United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY REGARDING ATTORNEY DISQUALIFICATION
William T. Lawrence, Judge
issue before the Court is whether attorney G. John Cento
should be disqualified from representing the Plaintiff in
this case brought under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
(“FCRA”) because he previously represented the
Defendant, Trans Union LLC, defending it in numerous FCRA
cases. The issue has been extensively briefed by the parties,
and the Court has held a hearing on the matter. The Court,
being duly advised, now finds that Cento is not disqualified
from representing the Plaintiff in this case.
was working as an attorney at the law firm of Katz & Korin,
P.C., when attorney Robert Schuckit joined the firm in
September 2001, bringing Trans Union with him as a client.
Cento soon began representing Trans Union, and by 2003 he was
working almost exclusively on Trans Union cases. In June
2005, Schuckit left Katz & Korin to form his own law firm,
Shuckit & Associates; Cento worked at that firm until July
2005. Between 2001 and 2005, Cento represented Trans Union in
some capacity in over 250 cases, filing appearances in over
80 cases, and billing over 4, 000 total hours for work for
Trans Union. All or virtually all of this work involved cases
filed under the FCRA pursuant to which Trans Union, as a
credit reporting agency, is regularly sued. Eventually
Cento's work also included supervising other attorneys
who represented Trans Union.
relationship with Trans Union was typical of an attorney who
represents a corporate client extensively over a period of
years-he worked closely with Trans Union's in-house
counsel and other employees on the cases he was involved in,
he had full access to whatever information he needed
regarding Trans Union's business, and he participated in
meetings to discuss things like litigation strategy, trends
in litigation, and how Trans Union should address “hot
button issues” and new developments in the law. Some of
the Trans Union employees he worked with are still with Trans
Union; others are not.
has not represented Trans Union since July 2005. Schuckit and
his firm still serve as regional counsel for Trans Union.
procedural history of this case is somewhat unusual, and
while it is not particularly relevant to the resolution of
the issue before the Court, the Court mentions it in order to
ensure that there is no confusion with regard to the standard
under which the Court is operating.
Union has successfully moved to disqualify Cento in two other
cases in which he represented Plaintiffs in suits against it,
convincing those courts that Cento's appearance against
it in those cases violated his duties to his former client
under Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.9. See
Childress v. Trans Union, LLC, 1:12-cv-184-TWP-DML (S.D.
Ind.); and Hobson v. Trans Union, LLC,
1:13-cv-54-JD-RBC (N.D. Ind.). Rather than file a motion to
disqualify in this case, Trans Union filed a motion seeking
an order to show cause why Cento should not be disqualified
for the same reasons that he was disqualified in
Childress and Hobson. The district judge
previously assigned to this case granted that motion and
ordered Cento “to show cause as to why he should not be
disqualified from representing Plaintiff against Defendant
pursuant to Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.9 and the
rationale set forth in” Childress and
Hobson. Dkt. No. 13. After a contentious and
protracted battle over whether and to what extent Cento
should be permitted to conduct discovery, Cento responded to
the order to show cause and Trans Union filed a reply brief.
The matter was then referred to Magistrate Judge Hussmann by
the previous district court judge “pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) to rule on any related motions and
conduct any necessary hearings and issue a report and
recommendation regarding Attorney Cento's potential
disqualification.” Dkt. No. 51.
after Magistrate Judge Hussmann entered his report and
recommendation, this case was reassigned to the undersigned.
For reasons explained in a previous entry, Dkt. No. 81, the
Court decided to exercise its authority to begin with a clean
slate, rather than addressing Trans Union's objections to
the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation. See
Schur v. L.A. Weight Loss Centers, Inc., 577 F.3d 752,
760 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[T]he district judge remains the
final authority in the case, and he may reconsider sua
sponte any matter determined by a magistrate
judge.”); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) (district judge
“may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge”). The Court, therefore, will not be addressing
the reasoning of Magistrate Judge Hussmann's decision.
Nor is the Court bound by the rulings in Childress
and Hobson. Wirtz v. City of S. Bend, 669
F.3d 860, 863 (7th Cir. 2012) (“A district court
decision does not have precedential effect-that is, it is not
an authority, having force independent of its reasoning, and
to which therefore a court with a similar case must defer
even if it disagrees, unless the circumstances that justify
overruling a precedent are present.”). Accordingly, to
the extent that Trans Union suggests that those decisions
should dictate the results of these proceedings, it is
duties lawyers owe their former clients depends on the law of
the jurisdiction where the representation occurred. . . .
When representing a client in federal court, a lawyer must
follow federal rules. Most federal courts use the ethical
rules of the states in which they sit, though a few (the
Northern District of Illinois being a good example) have
elaborate federal rules of practice.” Huusko v.
Jenkins, 556 F.3d 633, 636 (7th Cir. 2009). The Southern
District of Indiana's Local Rule 83-5(e) provides that
the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct govern the conduct
of attorneys appearing in this district. Accordingly, it is
Indiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.9 (“Rule
1.9”) that governs whether Cento may ethically
represent Watkins in this case.
Union argues that “federal common law, ” as set
forth by the Seventh Circuit in LaSalle National Bank v.
Lake Co., 703 F.2d 252, 255-56 (7th Cir. 1983) and
Analytica, Inc. v. NPD Research, Inc., 708 F.2d
1263, 1266-67 (7th Cir. 1983), is the source of the
appropriate test in this case. Indeed, at the hearing on this
matter, Trans Union suggested that the law as set forth in
those cases is more relevant than Rule 1.9:
I think what we have to kind of get straight here is: Where
do the rules for conflict of interest and substantial
relationship-where do those all derive from? It is, on the
one hand, Indiana Rule 1.9. But in addition, the courts, in
LaSalle, and in the other cases we cited, like