For the second time in less than a year, Foley & Lardner and a Washington-based partner are facing legal malpractice claims from a former client upset about the firm's representation of Chinese competitors.
GEO Specialty Chemicals Inc., an Indiana-based glycine manufacturer and former Foley client, sued Foley and partner Gregory Husisian on September 10 in District of Columbia Superior Court. GEO accused the firm of violating local rules governing the practice of law in Washington by representing Chinese glycine manufacturers before the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration.
Earlier this summer, in Washington federal district court, a judge dismissed similar claims GEO brought against the firm and Husisian. The judge rejected GEO's arguments that the matters Foley was handling for the Chinese companies were the same as, or at least substantially related to, the proceedings the firm worked on for GEO. The judge also found GEO didn't allege it suffered any injury because of Foley's new representation.
GEO is hoping for better luck in the District’s local court. The company is seeking an injunction blocking Foley from representing clients before the International Trade Administration that are "adverse to GEO and its interests."
GEO is represented by Thomas Feher, a partner in the business litigation and product liability practice groups at Thompson Hine. Feher did not return a request for comment this morning. Husisian, a former partner at Thompson Hine, and a firm spokesperson could not immediately be reached. The firm is represented by Arthur Burger, who chairs the professional responsibility practice group at Jackson & Campbell. He also was not immediately available.
Husisian represented GEO in 2007 and 2008. As the largest producer of glycine in the United States, according to court filings, GEO took part in proceedings before the International Trade Administration aimed at stopping Chinese competitors from selling glycine in the United States at below-market prices, a practice known as dumping. If Commerce Department officials found the Chinese companies were dumping, it would impose a tariff on those companies aimed at leveling the marketplace.
Husisian left Thompson Hine for Foley in 2009. According to the complaint, GEO learned in 2012 that Husisian was representing two Chinese glycine manufacturers seeking review before the trade administration. Arguing the representation created a conflict of interest, GEO asked Husisian and the firm to withdraw. He declined the request, saying there was no conflict, according to the complaint.
GEO argued Husisian had access to confidential information about GEO's business and strategies before the trade administration that could aid him in representing the Chinese companies. If GEO chose to challenge Husisian's new clients before the trade administration, the company said Husisian would be "in a uniquely advantageous position to respond."
Although Husisian was handling proceedings before the trade administration different from the cases he worked on for GEO, the company argued Foley and Husisian had a duty under the rules of professional responsibility not to represent any client adverse to GEO when it came to imports of glycine from China. GEO said it would face "significant damage" to its "competitive position" if Husisian was allowed to represent the Chinese companies.
In a June decision, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found that although Husisian's work for GEO and his new clients both involved Chinese glycine import issues before the trade administration, they were connected "only at a high level of generality" and involved distinct issues and facts.
The Superior Court case is assigned to Judge Anthony Epstein. A scheduling conference is scheduled for December 13.