A Pennsylvania federal judge has thrown out Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s declaratory judgment action against three former lawyers of the firm’s San Diego office who asked to be repaid for their unused vacation time.
In an order filed Monday, U.S. District Judge David Stewart Cercone of the Western District of Pennsylvania dismissed the case without prejudice to the parties’ right to litigate in California. He declined to exercise jurisdiction under the Declaratory Judgment Act.
Cercone said the Declaratory Judgment Act does not require federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over every declaratory judgment action. He said the federal courts can consider a state’s interest in having state courts determine questions of state law. And, he said, federal courts should not exercise jurisdiction if it would create “duplicative and piecemeal litigation.”
“Moreover, the events or omissions giving rise to the claims between the parties are invariably centered in California. The state court of California, therefore, is perfectly capable of resolving the disputes in this matter,” Cercone wrote.
Defendants Keith Solar, Robert Parks and Robert Edmunds claimed that the firm filed the complaint knowing Solar, Parks and Edmunds would soon sue, in an attempt to bring the dispute to a more favorable forum. The lawyers had argued that they worked for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney LLP, the firm’s partnership designation in California, so the case should be litigated in that state.
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.
Buchanan Ingersoll countered that Solar, Parks and Edmunds are “determined to have this case heard in California.” The firm contended that the lawyers’ employment agreement was with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney P.C., as it is organized under Pennsylvania law.
The law firm also argued that the defendants, former Buchanan Ingersoll partners, gave no warning that they would file suit on a specific date, so “BIR PC’s conduct in filing this action was neither anticipatory nor a bad faith attempt to forum shop.”
Solar and Parks were partners in Buchanan Ingersoll’s San Diego office and Edmunds was of counsel when all three resigned in May to form their own firm. Afterward, they sought payment for unused vacation time. Buchanan Ingersoll then sued the lawyers in August in Pittsburgh federal court.
The firm, in its complaint, said the firm’s employment agreements do not promise payment for unused vacation time and alleged that the defendants regularly took time off without recording it. In their motion to dismiss, the lawyers argued they are entitled to repayment under California law.
The firm filed its lawsuit as the Pennsylvania-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney P.C. But the lawyers argued that they worked for the law firm’s California-registered limited liability partnership, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney LLP. In California, the lawyers said, Buchanan Ingersoll only operates as an LLP.
“Indeed, coffee was served to their clients in mugs displaying Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney LLP, not BIR PC,” the lawyers’ motion to dismiss said.
A spokeswoman for Buchanan Ingersoll declined to comment on the order. Arthur Stroyd Jr. of Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd in Pittsburgh, who is representing the defendant lawyers, also declined to comment.