The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court
ORDER MOTION TO DISQUALIFY QUINN EMANUEL WITHOUT PREJUDICE (1) DENYING DIRECTV'S (2) DENYING DIRECTV'S CANON
On March 9, DirecTV, Inc. ("DirecTV") filed a motion to disqualify the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP ("Quinn Emanuel") from representing Plaintiff Multimedia Patent Trust ("MPT") and a motion to intervene as a third-party to bring the motion to disqualify. (Doc. Nos. 29, 31.) On April 14, 2011, Plaintiff MPT filed a response in opposition to the motion to disqualify and a non-opposition to the motion to intervene. (Doc. Nos. 48-51.) On April 21, 2011, DirecTV filed its reply. (Doc. No. 53.) The Court held a motion hearing on April 28, 2011. Michael Amon, John Thornburgh, John Crook, and Lara Sue Garner appeared on behalf of DirecTV. Frederick Lorig and Harry Oliver, Jr. appeared for Plaintiff MPT. Lara Sue Garner appeared on behalf of Defendants Apple and LG Electronics. Alyssa Margaret Caridis was present on behalf of Defendant Canon.
The Court permits DirecTV to make its motion to disqualify Quinn Emanuel. After due consideration, the Court denies without prejudice DirecTV's motion to disqualify Quinn Emanuel from representing Plaintiff MPT and denies DirecTV's motion to intervene as moot.
On December 20, 2010, Plaintiff MPT filed the present lawsuit in this Court alleging patent infringement against several defendants, including Apple, Canon, LG Electronics, and Tivo. (Doc. No. 1.) MPT asserted three patents against Defendants: U.S. Patent Nos. 4,958,226 ('266 patent), 5,227,878 ('878 patent), and 5,136,377 ('377 patent). All asserted patents in this case have been construed by this Court in previous cases.*fn1 DirecTV is not a party to this litigation. MPT is represented in the present case by Quinn Emanuel.
Previously, on February 13, 2009, Plaintiff MPT filed a lawsuit in this Court alleging patent infringement against several other defendants, including DirecTV ("MPT v. DirecTV"). (Multimedia Patent Trust v. DirecTV, Inc., et. al., Case No. 09-CV-278-H (CAB), Doc. No.1.) In that litigation, MPT is represented by the law firm of Cooley Godward Kronish LLP. Quinn Emanuel is not involved in the MPT v. DirecTV litigation.
DirecTV is a current client of Quinn Emanuel and has been a client since 1996. (Doc. No. 31-7, Declaration of John Crook ("Crook Decl."), ¶ 6.). Quinn Emanuel currently represents DirecTV in at least four matters. (Id. ¶ 7.) After learning about Quinn Emanuel's representation of MPT in this present case, DirecTV and Quinn Emanuel have engaged in a series of discussions regarding any potential conflicts arising from the representation. (See Crook Decl. ¶¶ 10, 12; Doc. No. 31-2, Declaration of Michael Amon ("Amon Decl."), Exs. 1-4.) The parties were unable to reach a resolution on the issue. DirecTV brings the present motion to disqualify Quinn Emanuel from representing MPT in a case where DirecTV is not a party to the litigation.
The right to disqualify counsel is within the discretion of the trial court as an exercise of its inherent powers. See United States v. Wunsch, 84 F.3d 1110, 1114 (9th Cir. 1996); Visa U.S.A., Inc. v. First Data Corp., 241 F. Supp.2d 1100, 1103 (N.D. Cal. 2003). Motions to disqualify counsel are decided under state law. In re County of Los Angeles, 223 F.3d 990, 995 (9th Cir.2000); see also Civil Local Rule 83.4(b) ("Every member of the bar of this court and any attorney permitted to practice in this court shall be familiar with and comply with the standards of professional conduct required of members of the State Bar of California, and decisions of any court applicable thereto, which are hereby adopted as standards of professional conduct of this court".). Because a motion to disqualify is often tactically motivated and can be disruptive to the litigation process, disqualification is considered to be a drastic measure that is generally disfavored and imposed only when absolutely necessary. Concat LP v. Unilever, PLC, 350 F. Supp.2d 796, 814-15 (N.D. Cal. 2004). In addition, requests for disqualification "should be subjected to particularly strict judicial scrutiny." Optyl Eyewear Fashion Int'l Corp. v. Style Cos., 760 F.2d 1045, 1050 (9th Cir.1985) (internal quotations omitted). The party seeking disqualification bears a heavy burden. City and County of San Francisco v. Cobra Solutions, Inc., 38 Cal.4th 839, 851 (2006).
Under rules of professional conduct, a lawyer owes a client a duty of loyalty. California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-310(c) states that:
(C) A member shall not, without the informed written consent of each client:
(1) Accept representation of more than one client in a matter in which the interests of the clients potentially conflict; or
(2) Accept or continue representation of more than one client in a matter in which the interests of the ...