Risk Update

Freivogel Findings — Adequate Ethical Screening in Pennsylvania (Playbooks mention), Former Clients, Joint Representations and More

Friend, BRB reader, and “Conflicts Godfather” Bill Freivogel has been as eagle eyed as ever, keeping up with 2022 developments. Here are some of the latest he’s noted:

Rudlavage v. PPL Elec. Utils. Corp., No. 237 MDA 2021 (Pa. App. Jan. 4, 2022); and, Darrow v. PPL Elec. Utils Corp., 2021 Pa. Super. 245 (Pa. App. Dec. 14, 2021).

  • “One should read these two cases together. They involve two different motorists who were injured at two different times while driving on PPL’s property. They filed separate suits in Lackawanna County Pennsylvania, each claiming PPL was negligent in maintaining its property. The Munley Law firm represented the plaintiffs in both cases.”
  • “The problem was that the Munley firm employed a lawyer, John Mulcahey, who had previously, at another law firm, Lenahan & Dempsey, represented PPL in ‘numerous personal injury lawsuits.'”
  • “In Darrow, Mulcahey and the Munley firm appeared for the plaintiff. PPL moved to disqualify Mulcahey and the Munley firm. The trial court granted the motion as to Mulcahey, but deferred ruling as to the Munley firm. In Rudlavage, two lawyers at the Munley firm (but not Mulcahey) appeared for the plaintiff. In Rudlavage, PPL moved to disqualify the Munley firm.”
  • “The trial court held a joint evidentiary hearing for both cases as to the Munley firm. The trial court denied disqualification, finding the firm’s ‘screening process. . . adequate.'”
  • “In these opinions the appellate court reversed the trial court and ordered the Munley firm disqualified. The focus of the opinions was the adequacy of the firm’s screen between Mulcahey and the rest of the firm. The factors favoring disqualification here included the small size of the Munley firm, the extent of Mulcahey’s work for PPL at the Lenahan firm, the lateness of the screen, and the lack of adequate procedures for screens in the Munley firm.”
  • “These could be important opinions on screening in Pennsylvania, given the lack of, in the court’s words, ‘precedential Pennsylvania authority’ on screening under Pennsylvania’s Rule 1.10(b)(2). Authorities considered by the appellate court included Dworkin v. General Motors Corp., 906 F. Supp. 273 (E.D. Pa. 1995), and Maritrans GP, Inc. v. Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, 602 a.2d 1277 (Pa. 1992).”
  • “Side note: In both the Darrow and Rudlavage opinions the court gives a nod to ‘playbook,’ noting that Mulcahey’s work for PPL involved working with PPL personnel on similar cases, thus finding that work ‘substantially related’ to these cases.”

H&H Mfg. Co., Inc. v. Tomei, No. A-4209-19 (N.J. App. Div. Dec. 29, 2021).

  • “This is one of two cases involving a family feud and control of the family corporation, H&H. In the first case, in Pennsylvania, Law Firm filed papers on behalf of H&H and a family member, Vincent Tomei, against another family member, Thomas Tomei. That suit failed because the courts found, among other things, that the H&H board never approved retention of Law Firm or the suit’s filing.”
  • “In the second case (this case) filed by H&H against Vincent, Law Firm appeared for Vincent. H&H moved to disqualify Law Firm, under Rule 1.9(a), because of Law Firm’s ‘representation’ of H&H in the Pennsylvania case.”
  • “The trial court granted the motion. In this opinion the Appellate Division disagreed, finding that Law Firm’s earlier, unauthorized, representation of H&H did not amount to a representation under Rule 1.9(a). Thus, Law Firm’s work in the Pennsylvania case was not disqualifying. But, in the face of claims that Law Firm had represented H&H in other matters, the Appellate Division remanded the case for findings on those claims.”

CCUR Aviation Fin., LLC v. S. Aviation, Inc., 2021 WL 6111683 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 27, 2021).

  • “This opinion deals with a temporary receiver’s application for fees and expenses. One objection was that the receiver hired her own law firm to represent her, thus creating a conflict of interest. The court rejected that objection saying that the practice of receivers’ hiring their own law firms is ‘common’ in the S.D. Fla. Plus, in Footnote 4 the court noted that the receiver agreed to a cap on the law firm’s hourly rates, and that the rates were ‘reasonable.'”

Arnold v. Solomon, No. 2053, Sept. Term, 2019 (Md. Spec. App. Unreported Dec. 22, 2021).

  • “Lawyer and others were defendants in this legal malpractice suit. In this “unreported” opinion the court, without discussion, ruled that, absent a conflict of interest, Lawyer could represent himself and other defendants. The opinion did not indicate who the “other defendants” were or what they might have done.”

(Bill, thanks as always for letting me crib your class notes. I’m ready for the day you call on me to “do a service.’ >smile<)