Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Walker v. Williamson

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

April 18, 2017

SCOTT WALKER, et al. PLAINTIFFS
v.
JIMMY WILLIAMSON, et al. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KEITH STARRETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the Motion In Limine [486] filed by Defendants Jimmy Williamson, individually and/or as Director and President of Jimmy Williamson, P.C. (“Williamson”) and Cyndi Rusnak and Cyndi Rusnak, PLLC (collectively “Rusnak”) and the Motion In Limine [488] filed by Defendant Michael A. Pohl, individually and d/b/a The Law Office of Michael A. Pohl (“Pohl”). After considering the submissions of the parties, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that both motions should be granted in part, denied in part, and deferred in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The current action was commenced on October 18, 2014, by Plaintiffs Scott Walker, individually and d/b/a Maxwell & Walker Consulting Group, LLC, and/or d/b/a Precision Marketing Group, LLC (“Walker”); Kirk D. Ladner, individually and d/b/a The Ladner Group and/or d/b/a Precision Marketing Group, LLC (“Ladner”); Seymour; and Precision (collectively “Plaintiffs”) against Defendants Williamson and Pohl. Plaintiffs claim that Pohl and Williamson joined together in a joint venture or partnership in order to represent Mississippi clients in their claims against British Petroleum (“BP”) in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The two then contracted with Plaintiffs to provide marketing and public relations services for this joint venture. Plaintiffs also claim that Pohl contracted with them to provide marketing and public relations services in connection with claims for automobile rollover accidents.

         Plaintiffs bring suit for breach of contract, conscious or negligent bad faith/breach of good faith and fair dealing, quantum meruit/unjust enrichment, and fraud/fraudulent inducement/ fraudulent misrepresentation. On May 12, 2015, Precision filed a Notice [75] stating that Walker, Seymour, and Ladner had assigned their chose of action and/or interests in this action to Precision.[1]Plaintiffs filed amended complaints[2] in March 2016, alleging that Defendant Rusnak was part of the joint venture between Pohl and Williamson as well.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Court begins its analysis of the pending motions in limine by clarifying its previous rulings regarding the legality of the contracts at issue. The Court has not, as parties appear to believe, ruled that the contracts are legal and enforceable. Rather, it has ruled that Defendants have not yet shown that they are illegal and unenforceable. In its Order [103] addressing Pohl's Motion to Dismiss [25], the Court ruled that Pohl had not shown that the contract was illegal on the face of the pleadings. (See Order [103] at pp. 23-24.) Similarly, in addressing subsequent Motions to Dismiss [173][192], the Court held that Defendants had not shown, on the facts alleged in the Amended Complaint [179], that the conduct required by the contracts was illegal. (See Order [252] at pp. 4-5.) Finally, in its Order [475] denying Rusnak's Motion for Summary Judgment [109], the Court found that Rusnak had failed to point to specific evidence showing that that contract was unenforceable. The Court has not, however, affirmatively ruled that the contracts are legal and enforceable. The Court remains skeptical of the legality of the contracts, and the issue is a question of law[3] that must be decided at trial.[4] With that in mind, the Court now turns to the motions in limine. Parties are reminded that any issue herein denied may be re-urged at trial if appropriate.

         A. Williamson and Rusnak's Motion in Limine [486]

         Williamson and Rusnak ask the Court to exclude “any comments, testimony, arguments or other evidence that refers to or relates in any way to barratry, prior lawsuits, the illegal or unethical nature of soliciting clients directly or splitting fees with non-lawyers, and/or the fact that any attorney in this matter was reported to any State Bar.” (Motion In Limine [486] at p. 6.) This evidence, they contend, is properly excluded under Federal Rule of Evidence 403 because its potential prejudicial effect substantially outweighs its probative value.

         1. Barratry

         Williamson and Rusnak have asked the Court to exclude all references to barratry. Insofar as they request the Court exclude any comments by Plaintiffs' attorneys or testimony by any witness as to what does or could constitute barratry, the motion will be granted to this extent, as the Court instructs the jury as to the law. However, testimony that conduct constituted barratry may be admissible for another purpose, such as motive or knowledge, but could also unfairly prejudice Williamson and Rusnak. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Finding that this issue is better decided in the context of trial, it will be deferred until such an appropriate time. However, evidence as to the underlying conduct itself will not be excluded, and the motion will be denied as to this evidence.

         2. Prior lawsuits

         Prior lawsuits in which Williamson or Rusnak were involved have little relevancy to Plaintiffs' case-in-chief. However, these lawsuits may still have limited relevancy as impeachment. Because the Court does not know the nature of these lawsuits and cannot say if any prejudicial effect may outweigh their probative value, the Court will grant the motion in that they will be excluded from Plaintiffs' case-in-chief but will deny the motion in that they will be allowed for the purposes of impeachment.

         3. Illegality of contracts and fee-splitting

         As stated above, the legality of the contracts and fee-splitting arrangement is a question of law for the Court to decide. Witnesses are not allowed to testify to legal conclusions. See United States v. Izydore, 167 F.3d 213, 218 (5th Cir. 1999) (citing Owen v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 698 F.2d 236, 240 (5th Cir. 1983)). Similarly, it is not proper for an attorney to instruct the jury as to what the law is. That is the province of the Court. However, as with the barratry issues, although what the parties believed as to the legality of their actions may be relevant for purposes such as motive or knowledge, the Court finds that these issues' potential for unfair prejudice may substantially outweigh their probative value if presented before the jury. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. As such, the issue of their admissibility will be deferred to the appropriate time at trial. Notwithstanding its ruling as to this issue, the Court will allow such evidence to be presented to it outside the presence of the jury if it is relevant to the determination of the contracts' legality. Williamson and Rusnak's motion will therefore be granted in part and deferred in part as to this issue.

         4. State Bar grievances

         Although it is readily apparent to the Court that state bar grievances filed against Williamson in connection to the underlying events of this action might have relevance, either to Plaintiffs' case-in-chief or for impeachment purposes, it is also easy to see that such evidence would cause a wealth of unfair prejudice against him. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. As such, any evidence dealing with state bar proceedings will be excluded, and Williamson and Rusnak's motion will be granted as to this issue.

         B. Pohl's Motion In Limine [488]

         1. Comments as to Applicable Law

         No party will be allowed to instruct the jury as to what the applicable law is in this case. Furthermore, though the issue of whether Plaintiffs may question Defendants as to their beliefs concerning the legality of their actions has been deferred until trial, Plaintiffs will not be allowed to offer any testimony as to what the law is nor make any comment in an attempt to convince the jury that the underlying conduct in contracting with Plaintiffs was unlawful. That question is not before the jury to decide, and such evidence or comments would unfairly prejudice the jury and potentially confuse the issues before them. See Fed. R. Evid. 403. Therefore, this point of Pohl's motion will be granted.

         2. Comments About Rules of Professional Conduct

         Plaintiffs argue that if they are disallowed from arguing that, under the applicable rules of professional misconduct, Pohl could not agree to split fees with them, “a jury will wonder why the parties didn't sign a contract to split fees if that was the actual agreement.” (Response [494] at p. 13.) As the Court held in its previous Order [475], the contracts at issue were contracts to split fees. (See Order [475] at pp. 8-9.) Furthermore, as the Court has already stated, no party will be allowed to comment as to what the applicable law is. The Court will instruct the jury on the law pertaining to the issues that they must decide. The Court does not think it appropriate for Plaintiffs or their witnesses to attempt to comment or to testify to what the rules of professional misconduct of any jurisdiction state. Pohl's motion will be granted to this extent. However, as with the barratry and legality issues presented in Williamson and Rusnak's motion, whether Plaintiffs can use what Defendant's believed to be the rules of professional misconduct and how they applied to the current case in order to show motive or knowledge or in order to impeach, is an issue that will be deferred until trial.

         3. References to Estimated Value of Underlying Claims

         By agreement, Pohl's motion will be granted as to this issue and any valuation estimate or appraisal of underlying claims will be excluded.

         4. Merits of Disputes between Pohl and Third Parties

         Pohl asks that the alleged merits of any disputes between him and third-parties be excluded. Plaintiffs do not object to this except for those disputes involving Heather Wilson/Super Limo and Terry Robinson. Without more information as to these disputes, the Court's ruling as to their admissibility will be deferred until the appropriate time at trial.

         5. Any Payment to D'Iberville City Attorney

         Pohl asks that evidence of any payment to the D'Iberville City Attorney be excluded. Plaintiffs object, calling this payment a bribe that it relevant to their case. With this type of accusation before it, the Court finds that it needs more information to conclusively rule on ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.