Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Energy, Oil and Gas
Baker & McKenzie, LLP v. Evans, Jr.
In 2008, Plaintiffs S. Lavon Evans Jr. and his companies S. Lavon Evans Jr. Operating Company, Inc.; S. Lavon Evans Jr. Drilling Ventures, LLC; and E & D Services, Inc. sued Defendants the law firm of Baker & McKenzie, LLP, and one of its partners, Joel Held. The complaint also named as defendants Laredo Energy Holdings, LLC, and its related subsidiaries S. Lavon Evans Operating Texas, LLC, and E & D Drilling Services, LLC. Plaintiffs listed seven causes of action in the complaint: counts one and seven charged the Baker Defendants with legal malpractice and breach of contract; counts two through six charged all the defendants with breach of fiduciary duty, negligent omission and misstatements of material facts, civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting, tortious interference, and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing. Defendants Laredo Energy Holdings, LLC; S. Lavon Evans Operating Texas, LLC; and E&D Drilling Services filed a cross-claim against the Baker Defendants claiming legal malpractice, breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and breach of fiduciary duty. Evans asserted that in 2007, he lost access to his companies’ two largest assets (two oil drilling rigs) and was sued in Texas by the Baker Defendants on behalf of Reed Cagle (Evans’s business partner), who was acting on behalf of Laredo Energy Holdings, LLC. This triggered a flurry of liens and suits by vendors against Evans and his companies – all because, as Evans claims - he made decisions and entered agreements based on advice and recommendations from the Baker Defendants, who Evans believed to be his lawyers. Evans claimed that his businesses once were worth more than $50 million but now were accountable for debts exceeding $31 million as a result of the conduct by the Baker Defendants. The Mississippi case was tried, and the jury returned a verdict of $103,400,000 in actual damages for Plaintiffs and Cross-Plaintiffs. S. Lavon Evans Jr. was awarded $1 million from defendant Joel Held and $30 million from Baker & McKenzie. S. Lavon Evans Operating Company, Inc., was awarded $1 million from Joel Held and $29 million from Baker & McKenzie. E&D Services, LLC, was awarded $1 million from Joel Held and $19 million from Baker & McKenzie. The jury also assessed Evans, individually, with ten-percent comparative fault. And the trial court reduced the $31 million amount awarded to Evans, individually, by ten percent. The Cross-Plaintiffs were separately awarded $22.4 million from Joel Held and Baker & McKenzie, collectively. A divided jury awarded $75,000 in punitive damages to Plaintiffs and $75,000 in punitive damages to Cross-Plaintiffs. The trial court denied the Baker Defendants’ post-trial motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, new trial, and remittitur. This appeal followed. After careful consideration of the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed as to the Baker Defendants’ liability. But because the Court found the jury was not properly instructed, it reversed and remanded the case for a new trial on proximate cause and damages.View "Baker & McKenzie, LLP v. Evans, Jr." on Justia Law