A federal appeals court in Washington today unanimously upheld the dismissal of a $50 million malpractice suit against Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that Capitol Hill Group’s claims—stemming from the work two partners performed in representing Capitol Hill Group in a zoning proceeding in the District of Columbia—are barred by res judicata. For the opinion, click here.
Chief Judge Royce Laberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment in favor of the firm last year.
For background, Capitol Hill Group filed for bankruptcy in 2002 and retained Pillsbury. CHG also brought the firm in for representation before the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals. CHG was involved in a dispute about the number of parking spaces at CHG’s primary property, which is leased to a nursing home and to a hospital.
The BZA’s final order about the number of spaces was issued in September 2004 to Pillsbury. CHG didn’t find out about the order until the spring of 2005, according to the suit. By then, the property had too few spaces and CHG could not appeal.
Before the spring of 2005, a bankruptcy court judge approved Pillsbury's request to end its representation of CHG. The firm returned zoning files to CHG. But Pillsbury did not tell the zoning board that the firm was no longer representing CHG, according to court records.
CHG’s suit against Pillsbury partners Paul Tummonds Jr. and Patrick Potter was filed in 2007 in D.C. Superior Court, but the firm removed the complaint to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit accused the firm of failing to provide to CHG the final order of the zoning board and of failing to make a legal argument before the board.
In September 2008, Lamberth ruled that CHG had “a full and fair opportunity to litigate all of its claims arising out of Shaw Pittman’s representation of CHG at the prior hearings and trials in bankruptcy court.” Click here to pull up a copy of Lamberth's opinion.
In 13 pages today, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, joined by Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and Brett Kavanaugh, said Lamberth didn’t make a mistake in granting summary judgment. Brown noted that post-representation relations between Pillsbury and CHG were "rocky" and said there was, at one point, a "cycle of acrimony."
Pillsbury partner Jack McKay, who argued for the firm in the appeals court, declined to comment about the D.C. Circuit opinion. Emil Hirsch of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings in D.C. was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.