Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney is battling claims over unused vacation time with three California lawyers who have accused their former firm of forum-shopping.
Keith Solar and Robert Parks were partners in Buchanan Ingersoll’s San Diego office, and Robert Edmunds was of counsel, when all three resigned in May to form their own firm. After denying the lawyers’ requests for repayment on their unused vacation time, Buchanan Ingersoll filed a declaratory judgment action against them in August in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
In a motion to dismiss filed last week, the lawyers argued they are entitled to repayment under California law.
According to the motion to dismiss, the firm engaged in settlement talks with Solar, Parks and Edmunds before filing the action.
“Instead of responding with a more equitable offer, BIR PC abruptly and stealthily filed this declaratory judgment action, in turn prompting the defendants to file their lawsuit for damages in the Superior Court in San Diego County, California—a lawsuit that they had previously refrained from initiating during settlement negotiations,” the defendant lawyers said.
In their complaint, Buchanan Ingersoll said the three lawyers signed employment agreements that said they would not receive payment for unused vacation time once they left the firm.
The firm also alleged that the lawyers regularly used paid vacation or personal time without recording it in the firm’s timekeeping system. The firm filed the lawsuit as Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney P.C.
But the lawyers claim that they worked for the law firm’s California-registered limited liability partnership, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney LLP, and not the Pennsylvania-based professional corporation. The limited liability partnership was created because of a California State Bar rule that requires shareholders of a corporation providing legal services to sign personal guarantees against professional malpractice, the motion said.
But in California, the lawyers said, Buchanan Ingersoll only operates as an LLP, as reflected on their engagement letters, business cards, court filings, signage and other materials.
“Indeed, coffee was served to their clients in mugs displaying Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney LLP, not BIR PC,” the motion said.
The lawyers argued that Buchanan Ingersoll filed the complaint in bad faith, anticipating that the former employees would eventually sue, and that Pennsylvania is an improper forum for the claims. And their former firm is “violating California law by utilizing a ‘use it or lose it’ policy,” they said.
Buchanan Ingersoll declined to comment on pending litigation. Arthur Stroyd Jr., of Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd in Pittsburgh, did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.