Florida Third DCA Finds No Conflict Where Attorney Sues Former Client

A decision from the Third District Court of Appeals found that two attorneys may continue to oppose each other in litigation even though one once represented the other. The court noted that there was no conflict under Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.9 because the current litigation involved a completely separate matter, ended years before the current litigation was filed, and the current litigation would not require one of the attorneys to “attack work that he performed for [his former client].”

The opinion gave leave to Miami attorney Andy Hall to pursue a lawsuit against his former client Jeremy Alters. Hall was hired by Gustavo and Alfredo Villoldo to take over Alter’s terrorism litigation against Cuba and Fidel Castro after deficiencies were found in the $1.1 billion judgment Alters won for his clients. Around the same time, Alters hired Hall to represent him in an entirely separate matter – a dispute over fees in a multi-million dollar class action lawsuit against Bank of America.

Despite the fact that Hall was no longer representing Alters in the Bank of America dispute by the time Hall sued Alters on behalf of the Villoldos, Alters moved to recuse Hall, relying on a 1988 Florida Appellate case discussing Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.9. Alters argued that the 1988 case expanded Rule 4-1.9 to prohibit suing a former client when doing so would violate the principle of client loyalty or create an appearance of impropriety. However, the court denied Alters’ motion, noting  that the 1988 case simply explained why the rule could apply even when a client’s reasonable expectation of confidentiality was not at stake.

Read the full opinion here.