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Shah v. Warrick & Boyn, LLP

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

March 25, 2019

AMIT SHAH, TIM DUGLE, DURO, INC. d/b/a/ Lee's Wood Products, DURO RECYCLING, INC. d/b/a Recycled/New, DURO REALTY, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
WARRICK & BOYN, LLP, WILLIAM HAUT, TIMOTHY SHELLY, MAY OBERFELL LORBER, E. SPENCER WALTON, JR., GEORGIANNE M. WALKER, Defendants.

          ORDER

          JON E. DEGUILIO JUDGE

         Plaintiffs in this matter include several corporations, collectively referred to as the “Duro Entities, ” and Amit Shah and Tim Dugle, who were shareholders of the Duro Entities. Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint [DE 408] consists of three claims against two law firms and four attorneys within those firms that served as counsel for the Duro Entities. Count 1 alleges a legal malpractice claim on behalf of all plaintiffs against all six defendants. Count 2, which is titled “Conflicts of Interest, ” alleges a second cause of action on behalf of all plaintiffs against all six defendants. Count 3 alleges a claim on behalf of the Duro Entities against one defendant, the law firm of May Oberfell Lorber (“MOL”), for conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

         Now before the Court are Partial Motions to Dismiss by defendants E. Spencer Walton, Jr., Georgianne M. Walker, and MOL [DE 415] and by defendants William Haut, Timothy Shelly, and Warrick & Boyn, LLP [DE 419]. The Court referred these motions to the magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b). Thus, Magistrate Judge John E. Martin prepared a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that the motions be denied in part and granted in part. In particular, he concluded that: relative to Count 1, plaintiffs do not claim that Shah or Dugle were ever clients of the defendants; and thus, Count 1's legal malpractice claim should be dismissed as to these individuals; relative to Count 2, it should be dismissed in its entirety because no cause of action exists for a “Conflict of Interest;” rather, the factual allegations may be used to support the legal malpractice claim asserted in Count 1; and, relative to Count 3, it should not be dismissed because the allegations are sufficient to sustain a CFAA conspiracy claim against MOL at this stage of the proceedings. The Report and Recommendation was entered on the docket on December 3, 2018, giving the parties through December 18, 2018, to file any objection, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). Only a single objection with respect to Count 3 was raised by defendants concerning whether Count 3 fails to state a claim for conspiracy to violate the CFAA against MOL.

         Standard of Review

         After referring a dispositive motion to a magistrate judge, a district court has discretion to accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), the district court must undertake a de novo review “only of those portions of the magistrate judge's disposition to which specific written objection is made.” See Johnson v. Zema Sys. Corp., 170 F.3d 734, 739 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995)). If no objection or only a partial objection is made, the court reviews those unobjected portions for clear error. Id. Under the clear error standard, a court will only overturn a magistrate judge's ruling if the court is left with “the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997).

         Given the defendants' objection to the magistrate judge's recommendation as to Count 3, the Court evaluates the sufficiency of the conspiracy claim de novo, while the unobjected portions are reviewed for clear error. In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, accepts the factual allegations as true, and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Reynolds v. CB Sports Bar, Inc., 623 F.3d 1143, 1146 (7th Cir. 2010). A complaint must contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That statement must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), and raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). However, plaintiffs' claim need only be plausible, not probable. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012). Evaluating whether plaintiffs' claim is sufficiently plausible to survive a motion to dismiss is “‘a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'” McCauley v. City of Chicago, 671 F.3d 611, 616 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         Discussion

         Count 1: Legal Malpractice

         To sustain a claim for legal malpractice, one of the elements that the plaintiffs must prove is the “employment” of the attorney, which creates a duty to the client. Solnosky v. Goodwell, 892 N.E.2d 174, 181 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008) (citing Clary v. Lite Mach. Corp., 850 N.E.2d 423, 430 (Ind.Ct.App. 2006)). Plaintiffs do not claim that Shah or Dugle were defendants' clients, (and in fact, unsuccessfully offered to voluntarily dismiss the individual plaintiffs if defendants would agree not to later add them as real parties in interest) [DE 428 at 13; DE 429 at 6]. Accordingly, the Court adopts the magistrate judge's unopposed recommendation that Count 1 be dismissed as to Shah and Dugle.

         Count 2: Conflict of Interest

         Defendants seek to dismiss Count 2 in its entirety, arguing that there is no recognized separate cause of action for a “Conflict of Interest.” In their responses, plaintiffs admit that while they labeled Count 2 “Conflicts of Interest, ” they are actually asserting a malpractice claim, which is “evidenced by [Defendants'] failure to comply with the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct's conflict of interest guidelines.” [DE 428 at 4; DE 429 at 4] (emphasis in original).

         Despite plaintiffs' explanation, the allegations in Count 2 are set apart and read as a separate cause of action, even though they cannot create an independent claim. Bilbija v. Lane, No. 1:16-cv-02124-TWP-MJD, 2018 WL 2183967, at *4 (S.D. Ind. May 10, 2018) (dismissing a claim for conflict of interest despite plaintiffs' argument that the alleged conflict supports a finding of legal malpractice and holding that “the facts and arguments . . . may be used to bolster [plaintiffs' remaining] claim for legal malpractice”) (citing Rosenbaum v. White, 692 F.3d 593, 604 (7th Cir. 2012); Liggett v. Young, 877 N.E.2d 178, 183 (Ind. 2007)). Accordingly, the Court adopts the magistrate judge's unopposed recommendation that Count 2 be dismissed, but the allegations therein may be used to support the legal malpractice claim asserted in Count 1 by the Duro Entities.

         Count 3: Conspiracy to Violate the CFAA

         Defendants seek dismissal of Count 3, which alleges a conspiracy to violate the CFAA on behalf of the Duro Entities against MOL. In the motion to dismiss and objection to the magistrate judge's conclusion regarding Count 3, defendants argue that plaintiffs failed to sufficiently plead the “who, what, when, why, and how” of the conspiracy; that consistent with Domanus v. Locke Lord LLP, 847 F.3d 469 (7th Cir. 2017), merely providing legal services fails to support a plausible inference of a conspiracy; and, plaintiffs ...


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