HOUSTON—A Texas law firm wants a federal judge to order a man suing the firm for malpractice to be compelled to enter arbitration, and have the suit either dismissed or stayed.
The O’Quinn Law Firm filed a motion on May 19 asking the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Houston to force Clifton Gatlin to abide by an arbitration clause in an agreement he signed when the firm that represented him in a silicosis case.
Gatlin, who spent 20 years working as a sandblaster, retained the O’Quinn Law Firm in the early 2000s to represent him in a case against companies that he said were responsible for his silicosis.
Earlier this year he sued the firm. In his filing, he claimed that John M. O’Quinn, the deceased founder of the firm, promised him a settlement of more than $4 million, but failed to deliver. Instead, he claims the firm failed to represent him properly, including charging that it failed to finalize several settlement agreements, including two totaling $400,000; that it didn’t release his settlement funds in a timely manner; and that it overbilled him.
The firm has filed several motions opposing Gatlin’s suit, with the request for enforcement of an arbitration clause being among the most recent. In the filing, the suit points to a Power of Attorney and Contingent Fee Contract that Gatlin signed. One of the clauses of the contract requires that disputes be resolved by binding arbitration. Only after arbitration could any party sue the other, according to the contract.
The firm is arguing that because Gatlin signed the contract, and because he is alleging that the firm violated the contract’s provisions, the case should go to arbitration.
“First and foremost, Gatlin signed the agreement and as previously noted, is invoking several of its terms in his claim against all the defendants,” the motion states. “Courts in both Texas and the Fifth Circuit have repeatedly held that ‘a litigant who sues based on a contract subjects him or herself to the contract’s terms.’”
The firm’s motion goes on to outline the validity of its arbitration clause and argue why the court should enforce that clause. In particular, it cites two similar cases by former O’Quinn clients who were ordered to arbitration by federal judges.
“These federal court decisions are especially relevant to the present case, as the Bates and Lane plaintiffs brought virtually the same silicosis-related malpractice based claims and signed the same or similar POAs with the O’Quinn Firm containing the same arbitration clauses as the plaintiff in the present case,” the motion read. “In addition to the federal court decisions, hundreds of similarly-situated plaintiffs in four Mississippi state circuit courts have also had their cases ordered to arbitration.”
Gatlin’s case is the latest legal wrangling between the firm and silicosis clients. In 2012 a class action suit was filed against the O’Quinn Law Firm claiming the firm didn’t disburse payments in a timely manner, overbilled clients and destroyed incriminating evidence.