Gossler to Steuart, both dealing solely with the Richard Stabbert case, and mentioning EVYA only to the extent there was a conflict between the trial dates. See Neeleman Decl. Exs. 26, 28. In another email, Steuart requests an update on the Richard Stabbert case, and Gossler states that he " filed motions to compel discovery in both cases (on behalf ...