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MacFarlanes v. Clark

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

December 24, 2014

MACFARLANES, LLP, Plaintiff,
v.
CHARLES LANGE CLARK, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

In this action, Macfarlanes, LLP, a London-based law firm, seeks to enforce a judgment that the firm obtained against Charles Lange Clark in London's High Court of Justice, Chancery Division. (Doc. 1, ¶ 5). Mr. Clark, an Alabama citizen, hired Macfarlanes to assist with legal matters concerning the estate of his deceased aunt because some of the assets of the estate were located in London. Mr. Clark contends that he was acting in his capacity as the administrator of his aunt's estate when he signed a retainer agreement with Macfarlanes. Nevertheless, Mcfarlanes obtained what amounts to a default judgment against Mr. Clark in his individual capacity because Clark did not defend himself in the litigation in London.

As a basis for enforcing the London judgment in this Court, Macfarlanes invokes Alabama's new Uniform Foreign-Country Money Judgments Recognition Act, Ala. Code § 6-9-250, et seq. ("FCMJA"). Alternatively, Macfarlanes contends that the Court should enforce the judgment on the basis of principles of comity. Mr. Clark asks the Court either to dismiss the action or to abstain from this action in deference to a state court probate proceeding concerning Mr. Clark's aunt's estate.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies Mr. Clark's motion to dismiss. The Court withholds a decision on the issue of abstention pending mediation.

II. Factual and Procedural Background

A. The Macfarlanes/Clark Relationship

On January 11, 2010, the Jefferson County Probate Court appointed Mr. Clark to serve as the administrator of the Alabama estate of his late aunt, Kathryn Lange. (Doc. 5, p. 1). Because Ms. Lange had significant real estate holdings in England and lived in London at the time of her death, Mr. Clark retained Macfarlanes to help him navigate parallel probate proceedings in London. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 11, 12; Doc. 5, p. 1). On March 2, 2010, the Jefferson County Probate Court entered an "Order to Pay Expenses, Hire Counsel and Manage Real Property" that included the following provision:

[T]he Administrator, Lange Clark is authorized to hire counsel in London, England to advise him of any and all rights, responsibilities and obligations of [Kathryn Lange's] estate. He may pay any and all cost to said counsel for managing the estate in London, England from the funds currently in the estate of Kathryn Marie Lange. Also, should any legal documentation be presented in the courts in England, the Administrator is advised to get legal counsel in England to question the validity of said documentation since it has been brought to the attention of this court that the deceased had numerous issues that could have diminished her capacity to make said will or legal documents. It is FURTHER ORDERED that the Administrator is authorized, within reason, to pay any and all expenses for the burial of the deceased, [and] legal fees for the estate in both Birmingham and London....

(Doc. 5-1, pp. 4-5; Order to Pay Expenses, Hire Counsel, and Manage Real Property, Case No. 206962, filed March 2, 2010).[1]

After Mr. Clark contacted Macfarlanes, the firm sent Mr. Clark an engagement letter. (Doc. 1, ¶ 13). The letter states:

We have identified you as our client for professional purposes and we will only address our bills to you.
[B]ased on our current limited knowledge, we would envisage that our fees for [working on the matter of Kathryn Lange's estate in England] will be in the region of £40, 000 to £70, 000 plus any VAT and expenses. It is at this early stage impossible to provide an estimate ...

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