D.C. Law Firm Loses Motion to Reconsider Dismissal of D.J. Action

In a case that turns on a law firm’s ethical obligations to avoid conflicts of interest, a large D.C. law firm has once again been procedurally rebuffed in its effort to have a federal judge in the District of Columbia declare that it has not violated any ethics rules in a high-profile environmental case.

Patton Boggs, a major D.C. firm, represents various parties in Ecuador that are involved in high-stakes environmental litigation against Chevron. A lobbying subsidiary of Patton Boggs, the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, has done work on behalf of Chevron on similar issues. Gibson Dunn, the law firm representing Chevron, is taking the position that Patton Boggs has a conflict of interest and has tried to have Patton Boggs removed from the case.

Patton Boggs moved in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for a declaratory ruling that it does not have such a conflict. Last April, however, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy dismissed this case, finding that the courts that are actually Quito.jpghearing the environmental cases against Chevron are best equipped to handle that issue. Judge Kennedy also ruled that Patton Boggs could not amend its complaint to allege that Chevron and Gibson Dunn had tortiously interfered with its contract with the Ecuadorian plaintiffs and had engaged in a civil conspiracy, since Patton Boggs had not alleged facts suggesting that they had caused any actual breach of the contract.

Patton Boggs moved for reconsideration of the dismissal and sought leave to add new claims to its complaint. On July 8, 2011, however, Judge Kennedy denied this reconsideration motion as well. The judge restated his prior ruling that other courts, not his, were best situated to resolve the issue of whether Patton Boggs had a conflict of interest and that it would be prudent for him to abstain from deciding that issue.

In response to Patton Boggs’ contention that he had applied the wrong standard for tortious interference, Judge Kennedy found that the law firm’s new theory of tortious interference was not viable because at no point did the firm assert that it had suffered any pecuniary loss from the actions of Chevron or Gibson Dunn. “Damages are an essential element of any tortious interference claim,” Judge Kennedy wrote.

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