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Grewal v. Cuneo

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 20, 2014

PREETPAL GREWAL, Plaintiff,
v.
JONATHAN W. CUNEO, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

HENRY PITMAN, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

By notice of motion dated December 24, 2013 (Docket Item 45) Elizabeth Thomas, appearing pro se, moves to intervene in this action. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied without prejudice to Ms. Thomas's right to commence any action she believes is appropriate and consistent with her obligations under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11.[1]

II. Facts

This action arises out of the soured relationship between plaintiff - an attorney - and the law firm at which she alleges she was a partner. The Second Amended Complaint (Docket Item 44) ("Sec. Am. Compl.") asserts the following facts.

Defendant Cuneo Gilbert & LaDuca LLC ("CGL") is a law firm operating as a limited liability partnership with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 8). Plaintiff is an attorney licensed to practice in both India and New York (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 17).

In 2008, plaintiff, CGL and its principals agreed that plaintiff would commence employment with CGL (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 27-31). According to plaintiff, the she was offered what CGL characterized as the "standard deal, '" i.e., plaintiff would receive hourly compensation for "client development activities, " ten percent of work she originated and twelve percent of her "lodestar contribution" (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 30). Plaintiff began working at CGL on June 30, 3008 and was treated as a partner from the inception of her employment (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-34). Fee applications from other CGL partners routinely described plaintiff as a partner (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 36-42).

Plaintiff alleges that at some point in 2008, other partners at CGL struck a deal with an international antitrust attorney, Michael Hausfeld, pursuant to which Hausfeld would refer domestic antitrust work to CGL in return for which CGL would refer antitrust work on behalf of Indian clients to Hausfeld (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 45-46). Plaintiff was not advised of this arrangement at the time, and alleges that one of its effects was to deprive her of the benefits of her business development efforts in India (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 46). Without knowledge of this allegedly secret agreement, plaintiff traveled to India on multiple occasions in 2008 and 2009, partly at her own expense, in an effort to develop business (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 47-53). Plaintiff's efforts were fruitful and she succeeded in securing business from several Indian corporations (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 51-52).

While plaintiff was working at developing Indian clients, the other partners at CGL became disaffected with their relationship with Hausfeld and were no longer interested in referring international antitrust work to him (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 54-55). In addition, CGL itself lost interest in representing Indian clients, thereby substantially devaluing plaintiff's client development work (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 55-56). CGL also began to question the expense reports plaintiff submitted in connection with her trips to India (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 56), refused to assign antitrust work to plaintiff and told plaintiff to develop her own domestic cases (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 57).

Plaintiff claims that CGL hired other attorneys with expertise in antitrust with the intention of forcing plaintiff out of such cases (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 61). Work that plaintiff brought to CGL was assigned to other attorneys, and plaintiff was not given credit for developing that business or for the substantive work that she did on business she developed (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 62-94). Other attorneys at CGL misappropriated plaintiff's ideas for commencing class actions (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 95-98).

Plaintiff also alleges that other attorneys at CGL mocked and denigrated her Indian ancestry, and stated that the firm did not "take her seriously" (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 99-105).

In 2012, CGL terminated plaintiff's employment, alleging that plaintiff had engaged in unethical conduct by ghost writing a pleading for a pro se litigant, Elizabeth Thomas, the proposed intervenor (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 112-28).

Based on the foregoing, plaintiff has asserted claims against CGL and its members for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, unlawful interference with contractual relations, fraudulent inducement, unlawful threats, violation of the New York Human Rights Law, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, unfair competition, disparagement/unlawful interference with prospective clients, discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[2] and RICO violations.

The proposed intervenor, Elizabeth Thomas, is the pro se litigant with whom plaintiff allegedly consulted. Although plaintiff's complaint against the defendants focuses on the relationship among plaintiff, CGL and its principals, Thomas's proposed intervenor complaint (Docket Item 43) focuses on the relationship between Thomas on the one hand and plaintiff and CGL on the other. Based on allegedly defective advice plaintiff and CGL provided to her in connection with an action plaintiff commenced pro se in the Eastern District of New York entitled Thomas v. Mort. Elect. Registration Sys., Inc., CV-11-3656 (JG)(RML), Thomas seeks to assert claims against plaintiff and CGL for deceit, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress (Docket Item 45).

III. Analysis

Fed.R.Civ.P. 24 governs intervention and provides, ...


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