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Harrison v. Capital Group Companies

October 9, 2009

CRAIG E. HARRISON PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
THE CAPITAL GROUP COMPANIES, INC., SUSAN SHERWOOD, AND JOHN PHELAN COMPANY DEFENDANT(S).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge

ORDER STAYING CASE IN ITS ENTIRETY

Before the Court are the following motions: (1) Defendant The Capital Group Companies, Inc.'s ("CGC") Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Stay Plaintiff's Complaint, and/or to Strike Portions of Plaintiff's Complaint (the "CGC Motion"); (2) Defendant John Phelan's ("Phelan") Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Stay Plaintiff's Complaint, and/or to Strike Portions of Plaintiff's Complaint (the"Phelan Motion"); and (3) Defendant Susan Sherwood's ("Sherwood") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs's Complaint or, in the Alternative, to Quash Service of Process of Summons and Complaint (the "Sherwood Motion"). The Court finds the matters appropriate for decision without oral argument. FED. R. CIV. P. 78; LOCAL R. 7-15. After considering the moving, opposing, and replying papers, the Court hereby GRANTS the CGC and Phelan Motions and STAYS this matter in its entirety. Deciding to stay this matter, the Court abstains from ruling on the Sherwood Motion and hereby holds it in abeyance.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Craig E. Harrison ("Harrison") filed the instant federal suit on August 12, 2009, against Defendants CGC, Phelan, and Sherwood. However, this is not the first litigation between the parties. There is no dispute that Harrison worked for CGC as a computer consultant and on an independent contractor basis from approximately February to October 2003. More specifically, Harrison directly worked for a consulting company, MPAQ Systems, Inc., that entered into a contract with Surrex Solutions Corporation ("Surrex"). Surrex then had a contract with CGC and through Surrex, Harrison secured the position with CGC. In addition, Sherwood was Harrison's supervisor during his tenure at CGC.

As alleged by Harrison, CGC purportedly terminated his services a few days after he reported abuses he suffered at the hands of a CGC employee. On October 24, 2003, Sherwood informed Robert Bishop ("Bishop") at Surrex that CGC would no longer be needing Harrison's services. In communicating the termination, Harrison alleges that "Sherwood told Bishop that Plaintiff's contract was terminated because he was not 'truthful,' 'was not getting along with team members,' had 'bad-mouthed' [CGC employees], and was not taking accountability for some of the issues during [CGC's] testing of the RAMS computer system." Compl., ¶ 17. The next day, on October 25, 2003, Bishop called Harrison to inform him that he would no longer be needed at CGC, though Harrison contends that Bishop did not disclose the (allegedly) defamatory comments made by Sherwood.

On October 31, 2003, Harrison filed his first civil complaint with respect to these events, alleging that "Defendant's representative Susan Sherwood intimated [sic], and threatened [him] with unjust harm to reputation." Compl., ¶ 107 and Exh. 154 attached thereto (at ¶ 13). That action was voluntarily dismissed on May 21, 2004. On July 25, 2005, Harrison filed a second civil complaint alleging seven causes of action against CGC, Sherwood, and another CGC employee. At the hearing on all three defendants' motions for summary judgment, the trial court also heard Harrison's motion for leave to amend the complaint in order to insert a defamation cause of action. On September 26, 2006, the trial court denied the motion for leave to amend and granted all three defendants' motions for summary judgment. Harrison appealed all orders, and the state appellate court ultimately affirmed.

Then, on January 12, 2007, Harrison filed his third civil complaint against CGC and Sherwood for defamation, based on the October 24, 2003 comments allegedly made by Sherwood to Bishop. During that proceeding, Harrison sought to depose Phelan, a high level executive in CGC, who Harrison claims approved the decision to discontinue Harrison's tenure at CGC (and who also was not a named defendant in that case), but Defendants sought a protective order on December 10, 2007, that presiding Judge Dennis S. Choate ultimately granted. On January 24, 2008, Judge Choate further granted summary judgment for CGC and Sherwood. In the order granting summary judgment, Judge Choate states, "[t]here is no triable issue of material fact that [Harrison's single claim for defamation] is barred by the statute of limitations, and there is no tolling of the statute." Compl., ¶ 25. On March 10, 2008, Harrison filed a motion for a new trial, contending that summary judgment was not justified due to errors of law, insufficient evidence presented, and other irregularities in the proceeding. In addition, on April 16, 2008, Harrison filed a motion to disqualify Judge Choate, claiming that Judge Choate is an "admitted defamer." Exh. 4 to Compl. at ¶ 53. Judge Choate resigned from the bench before resolving the motions, and the matter was reassigned to Judge Peter Polos who ultimately denied the motion for new trial. The briefing on the motion for a new trial also included allegations that Judge Choate was properly disqualified from the proceeding and thus all his rulings were void.

On May 21, 2008, Harrison appealed the state court judgment on his third civil complaint. Harrison's appeal currently pending before the state appellate court raises the following issues:

A. Whether the summary judgment for Respondent should be reversed, and Harrison allowed a jury trial on his Defamation Action, based on Respondents' failure to meet their burden, imposed by CCP §437c(p)(2), to show that Harrison's defamation cause of action has no merit.

B. Whether the summary judgment should be reversed , and Harrison allowed a jury trial on his Defamation Action, based on Respondents' failure to meet their burden, imposed by CCP §437c(p)(2), to show that the statute of limitations is a complete defense to Harrison's defamation cause of action.

C. Whether the Trial Court's decision to grant Respondents' motion for protective order to prohibit Harrison from deposing John Phelan, the Capital executive who made the decision to terminate Harrrison's contract, substantially prejudiced Harrison.

D. Whether the Trial Court violated CCP §437c(h) by rejecting Harrison's request for a continuance to obtain material information in support of his opposition, including the depositions of key witnesses regarding Respondents' defamation.

E. Whether all orders made and executed by a disqualified judge, including (1) the order granting Respondents' motion for a protective order and sanctioning Harrison for opposing it, (2) the ruling denying Harrison's request for a continuance pursuant to CCP §437c(h), (3) the order granting Respondent's summary judgment motion, and (4) the summary judgment based on these orders and rulings, should be vacated.

F. Whether the order denying Harrison's new trial motion should be reversed because the summary judgment ruling and order, as well as the protective order precluding Harrison from deposing a material witness to the defamation, made by a disqualified judge, constituted an ...


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