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LAGOVEN, S.A. v. PLAZA PETROLEUM

July 2, 1993

LAGOVEN, S.A., Plaintiff,
v.
PLAZA PETROLEUM, INC., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: EUGENE H. NICKERSON

 NICKERSON, District Judge:

 Plaintiff Lagoven, S.A. (Lagoven) brings this action to obtain payment from defendant Plaza Petroleum, Inc. (Plaza) for oil products delivered by Lagoven to Plaza in 1991. Plaza moves to disqualify Lagoven's counsel.

 I

 The essential background facts are, in substance, the following.

 On February 7, 1991 Lagoven transferred 947 metric tons of oil products from its pipeline in Amuay Bay, Venezuela to the M/T White Sea, a cargo vessel. Lagoven sent an invoice to Plaza on February 9, 1991 in the amount of $ 131,228.23 with instructions to remit payment within 30 days to a specific account at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York.

 Plaza says that it instructed its bank, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. (Manufacturers Hanover), to wire the funds to the Lagoven account but that the wire transfer inexplicably went awry. Plaza says the monies were deducted from its account. Lagoven says the funds were never received.

 In late July 1991 Lagoven requested collection assistance from its current counsel, the law firm of Haight, Gardner, Poor & Havens (Haight Gardner). That firm conducted its standard internal conflict of interest search and learned that it had represented Plaza in several matters in the past. It concluded that its representation of Plaza had concluded by early 1991 and that the present matter did not bear a substantial relationship to any past matter. Moreover, it determined that no attorney who had had access to Plaza's files would be allowed to work on the Lagoven matter. Accordingly, it agreed to represent Lagoven in the matter.

 Meanwhile, Lagoven pressed Plaza for payment. On August 2, 1991 Plaza responded with a letter to Lagoven explaining that it was diligently urging Manufacturers Hanover to locate the funds, adding it had instructed Plaza's attorneys "in New York to pursue action." While Plaza has not identified the law firm from which it sought assistance, it was not Haight Gardner.

 On August 15, 1991 Haight Gardner informed Plaza that it was representing Lagoven in this collection matter and asked Plaza to remit payment. Plaza responded to Haight Gardner by letter dated August 22, 1991, explaining that it was unable to remit payment because the "funds in question are sitting in [a] 'limbo' type account of Manufacturers Hanover Trust, or Chase Manhattan."

 In June 1992, some ten months later, Plaza retained its present counsel, Robert Castellano, who, in a letter dated June 10, 1992, objected to Haight Gardner's representation of Lagoven. Haight Gardner attempted to negotiate a resolution during the next several months, but Mr. Castellano appeared unwilling to discuss the merits of the dispute.

 In evident frustration with Plaza's refusal to resolve the issue, Lagoven brought this action on September 3, 1992. Plaza filed an answer presumably conforming to the "reasonable inquiry" requirement of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, denying allegations that (i) Plaza had purchased the oil products from Lagoven, (ii) Lagoven had made "repeated inquiries" regarding payment, and (iii) the correspondence in which Plaza stated that the wire transfer was misdirected constituted an admission of liability.


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