The opinion of the court was delivered by: CONABOY
Presently before the Court is a motion filed by Defendant, Detroit Diesel Allison, a division of General Motors Corporation (GMC), to disqualify the law firm of Nogi, O'Malley, Harris and Schneider (Nogi) from representing the Plaintiff, Kaminski Brothers, Inc. in the above-captioned matter. GMC contends that because Nogi had represented GMC in at least 15 cases between October, 1970 and February, 1985 and is representing Plaintiff Kaminski Brothers in the instance action, there exists ". . . an apparent and real conflict of interest in violation of the ethical principles governing attorney conduct, and [consequently] disqualification is warranted."
(See Defendants' Memorandum at 2). GMC further argues that it would be unfair and unjust to allow Nogi to continue in this matter due to the exchange of confidential and privileged communications during the parties' prior relationship. In support of their motion, GMC sets forth various canons and rules governing standards for professional conduct as well as extensive case law in support thereof. GMC cites with particularity Canons 4, 5, and 9 of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rules 1.7, 1.9 and 1.16 of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Nogi has filed a brief in opposition to GMC's motion. Nogi does not challenge the recitation of the facts set forth in the GMC Memorandum of Law, nor do they disagree with the recitation of the applicable sections of the Code of Professional Responsibility or the Rules of Professional Conduct. Nogi, however, strenuously opposes the conclusions derived by GMC from the agreed facts and Code.
The governing standard for professional conduct before this Court lies in the rules and principles promulgated by the American Bar Association. The Third Circuit in In Re Corn Derivatives Antitrust Litigation, 748 F.2d 157 (1984) citing Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 2065, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984), held that the ABA Model Code of Professional Responsibility and the recently approved Model Rules of Professional Conduct are the appropriate guidance for finding the current national standards of ethical norms. 748 F.2d at 160-161. However, before the Court can apply the standards set forth therein, we must examine the facts before us and preliminarily determine whether Nogi, by representing Kaminski Brothers, has accepted employment against an existing client or against a former client.
The distinction is an important one because, depending upon the resolution of that inquiry, varying standards of judicial review apply. Should it be determined that Nogi has filed suit against an existing client, a prima facie standard of review is applied. In such instances the courts have ruled in favor of disqualification holding that the propriety of such conduct must be measured not so much against the similarities in litigation, as against the duty of undivided loyalty which an attorney owes to each of his clients. Cinema 5, Ltd. v. Cinerama, Inc., 528 F.2d 1384, 1386 (2nd Cir. 1976): IBM v. Levin, 579 F.2d 271 (3d Cir. 1978). On the other hand, should it be determined that Nogi has filed suit against a former client, courts have applied the "substantial relationship" test in passing on a motion for disqualification. This test requires disqualification when a substantial relationship exists between the subject matter of a former representation and that of a subsequent adverse representation. See Richardson v. Hamilton International Corp., 469 F.2d 1382 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 986, 36 L. Ed. 2d 964, 93 S. Ct. 2271 (1973).
As the pertinent facts are not in dispute, an examination of the arguments proffered by both parties convinces the Court that the proper standard of review is that of substantial relationship and not prima facie. A brief review of the facts evidences this conclusion.
An examination of the record discloses that prior to the commencement of the instant action on December 20, 1984, Nogi received from GMC on December 13, 1984 a written confirmation of a conversation dated October 26, 1984 in which GMC confirmed Nogi's offer to withdraw as counsel in the Kama case. Therein, GMC declined Nogi's offer deeming it irrelevant due to Nogi's alleged representation of another Plaintiff in an action against GMC. Therefore, there can be no doubt that GMC was aware of Nogi's offer to withdraw from Kama prior to their official withdrawal petition which was filed February 7, 1985. Nogi's formal withdrawal as counsel in Kama after the commencement of the instant lawsuit does not alter the fact that new case referrals to Nogi were clearly terminated by GMC in 1982 and that Nogi had disclosed to GMC the potential conflict by offering to withdraw prior to the commencement of this case. These findings support our conclusion that the proper standard to be applied is the substantial relationship test and not the prima facie test. We further note that the cases cited by GMC in support of its proposition that a prima facie standard should apply are clearly distinguishable from the case at bar in that they contain facts evidencing dual representation far beyond the time frames stated herein. See Cinema 5, Ltd. v. Cinerama, Inc., 528 F.2d 1384 (2d Cir. 1976) IBM v. Levin, 579 F.2d 271 (3d Cir. 1978). Having so decided, we now proceed to analyze the facts of this case to determine whether disqualification would be justified under the substantial relationship test.
The basic ethical principles at issue where it appears that an attorney, who represents an interest adverse to a former employer, may have acquired substantially related material are Canons 4, 5 and 9 of the Code of Professional Responsibility (See Attachment A).
Under the ABA Code, there was no express prohibition against representation of interests adverse to former clients, although this court has used Canon 9, "the appearance of impropriety," to imply such a duty. See e.g., Richardson v. Hamilton, supra, 469 F.2d 1382, 1385-86 (3d Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 986, 93 S. Ct. 2271, 36 L. Ed. 2d 964 (1973). Under the ABA Model Rules, this duty is clearly stated in Rule 1.9:
A lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter: (a) represent another person in the same or substantially related matter in which that person's interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client consents after consultation.
ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.9. The Third Circuit has often employed a balancing test in determining the appropriateness of the disqualification of an attorney. See e.g. In re Corn Derivatives, supra, 748 F.2d at 162; United States v. Miller, 624 F.2d 1198, 1201 (1980).
In Realco Services Inc. v. Holt, 479 F. Supp. 867 (E.D.Pa.1979) the Court, citing American Roller Co. v. Budinger, 513 F.2d 982 (3d Cir. 1975) stated that:
The "substantial relationship" standard must be used to test the likelihood that certain "material" in the former and present actions is substantially similar. There is no requirement that the former and present suits involve similar causes of action; the two cases may be entirely dissimilar. However, the Court must attempt to prevent confidential information that might have been gained in the first representation from being used to the detriment of the former client in the subsequent action. If the client in the prior representation might have imparted confidential information to his lawyer to aid the lawyer in dealing with particular issues, and if issues arise ...