State Farm grabs the torch back and burns Provost-Umphrey

You give credit where credit is due and the hands-down winner of the Most Believable Motion by State Farm Attorney contest is H. Scott Spraggings of the Oxford firm Hickman, Goza, and Spraggins for his Motion to Disqualify Provost-Umphrey.

He probably won’t accept the grand prize – a picture of the Qui Tam attorneys with the message “Thank you, Scott” inscribed and signed by Tony Dewitt.

Spraggins built his mansion of a motion without reference to the sand of the two assumptions Judge Senter accepted as fact in deciding to disqualify the Qui Tam attorneys – and, in doing so, provides compelling evidence of the lack of due process in the premises underlying Senter’s decision to disqualify the two Missouri firms.

Those two assumptions – the Rigsby sisters “purloined” (stole) documents and SKG paid for these documents via a “sham” agreement they had with Scruggs – have never been argued and proven in court; and, the only case where either could be argued is the Qui Tam. Judge Senter thus denied both the Rigsby sisters and their Qui Tam attorneys due process by considering both assumptions as fact based on inference drawn from testimony of the sisters in depositions taken and cited by State Farm.

Because the outcome of State Farm’s use of the answers to their biased questions in related motions was the disqualification of the relator’s attorneys, the company could become subject to claims of tortious interference if Senter’s decision stands.

Spraggin’s motion to disqualify Provost-Umphrey, however, paints of very clear picture of the reason Senter’s decision to disqualify the Qui Tam attorneys should not stand.

Finally, on May 19, 2008, Judge Senter disqualified relators’ counsel in a “qui tam” action brought pursuant to the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3732. [United States ex rel. Rigsby v. State Farm, Civ. A. No. 1:06-cv-433-LTS-RHW, Dkt. 177.] The court reasoned that “from the time [counsel] agreed to associate themselves with [The Scruggs Law Firm] . . . in this action they were engaged in a cooperative effort” with disqualified counsel. [Id. at 3-4.] The court also held that “all of these attorneys . . . were operating under the[] rules of professional conduct, and all of these attorneys have a duty to adhere to the ethical rules that govern the conduct of members of the bar.” [Id. at 5.]

The “disqualified counsel” in this case were Dickie Scruggs, his son Zach, and Sid Backstrom as members of SKG and, by application of law established in Duggins, the other member firms of SKG who reformed as KLG. Senter’s order acknowledges the two Missouri firms were not members of either group.

Consequently, the overly broad application of Duggins in his decision to disqualify the relator’s attorneys in ex el Rigsby v State Farm raises additional issues of due process – and eyebrows, too, when viewed in the contrast provided by the construction of Spraggin’s motion.

4 thoughts on “State Farm grabs the torch back and burns Provost-Umphrey”

  1. The contrast in behavior between Nutt and Barrett is interesting. One (Nutt) takes the hint and walks away, the other (Barrett) continues to try to manipulate the situation to its own benefit.

    One is a slow learner and one is not. Guess which is which.

  2. The contrast was definitely interesting, claimsguy. Here’s a different take from the story in today’s Sun Herald.

    Attorney Bryan Blevins of Provost Umphrey said the firm has not been associated with Scruggs on any Katrina cases. As for the letters to policyholders, he said Scruggs had an ethical duty to assist clients in finding new representation.

    “The motions rely on a tortuous application of the court’s order and, as such, we believe that the facts surrounding Provost Umphrey’s involvement in these cases are substantially different than those firms disqualified,”

    Blevins said. “We have communicated the (State Farm and Renfroe) motions to our clients and assured them that we will respond immediately.”

  3. “potentially” is more like it since there’s been no response; but , one of the exhibits in the SF motion was a letter from Nutt to the Court (Senter) saying the letter had been sent and they were not referring clients or expecting/asking for reimbursement of what they had spent. So, the fact that Barrett is referring clients is where the notion of potential benefit comes from. It’s all mind boggling!

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