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WIGGIN & CO. v. AMPTON INVESTMENTS

September 29, 1999

WIGGIN & CO., PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMPTON INVESTMENTS, INC. AND LAURENCE N. STRENGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.

OPINION

Defendants Ampton Investments, Inc. ("Ampton") and Laurence N. Strenger ("Strenger") (collectively "A & S") have again moved to stay this action brought by plaintiff Wiggin & Co. ("Wiggin"). For the reasons set forth below, the motion to stay is granted, with leave granted to Wiggin to move to dissolve upon any of the conditions described below.

The Parties

Wiggin is a British law firm with a Los Angeles office. Alleging diversity jurisdiction, Wiggin seeks to recover some $325,000 in legal fees for work alleged to have been performed in Great Britain and California.

Ampton is a California corporation with its principal place of business in New York. Strenger is a lawyer, an officer of Ampton, and a New York resident. He performed services on behalf of Ampton in connection with the transactions which gave rise to Wiggin's claim for legal fees.

These transactions, undertaken commencing in 1995, involved the unsuccessful effort of a non-party, White Rose Channel 5 Ltd., a joint venture ("White Rose"), to obtain a license to operate an independent television channel in the United Kingdom.

Prior Proceedings

Wiggin sought payment of its fees from A & S in 1997 and agreed to forbear from collection until October 2, 1998. On September 28, 1998, A & S commenced an action in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, Ampton Investments, Inc., Laurence N. Strenger, Plaintiffs v. Wiggin and Co., Wiggin Group of European Lawyers and Tax Advisors, and Does 1 through 100 inclusive, Defendants, Case No. BC 198222 (the "California Action"), seeking a declaratory judgment that no fees were due and owing and alleging a violation of a California unfair business practices statute.

On October 27, 1998, Wiggin brought this action seeking to recover its legal fees. A & S subsequently moved to stay this action. During the pendency of that motion, Wiggin removed the California Action to the United States District Court for the Central District of California, following which A & S moved to remand.

On December 2, 1998, this Court denied the stay requested by A & S with leave granted to renew.

On January 14, 1999, the motion to remand in the California Action was granted, and thereafter A & S served discovery demands. Wiggin then moved to dismiss the California Action, and on May 6 served discovery demands in this action. A & S moved for a hearing on June 4, 1999 to compel discovery in the California Action.

On June 24, 1999, the California court granted Wiggin's motion to dismiss the declaratory judgment with leave granted to amend, denied the motion to dismiss the unfair business practices claim, directed mediation on December 31, 1999, and set a trial date of February 28, 2000. The California court noted that the issue of an unfair business practice would turn upon the nature of the relationship between the parties.

A & S renewed their motion to stay this action on abstention grounds, citing Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 96 S.Ct. 1236, 47 L.Ed.2d 483 (1976), which ...


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