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Crenshaw v. Antokol

October 20, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos.: 11, 21, 31, 45



Pro se *fn1 plaintiff Zena Crenshaw ("the plaintiff") brings this action alleging violations of federal civil conspiracy and civil rights statutes by 15 defendants: Spangler, Jennings & Dougherty P.C. ("Spangler") and Rehana Adat (collectively,"the Spangler defendants"); Joan Antokol, Ralph Cohen, Bonnie Gallivan, Anita Hodgson, Ice Miller Donadio & Ryan ("Ice Miller"), Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc. ("Hoffman-LaRoche"), Julie McMurray, William Wooden and Wooden & McLaughlin (collectively,"the lawyer defendants"); James Martin; Mary Paschen; and Bank One Trust Company, N.A. ("Bank One"). In response, several defendants filed motions to dismiss claiming, inter alia, improper venue. Because venue is not proper in the District of Columbia and the interest of justice favors transfer, the court transfers this action to the Northern District of Indiana.


A. Factual Background

The plaintiff is an African-American woman who was admitted to the practice of law in Indiana. Compl. ¶ 1. As the court noted in its previous memorandum opinion, the plaintiff's 85-page complaint outlines a complicated series of interlocking events and lawsuits. Crenshaw v. Antokol, 238 F. Supp. 2d. 107, 108-09 (D.D.C. 2002). These events fall into two categories: those relating to a state products-liability suit and those relating to the management of the plaintiff's mother's estate.

1. The Sanchez Litigation

In 1993, on behalf of minor client Sylvia Sanchez, the plaintiff brought suit in Indiana state court against drug manufacturer Hoffmann-LaRoche, two doctors, and a pharmacy and another individual. Compl. ¶ 2. The Sanchez complaint alleged a civil conspiracy that resulted in injury to the plaintiff's client from an adverse drug reaction. Id. ¶¶ 3, 16-19, 26. Representing Hoffman-LaRoche in this litigation were defendants Cohen, Gallivan, and Hodgson of Ice Miller, assisted by Hoffman-LaRoche in-house counsel defendants McMurray and Antokol. Id. ¶¶ 6, 27-29. Defendant Spangler represented the pharmacy and the individual. Id. ¶ 5. The trial judge granted Hoffman-LaRoche's motion to dismiss. Id. ¶¶ 20, 22.

Subsequently, the plaintiff successfully moved to amend her client's complaint. Id. ¶¶ 23-25. After some discussion between the plaintiff and defendant Hodgson, Hoffmann-LaRoche moved to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint and requested attorney's fees based on the plaintiff's"frivolous" action. Id. ¶¶ 36, 39-49, 50, 77. The trial judge again granted Hoffmann-LaRoche's motion to dismiss but reserved ruling on attorney's fees until the plaintiff's appeal of the dismissal was resolved. Id. ¶¶ 73, 77. The state court of appeals affirmed the trial judge's dismissal, and the Indiana Supreme Court refused review. Id. ¶¶ 79, 85, 89, 94.

Hoffman-LaRoche promptly renewed its request for attorney's fees, which the trial judge granted in 1997. Id. ¶¶ 95, 104, 131-35. The state court of appeals later reversed the trial judge on the issue of attorney's fees, however, with the Indiana Supreme Court again declining review. Id. ¶¶ 136, 140.

Not satisfied with the state appellate process, the plaintiff took two additional steps. Id. ¶ 141. First, she filed a complaint in state court (later removed to federal court) against the Sanchez trial judge and defendant Hodgson alleging violations of the United States Constitution, federal civil rights law, state conspiracy and declaratory judgment law. Id. ¶ 233; see Crenshaw v. Dywan, 34 F. Supp. 2d 707 (N.D. Ind. 1999). Defendant Wooden & McLaughlin represented defendant Hodgson in this proceeding. Compl. ¶ 317. The federal judge presiding over the case recused himself in the interests of justice after the plaintiff, citing alleged improper conduct by that judge in a previous case, twice moved to disqualify him. Id. ¶¶ 234-35; see Crenshaw v. Hodgson, 2001 WL 11646780, at *1 (7th Cir. Dec. 20, 2001). Because the federal judge found her allegations to be categorically false, however, he referred the matter to the Disciplinary Commission for the Supreme Court of Indiana ("the Commission"). Compl. ¶ 234.

Second, the plaintiff met with several African-American attorneys in Lake County, Indiana and concluded that her treatment by the Sanchez trial judge was typical for minority attorneys prosecuting complex personal injury claims. Id. ¶¶ 142-43. At a June 1997 press conference held by a coalition of politicians, activists, churches, and citizens, she stated that the trial judge had taken action against her based on her race, and announced that she would be forwarding charges to the Indiana civil rights and judicial qualifications commissions – a step she took within a few days. Id. ¶¶ 143-45, 160. In response to a query from the judicial qualifications commission, the plaintiff wrote a letter stating that the Sanchez trial judge's ruling was consistent with the pattern of bias emanating from the state's courts of general jurisdiction. Id. ¶¶ 162-63. The plaintiff later sent a copy of the letter to the state civil rights commission and circulated the letter among members of the primarily African-American James Kimbrough Bar Association and the Lake County Bar Association ("LCBA"). Id. ¶¶ 164-66.

Within a few weeks, both the judicial qualifications commission and the civil rights commission dismissed the matter. Id. ¶¶ 168-69. Shortly thereafter, the LCBA board considered but eventually decided against filing a disciplinary complaint against the plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 170-74. Notwithstanding the LCBA board's decision, in December 1997 LCBA member Robert F. ...

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