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Huber v. Taylor

June 19, 2009

RONALD L. HUBER, WILLIAM J. AIRGOOD, ANTHONY DEFABBO, JOHN DINIO, ERNEST GISHNOCK, JOHN BIDLENCSIK, HILMA MULLINS AND WILLIAM DEEM, INDIVIDUALLY AND ON BEHALF OF THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT G. TAYLOR, II, ROBERT G. TAYLOR, II, P.C., CLETUS P. ERNSTER, III, GEORGE E. CIRE, JR., TAYLOR & CIRE, TAYLOR & ERNSTER, P.C., ROBERT A. PRITCHARD, CHRISTOPHER FITZGERALD, LAW OFFICES OF ROBERT A. PRITCHARD, PRITCHARD LAW FIRM, PLLC, JOSEPH B. COX, JR., JOSEPH B. COX, JR., P.C., COX AND COX, L.L.P., J. ROBERT DAVIS, JR., AND TAYLOR, DAVIS & ERNSTER, P.C., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

I. Introduction

This breach of fiduciary duty case, which has a lengthy procedural and factual history,*fn1 centers around allegations by plaintiffs, who were asbestos litigants from Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, who received settlements in class action litigation pending in Mississippi. All eight plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos during their work, but none have developed malignant asbestos-related disease.

Plaintiffs signed contingent fee agreements with several non-party local attorneys from their respective home states, who had previously entered into co-counsel agreements with Robert G. Taylor, II, a Texas attorney, who, in turn, entered into "upstream co-counsel arrangements" with several attorneys, the other defendants, who were lead counsel in asbestos class action litigation primarily pending in Texas and Mississippi (collectively referred to as "Lead Counsel" or simply "defendants"). Plaintiffs allege that Lead Counsel breached fiduciary duties owed to them by, among other things, the failure of the non-party local attorneys to adequately disclose certain information surrounding settlement of their asbestos claims.

II. Procedural History

The civil complaint was filed in this case in February of 2002 - - over seven (7) years ago, and was originally assigned to the Honorable Donald J. Lee. On June 6, 2003, upon the retirement of Judge Lee, the undersigned was assigned this case. Upon reassignment, the Court promptly held an Initial Case Management Conference. (Doc. no. 101). The Court thereafter appointed Special Master, and former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Donald E. Ziegler, to resolve discovery disputes, of which there were several, and Judge Ziegler attempted (unsuccessfully) on more than one occasion, to settle this case. (Doc. No. 107).

The parties embarked on several months of motions practice too numerous to recount before Judge Ziegler, one of which included a Petition for Writ of Mandamus, which was ultimately denied by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. (Doc. No. 214). During this time period, this Court permitted several amendments to the complaint, and numerous changes of attorneys by both parties.

Then, on May 3, 2004, this Court entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying plaintiffs' motion for class certification. (Doc. Nos. 202 and 203).

After exhaustive briefings, on February 7, 2005, this Court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiffs, and closed the case. (Doc. Nos. 279 and 280). Plaintiffs thereafter filed a Notice of Appeal. (Doc. No. 282). Then, on October 31, 2006, the United States of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated this Court's Opinion and Order on Summary Judgment, and its denial of class certification, and remanded for further proceedings. (Doc. No. 289).

In complying with the mandate of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, this Court set another status conference, which culminated in another round of dispositive motions filed by defendants, including a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a motion to dismiss for failure to join indispensable parties, a motion for summary judgment, a motion for class certification, and a motion for leave to file a third amended complaint (filed by plaintiffs). (Doc. Nos. 310, 311, 312, 320 and 323). On April 27, 2007, this Court issued a 47 page opinion granting defendants' motion to dismiss for want of diversity jurisdiction, granting defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to join an indispensable party, denying plaintiffs' motion to amend their complaint, and denying the other pending motions as moot.

On May 14, 2007, plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal (doc. no. 347), and on August 4, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued its Opinion and Order reversing the decision of this Court and remanding for further consideration by this Court. (Doc. Nos. 353 and 354). Unbeknownst to this Court, and without previously petitioning this Court for recusal, plaintiffs apparently petitioned to the Court of Appeals for this Court's removal as the trial judge in this case at that time. The Court of Appeals, citing its first opinion in the Wecht case, held that recusal was not warranted. (Doc. No. 354-2 )("Confident that the district judge will properly discharge his judicial responsibilities upon remand, we find no basis for reassignment at this time.")

Nonetheless, after receiving the Mandate from the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and after the reopening of the case on August 4, 2008, this case sat for approximately nine (9) months with no docket activity whatsoever. There were no requests by either side for a status conference, for a revised Case Management Conference, or for any other proposed action by the Court.

Most recently, on May 6, 2009, this Court entered an Order dismissing the case for failure to prosecute. Said Order was entered without prejudice because either party was given thirty (30) days (until June 6, 2009) to file a petition to reopen the case upon good cause shown.

Currently pending before this Court is plaintiffs' motion to reinstate this civil action, for recusal by the Court, and for Other Relief (including setting aside "the Court's previous rulings")*fn2 (doc. no. 356), a response by defendants opposing such relief (including a declaration) (doc. no. 358), and plaintiff's reply thereto (doc. no. 359). After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, this Court will grant said ...


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