Updated at 3:55 p.m.
A Washington federal judge today dismissed (PDF) a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Thompson Hine against a former client, electronic cigarette-manufacturer Smoking Everywhere Inc., finding that there were too few local ties.
Thompson Hine attorneys represented Florida-based Smoking Everywhere in the company's successful lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration, in a case that challenged the agency's ban on the importation of electronic cigarettes.
According to the complaint (PDF), first filed in Nov. 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the firm claimed Smoking Everywhere and its president and CEO, Elicko Taieb, failed to pay $480,745 in legal bills. That figure includes $105,494 the firm claims Taieb owed for work done in a related case in Oregon.
In an opinion published on Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson dismissed the case against Smoking Everywhere and Taieb, finding there was no personal jurisdiction tying the lawsuit to the District.
Although Thompson Hine attorneys filed Smoking Everywhere’s lawsuit against the FDA in D.C. federal court, Jackson found that the company entered into the original relationship with the firm through an attorney based in the Georgia office. Washington-based attorneys were later involved, but Jackson found that didn’t meet the test for sufficient contacts.
“While plaintiff provides evidence that the first engagement ultimately involved a proceeding in federal court in D.C., the Georgia lawyer appears to have served as lead counsel on that case, and the only two meetings that took place in the District in connection with that engagement were actually meetings with him, along with the D.C. lawyers assisting him, held on the dates of court hearings,” Jackson wrote.
In Taieb’s case, the judge wrote that the “case for personal jurisdiction is even weaker,” because he only attended one meeting in Washington and there was no evidence he did any other business related to the case directly in the District.
Smoking Everywhere and Taieb also denied the allegations in their Feb. 2011 motion to dismiss (PDF). By dismissing the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, Jackson did not need to address the merits of the case.
An attorney for Smoking Everywhere, Levi Zaslow of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake in Greenbelt, Md., said the opinion "reflects the important concept that a litigant has to not be subject to suit in a jurisdiction unless they have the sufficient minimum contacts required." His co-counsel was Steven Vinick, of the same firm.
The firm released a statement this afternoon saying that they are "reviewing the order and considering our next steps."
"We respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that we are not entitled to pursue unpaid fees in the same court where the bulk of the services were rendered," the statement said.
Thompson Hine attorneys Eric Heyer, Taren Stanton, Thomas Feher and Kip Schwartz represented the firm; they did not immediately return a request for comment.
The case isn’t fully closed yet. A third defendant, EC Distribution Inc., had not been served as of Monday, so Jackson ordered Thompson Hine to file a report with the court on whether it planned to serve EC Distribution or voluntarily dismiss them in light of Friday’s opinion.