ST. LOUIS – A federal judge ordered a plaintiff’s attorney to pay more than $89,000 to Ford Motor Co. and Michelin North America for refusing to abide by the court’s orders. Judge Rodney Sippel ordered attorney John Merritt to pay $79,575 to Ford and $9,595 to Michelin in sanctions for refiling his client’s lawsuit after it was rejected by Mexican courts.
Merritt, of Oklahoma City, was co-counsel representing Gonzalo Garcia, who claimed his decedent was killed in a vehicle accident in Mexico due to the defendants’ defective tires.
The case was filed twice in St. Louis Federal Court in 2003. Judge Sippel dismissed it because of the existence of an adequate forum in Mexico, but stipulated that the court would retain jurisdiction if for any reason the Mexican courts refused jurisdiction.
A Mexican trial court and appellate court refused jurisdiction because the defendants were not served with proper notice and the case was brought before Sippel again in 2006.
In September 2006 Merritt sent a letter to the defendants’ attorneys stating that the plaintiffs would be initiating a new lawsuit in Mexico, court papers state.
The defendants responded with a request to delay filing of the suit, so they could retain Mexican counsel.
Merritt responded that the Mexican lawyers were going forward with the suit and that he had no control over them.
The defense again asked that the plaintiffs reconsider their position and join the defendants in submitting an express submission agreement that would have validated the jurisdiction of the Mexican court.
The plaintiffs refused.
Sippel wrote in a January 2007 order, “Garcia attempted to perform an end-run around my July 2003 order dismissing this case on the basis of forum non conveniens by purposefully refusing to give notice to Ford and Michelin that it had filed suit against them in Mexico. It appears from the facts that this game-playing has continued into the latest attempt to bring the case in Mexico.”
Sippel ruled that Merritt intentionally acted in concert with Mexican counsel to not provide proper service to the defendants so the case would be dismissed.
“Rather than providing the necessary assistance that I ordered him to provide, Mr. Merritt backed out of his obligation to the Defendants and this Court, and gave added incentive to the Mexican counsel to do what they could to avoid a finding of jurisdiction in” Mexico, Sippel wrote.