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Roosevelt Irrigation District v. Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 2, 2013

Roosevelt Irrigation District, a political subdivision of the State of Arizona, Plaintiff,
v.
Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

G. MURRAY SNOW, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court is Defendants Honeywell International, Inc., Corning Incorporated, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, Dolphin Incorporated, Univar USA Incorporated, Union Pacific Railroad Company, Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. and Air Liquide America Specialty Gases, LLC's ("Moving Defendants")[1] Motion for the Complete Disqualification of Gallagher & Kennedy, and Memorandum of Points and Authorities (Doc. 664). Plaintiff Roosevelt Irrigation District's ("RID") filed its response (Doc. 691), and at this Court's invitation, Gallagher & Kennedy ("G&K") also responded (Doc. 688). Accordingly, moving Defendants filed replies (Docs. 696 & 697). RID's Sur-Response in Opposition to Motion for Complete Disqualification of Gallagher and Kennedy (Doc. 718) seeking leave to file a sur-response is also pending at this time. Oral argument regarding Moving Defendants' motion was heard on September 24, 2013. Pursuant to Rules 72.1 and 72.2 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure, this matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Macdonald for pretrial case management. As discussed below, the Court will grant RID's motion for sur-response, and deny Moving Defendants' request for complete disqualification.

I. RID'S SUR-RESPONSE

The Court having reviewed RID's Sur-Response in Opposition to Motion for Complete Disqualification of Gallagher and Kennedy (Doc. 718) and no opposition having been filed, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to file the sur-response.

II. MOTION FOR COMPLETE DISQUALIFICATION

Moving Defendants seek an Order from this Court requiring Gallagher & Kennedy ("G&K") to:

disengage in any representation of RID regarding the [West Van Buren Area Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund] WVB WQARF site, including specifically that G&K (1) will not have any contact with [the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality] ADEQ or any other body, directly or indirectly, that is related in any way to remedial actions that are or may become the subject of cost recovery under the [Second Amended Complaint] SAC; (2) will immediately cease from having any contacts with consultants to RID who are related in any way to the remedial actions that are the subject of cost recovery in the SAC; and (3) will disengage from any work that it might be doing on any other alleged RID response action, the costs of which will be sought in this matter.

Mot. for the Complete Disqual. of G&K and Mem. of Points and Authorities (Doc. 664) at 18.

A. Background

On February 9, 2010, G&K on behalf of Plaintiff RID filed a Complaint (Doc. 1) for inter alia the recovery of costs pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 9601 et seq. ("CERCLA"). On July 23, 2010, RID filed its First Amended Complaint ("FAC") (Doc. 10). Shortly after the filing of the FAC, several Defendants filed motions to disqualify G&K as counsel for RID. See Order 8/26/2011 (Doc. 468). After additional submissions by the parties and oral argument, Judge Ezra entered a detailed and thorough analysis regarding the disqualification issue. Id. Ultimately, G&K was disqualified as to five (5) Defendants, Honeywell, Corning, Univar, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District ("SRP") and Dolphin, and required RID to obtain new counsel to represent it adverse to these Defendants in this litigation. Id. at 126.

Subsequent to the Court's August 26, 2011 Order (Doc. 468), RID sought to substitute Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman and Balint, P.C. ("BFFB") for G&K with respect to Defendants Corning, Dolphin, Honeywell, SRP, Union Pacific Railroad and Univar (Doc. 478). RID also sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 479). The Defendants with whom G&K had a conflict, objected to the manner by which RID was implementing the Court's August 26, 2011 Order (Doc. 468). See Hr'g Tr. 1/4/2012 (Doc. 490) at 10:11-15, 11:5-9, 23:13-21. At that time, Judge Ezra requested additional briefing on the implementation issue, and made clear that he would not be revisiting the August 26, 2011 Order (Doc. 468). Hr'g Tr. 1/4/2012 (Doc. 490) at 23:13-24:5.

The relevant parties filed additional briefing and oral argument was heard; however, prior to the Court issuing its Order regarding the implementation issue, RID dismissed the conflict Defendants. See Notice of Voluntary Dismissal (Doc. 525). The same Defendants were returned to this litigation through Third-Party complaints, and renewed their objections to the enforcement of the Court's disqualification Order. See Third-Party Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Enforce Disqualification Order (Doc. 580).

On May 20, 2013, G&K filed its Ex Parte Application for Substitution of Counsel with Client Consent (Doc. 619). The motion stated in relevant part that:

G&K seeks to withdraw completely as RID's counsel in this civil action to terminate the ongoing disqualification motion practice, so as to allow RID to move quickly to the merits of its case through new counsel. G&K will not in the future seek to enter an appearance as counsel for any party in this civil action.

Id. at 2. Accordingly, the following day Judge Ezra issued an Order 5/21/2013 (Doc. 620) accepting the substitution of BFFB for G&K in this cause of action. In doing so, Judge Ezra stated, "[b]ecause G&K no longer represents Roosevelt Irrigation District in this case, the Renewed Motion to Enforce Disqualification Order (doc. # 580) brought by Third-Party Defendants Corning Inc., Dolphin Inc., Honeywell International Inc., Union Pacific Railroad Company, Univar USA Inc., and Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District and the Motion to Disqualify Counsel for Plaintiff (doc. # 615) brought by Third-Party Defendant Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. are therefore DENIED AS MOOT." Id. at 2 (emphasis in original). Since Judge Ezra's Order, BFFB has remained counsel for RID in this case. Except for its limited appearance for purposes of the pending motion, G&K has not appeared before this Court with regard to the current litigation since May 21, 2013.

B. Analysis

Through the current motion, Moving Defendants seek this Court to reach beyond the boundaries of the case pending before it, to disqualify G&K as RID's counsel in proceedings before the ADEQ. It is undisputed that this Court has the authority and responsibility to regulate the conduct of attorneys appearing before it. Wharton v. Calderon, 127 F.3d 1201, 1206 (9th Cir. 1997); Erickson v. Newmar Corp., 87 F.3d 298, 300 (9th Cir. 1996); Paul E. Iacono Structural Engineer v. Humphrey, 722 F.2d 435, 438 (9th Cir. 1983); Trone v. Smith, 621 F.2d 994, 999 (9th Cir. 1980); See also Standing Comm. on Discipline of the USDC for the S. Dist. of Ca. v. Ross, 735 F.2d 1168, 1170 (9th Cir. 1984). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Wharton stated, however, that the district court is not authorized to "reach out and regulate' attorneys not appearing before it." Wharton, 127 F.3d at 1206 (emphasis added) (reviewing the Iacono decision regarding the authority of the district court to regulate the ethical behavior of attorneys).

Moving Defendants argue that "[w]hile not counsel of record, [G&K] are acting as de facto co-counsel or the agent of RID's current counsel in working to establish the elements of RID's CERCLA claims against the Conflict Defendants, thereby assisting in RID's efforts to recover its alleged damages from them." Defs.' Mot. for Complete Disqual. of G&K (Doc. 664) at 12-13. In support of this argument, Moving Defendants rely on Rella v. N. Atl. Marine, Ltd., 2004 WL 2480409 (SDNY) to demonstrate that these alleged actions by G&K make their disqualification from this case illusory. Moving Defendants reliance on Rella is misplaced. The Rella court specifically held:

Manifestly, it would be pointless to disqualify a lawyer from representing a client in the courtroom because of his possession of privileged information of an adversary, and then to permit the lawyer to go on representing that very client behind the scenes as co-counsel with another attorney who takes on the public face of the representation. By granting Global's motion, the Court prohibits the Friedrich firm from undertaking any involvement on the part of Freedom in this litigation, including advising new counsel on strategy or sitting at counsel table... during the trial[.]'"

Rella, 2009 WL 2480409 at *7. As counsel for G&K averred at oral argument, "there is not one shred of evidence to suggest that Gallagher & Kennedy is secretly working with the Bonnett firm in terms of this litigation. There is no contact. There is no discussion. And there's not one shred of evidence to suggest otherwise." Hr'g Tr. 9/26/2013 (Doc. 713) at 47:17-21.

Furthermore, ADEQ is an independent administrative agency of the State of Arizona, and is neither a party nor has any involvement in the matter before this Court. At this juncture, the impact of ADEQ's findings on the instant case remain speculative.[2] Additionally, well-established principles of comity and Federalism instruct this Court to refrain from overreaching. The Supreme Court of the United States has recognized:

[T]he notion of comity, ' that is, a proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways.

Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 44, 91 S.Ct. 746, 750, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971). This Court is unable to find any legal authority with which to justify extending its jurisdiction to disqualify attorneys involved in proceedings before a state agency. Indeed, Ninth Circuit authority, as well as principles of comity and federalism, suggest such an extension would be improper. See, e.g., Wharton, 127 F.3d at 1206; Younger, 401 U.S. at 44, 91 S.Ct. at 750.

Because G&K are no longer before this Court, the proper forum for Moving Defendants to address their concerns is ADEQ. Alternatively, Moving Defendants could institute disciplinary proceedings against G&K. See Damron v. Herzog, 67 F.3d 211, 213 (9th Cir. 1995). This Court does not have the authority to regulate the conduct of G&K beyond the confines of the current litigation.

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. RID's request for leave to file its Sur-Response in Opposition to Motion for Complete Disqualification of Gallagher and Kennedy (Doc. 718) is GRANTED; and

2. Defendants Honeywell International, Inc., Corning Incorporated, Salt River Project Agricultural Improvement and Power District, Dolphin Incorporated, Univar USA Incorporated, Union Pacific Railroad Company, Freescale Semiconductor, Inc. and Air Liquide America Specialty Gases, LLC's Motion for the Complete Disqualification of Gallagher & Kennedy, and Memorandum of Points and Authorities (Doc. 664) is DENIED.


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