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Barnes v. John M. O'Quinn & Associates, PLLC

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division

March 31, 2017

BOBBY BARNES, CHARLES E. BLANKS, VERNELL BURKS, SHIRLEY CAMPBELL SKINNER, ESTATE OF EDWIN EUGENE CAMPBELL, JAMES LAVON LUCAS, THEOPLIS NELSON, WILLIAM PITTMAN, DONALD QUITMAN POWELL SR., ANDREW RODGERS, MYRTIS OPAL ROLAND, ESTATE OF DAN ROLAND, LEE ROY SANDERS, GUY MARCUS SHIFLETT, LARRY DONELL SHOWERS, L.C. SMITH JR., JOHNNY W. THOMAS, ROBERT WEEKS JR., ERNEST WILEY, and PAM YARBROUFH-HAMPTON PLAINTIFFS
v.
JOHN M. O'QUINN & ASSOCIATES, PLLC, JOHN M. O'QUINN & ASSOCIATES, LLP, JOHN M. O'QUINN, P.C., JOHN M. O'QUINN LAW FIRM, PLLC, T. GERALD TREECE, RICHARD N. LAMINACK, JOE GIBSON, DANZIGER & DE LLANO, LLP, and ABEL MANJI DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          SHARION AYCOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is Defendant Danziger & De Llano LLP's Motion to Dismiss [34]. In its motion, Defendant Danziger requests that all of the Plaintiffs' claims against it be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In the alternative, Defendant Danziger requests that this Court direct the Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint containing more definite statements of their specific claims against Danziger, and to conform their complaint to the requirements of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 8.

         The Plaintiffs filed a Response [51] and Danziger replied [58] making this issue ripe for review. The Court considered the pleadings, the record, and the relevant arguments and authorities. For the reasons fully outlined below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the instant motion. As to Defendant Danziger's request for a more definite statement, the Court finds this request well taken, and it is granted. The Plaintiffs have thirty days from the date of this order to supplement their Complaint by filing a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, attaching their proposed amended complaint as an exhibit to their motion.

         As to Defendant Danziger's request for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court denies the request without prejudice, allowing Danziger the option to re-urge its request after the Plaintiffs have submitted their supplemental pleading.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The Barnes Plaintiffs, [1] originally filed their complaint in the Circuit Court of Bolivar County, Mississippi. The O'Quinn Defendants[2] removed the case to this Court premising jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship. The Plaintiffs are all citizens of Alabama and Mississippi, and the Defendants are citizens of Texas.[3]

         According to the Barnes Plaintiffs, they were solicited for medical screenings to determine whether they had silicosis and silica-related diseases. Once diagnosed with a silica-related disease, the Barnes Plaintiffs were then referred to one of the Defendant O'Quinn firms. The Barnes Plaintiffs entered into contingency fee contracts with an O'Quinn firm, and signed powers of attorney to enable an O'Quinn firm to represent them. Defendant Danziger was one of the referral firms that solicited clients with silica-related diseases and then referred them to the O'Quinn firms.

         The O'Quinn firms filed a number of lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of silica and silica products in an effort to collect damages and compensation for their clients, including the Barnes Plaintiffs, with silica-related diseases. The Barnes Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants mishandled their claims in numerous ways. Specifically the Barnes Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants committed legal malpractice by mishandling the Barnes Plaintiffs' cases in various ways, gross negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and negligent supervision.

         Some of the Barnes Plaintiffs' claims relate to the way their claims were handled such as improper billing for medical screenings and referrals. Other claims brought by the Barnes Plaintiffs relate to way the Defendants handled global settlements reached with some of the silica manufacturers and distributors such as failing to distribute settlement funds in a timely manner, and wrongfully retaining settlement funds for firm use. This includes allegations that the Defendants improperly billed excessive and unrelated expenses to a “Silica General Expenses” account that was ultimately funded by the Barnes Plaintiffs' settlement funds.

         The Barnes Plaintiffs also allege numerous errors related to the way the Defendants processed the settlements including, failing to ensure that settlements were paid in accordance with the severity of medical conditions, intimidating and coercing plaintiffs into accepting settlements, allowing wrongful dismissal of claims against certain manufacturers and distributors, and failing to process and finalize settlement agreements. The Barnes Plaintiffs also allege that the Defendants attempted to conceal their misdeeds by destroying and altering file documents, and sending misleading correspondence to the Plaintiffs.

         The Barnes Plaintiffs argue that Defendant Danziger is jointly liable for the wrongdoing of the other Defendants. The Barnes Plaintiffs also allege that Defendant Danziger violated the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, and breached its contracts with the Barnes Plaintiffs. Based on these alleged facts, the Barnes Plaintiffs filed this suit against Defendant Danziger alleging numerous claims including, legal malpractice, breach of contract, constructive fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, and others. Defendant Danziger now seeks either dismissal of the Barnes Plaintiffs' claims against it, or in the alternative, a more definite statement of the specific claims that the Barnes Plaintiffs' allege against it.

         Discussion and Analysis

         Defendant Danziger argues that the Barnes Plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) because their claims, as alleged in the complaint, are either not plausible or are time-barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. In response, the Barnes Plaintiffs argue that they have alleged plausible claims against Danziger, that their claims are not time-barred under the discovery rule, and that the Defendants fraudulently concealed the claims. In the alternative, the Barnes Plaintiffs request the opportunity to amend their pleadings.

         “The ultimate question in a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is whether the complaint states a valid claim when all well-pleaded facts are assumed to be true and are viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Shandong Yinguang Chem. Indus. Joint Stock Co. v. Potter, 607 F.3d 1029, 1032 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007)). “The court's task is to determine whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to ...


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