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Brennan’s Inc. v. Brennan’s Restaurants, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    A lawsuit followed when the Brennan family split ownership of their businesses between two family groups in which each group claimed ownership of the registered trademarks, and Brennan’s, Inc. (Plaintiff) sought to disqualify the attorney who had represented all the family corporations

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A former client seeking to disqualify an attorney appearing on behalf of his adversary need only show that the matters contained in the pending suit are greatly related to the matters or cause of action the attorney had represented for him

    Facts.

    The Brennan family owned and closely held all the corporate parties.  Wegmann jointly represented all the family businesses in a successful application for registration of three trademarks.  Later, a dispute within the Brennan family was resolved by dividing the stock between two opposing groups.  Brennan’s, Inc. (Plaintiff) went to one group, and Brennan’s Restaurants (Defendant) went to the other group.  Wegmann chose to represent Brennan’s Restaurants (Defendant), and therefore cut his ties with Brennan’s Inc. (Plaintiff).  This suit was filed aftr both groups claimed ownership of the registered trademarks.  Wegmann retained Spring to assist him in the defense of Brennan’s Restaurants (Defendant).  Brennan’s, Inc. (Plaintiff) moved to have both attorneys disqualified.  The district court granted the motion, and this appeal followed.

    Issue.

    Does a former client seeking to disqualify an attorney appearing on behalf of his adversary need only to show that the matters contained in the pending suit are greatly related to the matters or cause of action the attorney had represented for him

    Held.

    (Tjoflat, J.)  Yes.  A former client seeking to disqualify an attorney appearing on behalf of his adversary need only show that the matters contained in the pending suit are greatly related to the matters or cause of action the attorney had represented for him.  This rule rests upon the presumption that potentially damaging information to the client has been shared with the attorney during the prior time of representation.  Because a conflict of interest is obvious given these facts, the balance weighs in favor of disqualification for Wegmann.  However, the balance weighs against disqualification of Sprung.  A presumption of disclosure of confidences in his case is not appropriate.  Remanded for a finding of whether Spring has learned from Wegmann information his former client did not want disclosed to his current clients.

    Discussion.

    The obligation of an attorney not to misuse information gained during representation serves to vindicate the trust and reliance that clients place in their attorneys.  A client would feel wronged if an opponent prevailed against him with the aid of an attorney who formerly represented that client in the same matter.  The need to safeguard the attorney-client relationship is not lessened by the fact that the prior representation was joint with the attorney’s present client.


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