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Beverly Ohntrup, et al v. Makina Ve Kimya Endustrisi Kurumu

December 11, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goldberg, J.


Nearly three decades ago, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP ("Morgan") filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for Defendant Makina ve Kimya Endustrisi Kurumu ("MKEK"). That motion was denied by the late Honorable Louis H. Pollak and the denial was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Presently before the Court is Morgan's Renewed Motion for Leave to Withdraw as Counsel to MKEK. For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be granted.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In 1976, Plaintiffs initiated a products liability action against Turkish corporation MKEK after an MKEK handgun malfunctioned and fired a bullet through the hand of Robert Ohntrup, Plaintiff Beverly Ohntrup's late husband. Morgan was retained by and entered an appearance on behalf of MKEK. (Morgan's Br. 1; Pl.'s Br. 1-2.)

On July 9, 1984, following a bifurcated trial, judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiffs in the amount of $847,173.97.*fn1 The Third Circuit affirmed the judgment on March 26, 1985. To date, MKEK has failed to satisfy any portion of the judgment and has not complied with Plaintiffs' discovery requests propounded in aid of execution. (Pl.'s Br. 2-3.)

Following the Third Circuit's ruling, MKEKadvised Morgan that it was terminated as counsel.*fn2 Having received no further communications from MKEK, Morgan filed its first motion for leave to withdraw as counsel, which Judge Pollak denied on November 27, 1985. (Morgan's Br. 1-2.) The Third Circuit affirmed this denial "without prejudice to renewal of the motion at a later appropriate time." Ohntrup v. Firearms Ctr., Inc., 802 F.2d 676, 680 (3d Cir. 1986) (per curiam).

After this decision, Morgan continued to receive materials related to the case and forwarded them to MKEK. Morgan has no record of having received any response from MKEK, or any other communication from MKEK, since 1989. At no time since MKEK terminated Morgan as its counsel in 1985 has MKEK authorized Morgan to perform any additional work or to undertake any action pertaining to this lawsuit. As a result, Morgan has not made any filings or appeared before the Court on behalf of MKEK for more than twenty years. (Morgan's Br. 2-3; Green Aff. ¶¶ 4-7.)

In November 2011, after discovering that MKEK had entered into a contract to purchase ammunition components with non-party Alliant Techsystems, Inc., Plaintiffs renewed their attempts to execute on the judgments. Presently, Plaintiffs are still actively pursuing collection efforts. (Pl.'s Br. 6.)

On May 11, 2012, Morgan filed the instant motion. Plaintiffs filed their response in opposition on May 25, 2012. At the Court's direction, Plaintiffs and Morgan also submitted supplemental briefing on June 15, 2012. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

Pursuant to Local Rule of Civil Procedure 5.1(c), an "attorney's appearance may not be withdrawn except by leave of court, unless another attorney of this court shall at the same time enter an appearance for the same party." E.D. Pa. Civ. R. 5.1(c) (formerly Rule 18(c)). The purposes of Rule 5.1(c) include "providing for communications between the litigants and the court, as well as ensuring effective court administration." Ohntrup, 802 F.2d at 679. In resolving a motion of counsel to withdraw, a court generally considers the reason for withdrawal, the potential prejudice to litigants, any harm withdrawal might cause to the administration of justice and the degree to which withdrawal will delay resolution of the case. Crestar Mortg. Corp. v. Peoples Mortg. Co., Inc., 1995 WL 695093, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 15, 1995) (citing Haines v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 814 F. Supp. 414, 423 (D.N.J. 1993)).

A. Meaningful Purpose

As the Third Circuit noted in Ohntrup v. Firearms Center, Inc., the rule of law does not automatically require an attorney to continue to represent a client until such time as the client arranges substitute counsel. 802 F.2d at 679-80.*fn3 Instead, "a law firm is entitled to withdraw once the firm demonstrates to the satisfaction of the district court that its appearance serves no meaningful purpose, particularly insofar as an opposing interest is concerned." Id. A court determines whether a firm's continued involvement in a case serves "no meaningful purpose," by weighing three factors:

(1) the burden imposed on the potentially withdrawing counsel if the status quo is maintained; (2) the stage of the proceedings; and (3) the prejudice to all parties. Buschmeier v. G&G ...

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