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Patton Boggs, Llp v. Chevron Corporation

August 8, 2011

PATTON BOGGS, LLP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHEVRON CORPORATION, AND GIBSON DUNN & CRUTCHER, LLP, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Patton Boggs, LLP, brings this action against Chevron Corporation and Chevron's counsel, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP, seeking a declaratory judgment that Patton Boggs's representation of parties adverse to Chevron in other courts does not violate standards of professional conduct such that Patton Boggs could be disqualified from participating in those cases. Patton Boggs also presents claims of tortious interference and civil conspiracy against both defendants. Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss [#10], which argues that this Court's recent dismissal of a near-identical suit between these parties, see Patton Boggs, LLP v. Chevron Corp. (Patton Boggs I), 2011 WL 1474866 (D.D.C. Apr. 19, 2011), bars most of Patton Boggs's claims, and that, in any event, Patton Boggs's complaint fails to state a plausible claim for relief. Upon consideration of the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record of both cases, the Court concludes that the motion must be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The events underlying this case have been chronicled at length elsewhere. See Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866, at *1--2; Chevron Corp. v. Steven Donziger, 768 F. Supp. 2d 581, 600--24 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). In brief, Patton Boggs represents numerous parties in Ecuador ("the Lago Agrio plaintiffs") who are engaged in litigation with Chevron, both in Ecuador and in the United States. Patton Boggs also owns the Breaux Lott Leadership Group, a lobbying organization that previously worked for Chevron on related issues. In November 2010, Patton Boggs filed suit in this Court, Patton Boggs, LLP v. Chevron Corp., No. 10-01975 (D.D.C.), seeking a declaratory judgment that its ownership of the Breaux Lott Group did not create a conflict of interest that would prevent it from representing parties adverse to Chevron. Chevron moved to dismiss Patton Boggs's complaint on multiple grounds. Patton Boggs responded by moving to strike Chevron's motion to dismiss and seeking leave to amend its complaint to add claims of tortious interference against Chevron and Gibson Dunn.

On April 19, 2011, the Court issued a memorandum opinion dismissing the case. Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866. The Court first denied Patton Boggs's motion for leave to amend its complaint, explaining that, because Patton Boggs did not allege any facts suggesting that Chevron and Gibson Dunn's conduct had caused an actual breach of Patton Boggs's contract with the Ecuadorian plaintiffs, it had failed to state a claim of tortious interference with contract under District of Columbia law. See Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866, at *2--3. The Court assumed that District law applied because both parties did so, and "courts need not address choice of law questions sua sponte." In re Korean Air Lines Disaster of Sept. 1, 1983, 932 F.2d 1475, 1495 (D.C. Cir. 1991). The Court also rejected a claim for tortious interference with an attorney-client relationship (finding no indication that such a cause of action exists under District law) and a civil conspiracy claim (which cannot lie absent a viable underlying tort claim). See Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866, at *4.*fn1

The Court then granted Chevron's motion to dismiss Patton Boggs's declaratory judgment claim. The Court concluded that Patton Boggs's requested remedy - a declaratory judgment that "the Breaux Lott Leadership Group's prior non-legal work for Chevron does not provide a basis for disqualifying Patton Boggs from representing the Ecuadorian Plaintiffs," Complaint at 10, Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866 (No. 10-01975) - went well beyond any justiciable controversy created by Chevron's alleged threat to seek Patton Boggs's disqualification from the actions that Chevron had initiated under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 (which authorizes district courts to issue orders permitting discovery for use in foreign proceedings). See Patton Boggs I, 2011 WL 1474866, at *5--6. Further, the Court concluded that, insofar as the action was ripe for adjudication, abstention under the Declaratory Judgment Act was appropriate, because the question of Patton Boggs's ability to appear in Chevron's various collateral proceedings was one better settled by the courts presiding over those cases. See id. at *7. The Court noted that for it "to inform all other federal courts that Patton Boggs is qualified to represent the Lago Agrio plaintiffs before those courts would be incredibly intrusive." Id.

Soon after the Court's April 19 ruling, Patton Boggs moved for reconsideration thereof and sought leave to add new claims of tortious interference against Chevron and Gibson Dunn. Simultaneously, Patton Boggs filed this action, which presents claims identical to those that Patton Boggs sought to add in the first action. On July 8, 2011, the Court denied Patton Boggs's motion for reconsideration. See Patton Boggs, LLP v. Chevron Corp. (Patton Boggs II ), 2011 WL 2652466 (D.D.C. July 8, 2011). Because the Court concluded that it had not erred by dismissing the first case, it did not reach the question whether Patton Boggs should be allowed to amend its complaint in that action to add the claims that it also presents here. See id. at *6.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will dismiss a complaint, or a claim therein, that fails to plead "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Thus, although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must recite facts sufficient to at least "raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555 (internal citation omitted) (citing 5 C. WRIGHT & A. MILLER,

FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1216 (3d ed. 2004)). A "pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -U.S.-, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (alterations in original). At bottom, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter that, accepted as true, would allow the Court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Defendants seek the dismissal of this action on two grounds. First, they argue that four of Patton Boggs's five claims are barred by claim preclusion, issue preclusion, or both. Second, they argue that the complaint does not state a cognizable claim for relief. The Court will first address the question of preclusion.*fn2

A. Claims I, II, III, and V are Barred by Claim and/or Issue Preclusion

The twin doctrines of claim preclusion and issue preclusion serve to "prevent[] repetitious litigation involving the same causes of action or the same issues." I.A.M. Nat'l Pension Fund v. Indus. Gear Mfg. Co., 723 F.2d 944, 946 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Claim preclusion applies where "there has been prior litigation (1) involving the same claims or cause of action, (2) between the same parties . . . , and (3) there has been a final, valid judgment on the merits, (4) by a court of competent jurisdiction." Smalls v. United States, 471 F.3d 186, 192 (D.C. Cir. 2006). Issue preclusion applies when "an issue of fact or law is actually litigated and determined by a valid and final judgment, and the determination is essential to the judgment." Menkes v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 637 F.3d 319, 334 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF JUDGMENTS ยง 27 (1982)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Here, defendants argue that these ...


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