ILNews

Judge denies summary judgment for law firm

Jennifer Nelson
February 15, 2010
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Note: This is a corrected version of the original Feb. 15, 2010, story. 

A federal judge has denied summary judgment for an Indianapolis law firm accused of selling stock held in escrow while the firm acted as a receiver of a company.

U.S. District Judge Larry J. McKinney denied Riley Bennett Egloff's motion for summary judgment Feb. 12 in Neil Lucas, individually and on behalf of Phonebillit, Inc., as shareholder v. Riley Bennett Egloff, No. 1:07-CV-534. Neil Lucas, a shareholder of Phonebillit, filed his suit in 2007 accusing the firm of having a conflict of interest in its role as custodian and then receiver of Phonebillit Inc.

There was a dispute among Phonebillit's owners as to how much stock each owned. Lucas' suit accused the firm of unreasonably liquidating Phonebillit's assets, making unauthorized payments to another owner, Steven Sann, and selling Lucas' stock in Brightpoint that was held in escrow at Sann's suggestion. Lucas claimed the sale caused him to lose more than $75,000 because the proceeds were placed in a low-interest savings account.

A settlement was reached in September 2008 on all of the issues except the stock sale, which the court found to be personal to Lucas. RBE moved for summary judgment on that issue, arguing that Lucas asserted a claim for legal malpractice which entitled the firm to an affirmative defense based on the business judgment rule.

Lucas argued that RBE's liability stemmed from its duty as an escrow agent. Judge McKinney wrote the parties' arguments based on those theories are misplaced.

"This case presents a claim against a receiver for the alleged breach of the duties it owed to one of the receivership's creditors or one with whom the receiver was in privity," wrote the judge.

Lucas didn't assert a claim for legal malpractice, nor did he present a claim against an escrow agent. Also, the business judgment rule has no place in the litigation, the judge continued, because RBE was an arm of the court as the receiver. Judge McKinney denied Lucas' motion to strike the firm's affirmative defenses and RBE's motion for summary judgment on those defenses because there are triable issues of fact. He also denied the firm's motion for judgment as a matter of law or involuntary dismissal.

At the Feb. 26 pre-trial conference, the court will address whether RBE's motion in limine and request for a protective order is moot; and RBE's motion to exclude expert testimony, including specific testimony from Lucas. A jury trial has been set for March 8.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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