Thursday, July 20, 2017

No Laughing Man: Unjust Enrichment Claims Reinstated

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reinstated unjust enrichment claims against an international law firm, holding that the trial court erred in concluding the claims were time-barred as a matter of law.

We summarize the facts as they are stated in appellant‟s complaint. Appellees Kilpatrick Townsend, an international law firm, and Gingold, a sole practitioner, represented the Native American plaintiffs in Cobell v. Salazar, a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of the Interior for mismanagement of trust funds. In December 2009, the Cobell plaintiffs and the plaintiffs in a separate class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture concerning past discrimination against black farmers, Pigford v. Vilsack, reached a joint settlement agreement with the Government. Appellant, who was then President of the National Black Farmers Association, became involved in Pigford by lobbying for minority farmers who had missed an earlier filing deadline to be compensated under a consent decree. A second lawsuit was filed on behalf of these late-filers, and through the efforts of appellant and many others, was eventually combined with the other Cobell and Pigford litigants into a joint settlement agreement. The settlement agreement compensating the Cobell and Pigford plaintiffs required funding by a congressional appropriation. 

On March 5, 2010, John Loving, a government relations advisor at Kilpatrick Townsend, contacted appellant and requested his assistance in lobbying for the passage of the Claims Resolution Act (CRA), the funding bill for the Cobell and Pigford plaintiffs. Mr. Loving “asked [appellant] to use his extensive contacts . . . to drum up the necessary support for the . . . legislation.” Appellant and Mr. Loving did not discuss appellant‟s fees or any specific tasks to be performed. Appellant also spoke with Geoffrey Rempel, an accountant the Cobell plaintiffs hired, in order to coordinate lobbying efforts.

Soon thereafter, on June 1, 2010, appellant met Messrs. Rempel and Gingold for lunch at the Laughing Man Tavern, a pub in the District of Columbia. Appellant‟s complaint states that:

 [During that lunch at the Laughing Man Tavern, appellant] specifically told both Defendant Gingold and Mr. Rempel that he expected to be paid for this efforts to secure funding for the Cobell settlement. In response, Defendant Gingold encouraged [appellant] to continue working with and for Defendants. Defendant Gingold never indicated to [appellant] at any time at the restaurant, or at any subsequent time thereafter, that [appellant] would not be compensated for his efforts. . . . Every time [appellant] raised issues of compensation or the amount of such compensation, Defendant Gingold always indicated to him that compensation should not concern him — clearly indicating to [appellant] that payment would be forthcoming. Indeed, according to Defendant Gingold, the issue of payment was not whether [appellant] would be compensated, but when Eloise Cobell would focus on the amount of compensation for him. (emphasis omitted).

After the lunch meeting, appellant continued to lobby for passage of the CRA, which President Obama signed into law on December 8, 2010. The complaint alleged no further communications between appellant and appellees after the bill was signed.

The statute of limitations issues are for the jury on remand

At an appropriate point during those proceedings, and unless other developments arise that obviate the need to do so, the trial court shall have the jury make findings of fact as to the time after appellant last rendered services by which he should reasonably be deemed to have demanded payment for his services, plus the reasonable time thereafter within which appellees should have responded to said demand, and thus determine when appellant‟s cause of action for unjust enrichment accrued. The trial court can then
determine whether appellant filed his complaint within the applicable limitations period for unjust enrichment claims.

Thus the holding

we (1) affirm the trial court‟s dismissal of appellant‟s claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract against Gingold as time-barred; (2) affirm the trial court‟s determination that appellant failed to state a claim for breach of an implied-in-fact contract against Kilpatrick Townsend; (3) vacate the trial court‟s dismissal of appellant‟s claims for unjust enrichment against both appellees as time-barred; and (5) remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Judge McLeese would reinstate and remand on all the asserted claims.

Cision PR Newswire covered the litigation by carrying a statement from Appellant's counsel. (Mike Frisch)

Billable Hours | Permalink


Post a comment