3M Re-Files Suit Against Outside Counsel Covington in State Court
The Litigation Daily
Covington & Burling has vowed to prove, at the "appropriate time," that it never betrayed its former client 3M Company, as 3M alleged last month in a highly-publicized lawsuit in Minnesota. But Covington first moved to dismiss 3M's suit last Thursday on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the case didn't belong in federal court.
3M lawyer William Brewer III of Bickel & Brewer told us last week that the motion was a stall tactic, and said he'd have gladly filed 3M's case in state court if Covington had asked. If Covington was trying to buy time, it didn't buy much. It turns out that a few hours after he read Covington's motion, Brewer voluntarily dismissed 3M's federal case against Covington and refiled the case in state court in St. Paul.
"Rather than engage in dilatory motion practice about the jurisdictional argument raised by Covington, 3M opted to refile the lawsuit in Ramsey County," Brewer said Tuesday. "This should allow our client to bring this case to a jury as soon as possible."
Covington partner Jeffrey Huvelle rejected the notion that Covington was stalling. "A party that wants to move a case forward will file in a forum that has jurisdiction," he told us. "3M failed to do that."
3M's new complaint is identical to the one it filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis on July 24. In 2010, Covington signed on to represent the Attorney General of Minnesota on a contingency fee basis in ongoing environmental litigation accusing 3M of polluting the state's waterways with fluorochemicals. As we've reported, 3M alleged in last month's suit that Covington advised it on regulatory matters relating to food packaging products that contain the same fluorochemicals for more than a decade, taking the position that they aren't toxic. 3M also claims that Covington, knowing its fee agreement with AG's office required it to warrant that it had no outstanding matters for 3M, "choreographed an elaborate scheme" to drop an employee benefits matter it undertook for 3M in 2010.
Covington brought on legal malpractice expert John Villa of Williams & Connolly for its defense. In the firm's Aug. 16 motion to dismiss, Villa argued that, because many of the Covington partners named in 3M's original complaint reside overseas, 3M can't show diversity of citizenship and therefore federal courts don't have subject matter jurisdiction. That argument, obviously, is now moot.
Meanwhile, Covington chairman Timothy Hester has started speaking out publicly about 3M's suit, which he told us is rife with "false premises." Among other things, Hester claims that e-mails, not yet entered into evidence, show that 3M's in-house lawyers knew about Covington taking the Minnesota AG's case way back in early 2011. The company's delay in not raising the issue until last month shows that 3M's suit is an "obvious litigation tactic," he said.
This article originally appeared in The AmLaw Litigation Daily.
See also: "3M Outside Counsel Suit 'Troublesome' to Many General Counsel," CorpCounsel, July 2012.