United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division
K. DuBOSE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter came before the Court for a hearing on August 28, 2019
regarding Defendant Uniti Fiber Holdings, Inc.’s Motion
to Disqualify Counsel (Doc. 13), Bradley Arant Boult
Cummings, LLP (Bradley Arant)'s Response (Doc. 29), and
Uniti Fiber Holdings, Inc.’s Reply and Notice (Docs.
31, 32). This motion is rooted in Uniti Fiber
Holdings, Inc.'s position that it was, and is, a client
of Bradley Arant. Bradley Arant contends that Uniti Fiber
Holdings, Inc. has never been, and is not currently, a client
of the law firm. For reasons explained herein, the motion to
disqualify is DENIED.
SLF Holdings, LLC (SLF) is a privately held
limited liability company in Alabama. Before July 3, 2017,
SLF owned (and had as its affiliate) Southern Light,
LLC (Southern Light). On July 3, 2017, Uniti Fiber
Holdings, Inc. acquired Southern Light.
Group, Inc. is a publicly-traded entity and the
parent corporation of 76 separate corporate entities –
one of which is Uniti Fiber Holdings, Inc.
Uniti Fiber Holdings, Inc. is a holding
company and a wholly-owned subsidiary of fellow Defendant
Uniti Group, Inc.
Fiber, LLC and Southern Light, LLC
are subsidiaries or affiliates companies of Uniti Fiber
Holdings, Inc., and Uniti Group, Inc. Uniti Fiber, LLC runs
Southern Light LLC’s day-to-day operations.
to disqualify are governed by two sources: the local rules
and federal common law. Herrmann v. GutterGuard,
Inc., 199 Fed. Appx. 745, 752 (11th Cir.
2006). Under this Court’s General Local Rules,
attorneys are governed by the Alabama Rules of
Professional Conduct and the Alabama Standards for
Imposing Lawyer Discipline. S.D. ALA. L.R. 83.3(i). As set
forth in Southern Visions, LLP v. Red Diamond, Inc.,
370 F.Supp.3d 1314, 1323 (N.D. Ala. 2019) (footnotes
“The party moving to disqualify counsel bears the
burden of proving the grounds for disqualification.”
Id. “A disqualification order is a harsh
sanction, often working substantial hardship on the client
and should therefore be resorted to sparingly.”
Herrmann, 199 F. App'x at 752 (quoting
Norton v. Tallahassee Mem'l Hosp., 689 F.2d 938,
941 n. 4 (11th Cir. 1982) ) (internal quotation marks
Two sources of law govern motions to disqualify: the local
rules of this court and federal common law. Herrmann, 199
F. App'x at 752….
*** Though state-court interpretations of the Alabama Rules
of Professional Conduct are not binding on a federal court
tasked with determining whether an attorney should be
disqualified based on a violation of the Rules, they are
persuasive authority concerning the Rules' meaning.
See Clark v. Alfa Ins. Co., No. CIV.A. 00-AR-3296-S,
2001 WL 34394281, at *5 n.1 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 7, 2001)
In deciding whether to grant a motion to disqualify, a
district court must first “identify a specific rule of
professional conduct applicable to that court and determine
whether the attorney violated that rule.” Herrmann, 199
F. App'x at 755; see also Schlumberger Techs., Inc.
v. Wiley, 113 F.3d 1553, 1561 (11th Cir. 1997)
(“[W]hile the district court's disqualification
order is based on an allegation of ethical violation, ...
[t]he court must clearly identify a specific Rule of
Professional Conduct which is applicable to the relevant
jurisdiction and must conclude that the attorney violated
that rule.”). A district court “may not
disqualify an attorney on the basis of some transcendental
code of conduct that existed only in the subjective opinion
of the court, of which the attorney had no notice.”
Schlumberger, 113 F.3d at 1561 (cleaned up).
If a violation of an ethical rule is found, disqualification
may be an appropriate sanction. See Herrmann, 199 F.
App'x at 747 (affirming disqualification order where
district court found violation of Georgia Rule of
Professional Conduct). Upon finding a violation of an
applicable ethical rule, a district court must then,
“considering binding and persuasive federal case law,
decide whether or not the ethical lapse warrants
disqualification.” Clark, 2001 WL 34394281, at
Court's Local Rule, General L.R. 83.3(i), governing
"Admission to Practice," sets forth "Standards
for Professional Conduct; Obligations" for attorneys
admitted to practice before ...