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FCA U.S. LLC v. Bullock

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 26, 2018

FCA U.S. LLC, Plaintiff,


          MARK A. GOLDSMITH United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff FCA U.S. LLC's (“FCA”) motion for a temporary restraining order (Dkt. 2). The motion has been fully briefed - including several supplemental filings from both parties - and a hearing was held on January 5, 2018. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Defendant Patrea Bullock is an attorney who previously worked for two law firms in California, Universal & Shannon, LLP (“U&S”) (August 2016 - May 2017) and Gates, O'Doherty, Gonter & Guy LLP (“GOGG”) (June 2017 - October 2017). Compl. ¶¶ 8, 20 (Dkt. 1). FCA was a client of both U&S and GOGG, and during Bullock's time at these law firms, she worked on dozens of breach of warranty cases for FCA. Id. ¶¶ 9, 21. FCA alleges that she “personally determined and advised FCA U.S. about how to respond regarding particular claims, evaluated the defenses available to FCA US, developed overall defense strategy, and engaged in regular contact with FCA U.S. regarding the defenses and strategies of various cases.” Id. ¶ 11. She participated in all aspects of these breach of warranty cases, including depositions, id. ¶¶ 14, 23; drafting responses and objections in discovery, ¶¶ 15, 25; and settlement discussions, ¶¶ 17, 22. In April 2017, Bullock attended a training program conducted by FCA's inside and outside counsel, and signed a confidentiality agreement (the “Confidentiality Agreement”) regarding certain client confidential information learned about FCA. Id. ¶ 19; Def. Supp. Br. at 3 (Dkt. 29); see also Confidentiality Agreement, Ex. A to Pl. Reply (Dkt. 17-2). Bullock was privy to “privileged, confidential, and/or sensitive information.” Id. ¶ 15.

         Bullock stopped working for GOGG in October 2017 and opened her own practice. Id. ¶ 30. She advertised herself as an “expert lemon law attorney serving Northern California.” See Website Print-out, Ex. B to Pl. Reply (Dkt. 17-3). Prior to leaving GOGG, Bullock apparently transferred data from her work computer to a USB device, including folders labeled, “Cases, ” “Helpful Info, ” “Lemon Law Cases, ” “My Business, ” and “Releases.” See Declaration of Michael Bandemer ¶ 8f (Dkt. 24).

         On November 20, 2017, Bullock filed a California lawsuit against FCA, alleging breach of warranty on behalf of an owner of an FCA-manufactured vehicle, Brown v. FCA U.S. LLC, No. 34-2017-00222086 (Super. Ct. of Cal., Sacramento). Id. ¶ 31. FCA then filed the instant complaint, alleging claims for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, violation of federal trade secret laws, breach of fiduciary duty, and injunctive relief. Since then, Bullock has filed at least two other breach of warranty lawsuits against FCA in California. See Pl. Supp. Br. (Dkt. 34) (noting Arias v. FCA US, LLC, No. FCS050161 (Super Ct. of Cal., Fairfield)); Pl. Supp. Notice (Dkt. 37) (noting Lewis v. FCA U.S. LLC, No. CV-18-240 (Super. Ct. of Cal., Yolo)).

         FCA filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, requesting that the Court enjoin Bullock from filing breach of warranty lawsuits against FCA, destroying any records or documents in her possession which were obtained from FCA which relate to breach of warranty cases, and divulging any of FCA's confidential or proprietary information, among other requests. Pl. Mot. for TRO at 15-16 (Dkt. 2).

         II. ANALYSIS

         To determine whether to grant a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order, a district court must consider: (i) whether the movant has a strong likelihood of success on the merits; (ii) whether the movant would suffer irreparable injury without the injunction; (iii) whether issuance of the injunction would cause substantial harm to others; and (iv) whether the public interest would be served by the issuance of the injunction. Baker v. Adams Cty./Ohio Valley Sch. Bd., 310 F.3d 927, 928 (6th Cir. 2002). These four factors “are factors to be balanced, not prerequisites that must be met.” Hamad v. Woodcrest Condo. Ass'n, 328 F.3d 224, 230 (6th Cir. 2003).

         A. Likelihood of success on the merits

         FCA argues that it has shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits, because Bullock has breached her fiduciary duties, misappropriated FCA's trade secrets, breached the Confidentiality Agreement, or will do so in the future. Pl. Mot. at 10. Bullock contends that FCA has failed to show that Bullock has learned any non-public information that could not be gained simply by working opposite FCA's defense attorneys. Def. Resp. to Supp. Br. at 3-4 (Dkt. 33).

         The Court finds that FCA has not, at this stage, shown a strong likelihood of success on the merits. FCA claims that Bullock has breached the fiduciary duties owed to FCA by representing the Browns and other plaintiffs. It is true that the law presumes that where former and current representations are substantially related, information learned from the client in the former representation will be used in the later representation. See, e.g., In re Marks & Goergens, Inc., 199 B.R. 922, 925 (E.D. Mich. 1996) (if a substantial relationship exists between an attorney's former and present representations, “a presumption is created that the attorney will use information received from the former client in the ethical obligation to vigorously represent the present client, thus violating the ethical obligations of loyalty and confidence”). However, this presumption only obtains where the representations are substantially related.

         FCA points out that Bullock represented FCA in at least two breach of warranty actions involving Dodge Darts, the vehicle at issue in Brown, Pl. Supp. Br. at 4-5 (Dkt. 29); Jeep Grand Cherokees, the vehicle at issue in Arias, Pl. Supp. Br. at 1-2 (Dkt. 34); and at least six cases involving a Chrysler 200, the vehicle at issue in Lewis, Pl. Supp. Notice at 1 (Dkt. 37). FCA has also provided the complaints from Bullock's current representations, and the complaints from cases that Bullock worked on while representing FCA.

         However, it offers no more than conclusory allegations that, because these cases involved the same vehicles, Bullock must be using confidential information in her current representations. The complaints themselves consist largely of boilerplate language and, at any rate, do not shed light on what is truly at issue in each case. Without more, this Court will not conclude at this stage that Bullock's former and current representations are substantially related - particularly where the California judges in each of these cases ...

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