The Ford logo is seen at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, United States, January 15, 2019. REUTERS / Brendan McDermid
(Reuters) – Here’s a weird little civil procedure conundrum: What does a former Girardi Keese lawyer accused of embezzling clients’ money have in common with Ford Motor Company?
Answer: Both have tried to beat the cases against them by challenging the specific personal jurisdiction of a tribunal – and both have failed.
You probably remember Ford’s failed attempt at the start of the year to persuade the United States Supreme Court to impose a severe test to determine where plaintiffs can bring their lawsuits against the corporate defendants.
Ford was challenging Montana and Minnesota state supreme court rulings that allowed accident victims to sue for product liability – even though Ford did not manufacture or sell the used vehicles involved in the incidents. accidents within state borders – because the company has submitted to the jurisdiction of the courts by conducting extensive cases in their states.
Ford urged the judges to require a causal link between the activities of a company and the alleged injuries of the plaintiff. But in a ruling in March, the Supreme Court refused to adopt Ford’s proposed causation test, instead confirming that a court can exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a defendant as long as the plaintiff’s claims are related to the conduct. of the defendant in the State.
Last December, while the Ford case was before the judges, Chicago law firm Edelson launched charges that have since turned into an epic law firm scandal. Edelson filed a lawsuit, alleging that famous plaintiffs lawyer Tom Girardi and his law firm Girardi Keese embezzled money that belonged to clients who settled claims arising from the 2018 Boeing 737 MAX crash piloted by Lion Air.
Edelson, who was Girardi’s co-counsel in the Lion Air business in Chicago, sought to establish a trust for Girardi’s former Lion Air customers and, once those customers received the proceeds of the settlement, to recover the fees. of co-advice that Girardi owed to Edelson.
After Edelson’s allegations, Girardi and his company were forced into bankruptcy. Bankruptcy trustees are now investigating the alleged transfer of millions of dollars from the company to Girardi’s ex-wife, reality TV star Erika Jayne Girardi.
Edelson’s claims against Girardi and his company have been suspended due to the ongoing bankruptcy. But Edelson’s complaint also named two other attorneys who had worked at Girardi Keese, David Lira and Keith Griffin, whom Edelson accused of complicity in the alleged scheme to embezzle client funds.
Lawyers for Griffin and Lira vehemently deny that their clients have misappropriated their clients’ money. Lira’s attorney, Edith Matthai of Robie & Matthai, told me that Edelson’s complaint was riddled with factual errors. Griffin’s attorney, Rosen Saba’s Ryan Saba, said via email that Griffin was an employee of Girardi Keese with no control over the company’s finances. “Mr. Griffin is devastated and is also angry that customers haven’t been paid their settlement money,” the email said. Griffin has spent months and months trying to get Mr. Girardi to keep his promises and obligations.
Lira and Griffin both asked last winter to dismiss Edelson’s claims. Lira mainly argued that due to Girardi Keese’s bankruptcy, the case should be stayed or taken to bankruptcy court. Griffin argued that the Illinois courts did not have jurisdiction over him. (You knew this was going to happen, right?)
Griffin, a California resident, argued he had no business connection with Illinois. Edelson alleged that Griffin signed one of the contracts establishing the co-counsel agreement between Edelson and Girardi Keese, that Griffin was granted pro hac vice admission to appear in the Lion Air cases, and that Griffin contacted the attorneys from Edelson, Illinois.
Griffin countered that in all of these capacities he was simply acting as an employee of Girardi Keese, and not as an individual using Illinois laws and protections. Further, he said, Edelson’s allegations of wrongdoing all stem from actions in California, not Illinois.
The Supreme Court had not rendered its ruling in Ford when Griffin requested that the lawsuit against Edelson be dismissed. But Edelson’s April 27 opposition to motions to dismiss the defendants cited the decision liberally. Ford’s opinion, Edelson said, clarified that plaintiffs are not required to allege that their injuries were due to a defendant’s conduct in a particular forum in order to establish the jurisdiction of that forum. “Accordingly, the specific personal jurisdiction investigation here cannot be limited to the narrow set of actions that could have caused Edelson’s injury,” Edelson’s brief said.
Griffin’s response brief insisted that the Ford Supreme Court decision does not apply to his case, which involves an individual who did not have significant contact with Illinois rather than a company doing important cases in the states where she was prosecuted.
But in a notice issued Monday denying Griffin’s motion to dismiss, Chicago’s U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly said Ford was on the verge. “Griffin argues that all of the alleged wrongdoing which led to this lawsuit took place in California and therefore the court cannot exercise jurisdiction over him,” Kennelly wrote. “This argument is similar to that advanced by the petitioner in Ford Motor. The Supreme Court rejected it, and so did this court.
Griffin, the judge said, is said to have come to Illinois and appeared in Illinois courts in the Lion Air litigation, which is at the heart of Edelson’s claims. In the Supreme Court’s reasoning in Ford, Kennelly said, “Griffin’s contacts with Illinois are undoubtedly related to Edelson’s claims,” giving him jurisdiction to hear the case.
Admittedly, Monday’s decision was not a complete victory for Edelson, who did not respond to my email request. Kennelly concluded that Edelson did not have constitutional standing to apply for a constructive trust on behalf of former Lion Air customers who are no longer represented by Edelson or Girardi. The judge said Edelson had standing to sue a trust to recover his unpaid attorney fees, but stayed that claim because it relates to Girardi’s bankruptcies.
Griffin’s attorney, Saba, said he would “vigorously” defend any attempt by Edelson to hold his client personally responsible for the unpaid charges in the Lion case.
Erika Jayne Girardi changes lawyer as Dinsmore leaves case again
Tom Girardi and reality TV star’s wife sued for alleged theft of Lion Air settlement funds
Supreme Court rejects Ford’s offer for new limits to specific jurisdiction
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