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New Horizon Kids Quest III Inc. v. The Eighth Judicial District Court of State of Nevada

Supreme Court of Nevada

April 6, 2017

NEW HORIZON KIDS QUEST III, INC., A MINNESOTA CORPORATION, Petitioner,
v.
THE EIGHTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT OF THE STATE OF NEVADA, IN AND FOR THE COUNTY OF CLARK; AND THE HONORABLE SUSAN SCANN, DISTRICT JUDGE, Respondents, and ISABELLA GODOY, A MINOR BY AND THROUGH HER MOTHER, VERONICA JAIME, Real Parties in Interest.

         Original petition for a writ of mandamus challenging a district court order denying a motion to disqualify counsel.

         Petition denied.

          Olson, Cannon, Gormley, Angulo & Stoberski and Felicia Galati and James R. Olson, Las Vegas, for Petitioner.

          Kravitz, Schnitzer & Johnson, Chtd., and Martin J. Kravitz, Jordan P. Schnitzer, and Wade J. Van Sickle, Las Vegas, for Real Parties in Interest.

          BEFORE CHERRY, C.J., DOUGLAS and GIBBONS, JJ.

          OPINION

          DOUGLAS, J.

         In this original petition for a writ of mandamus, we are asked to consider whether an attorney and his current firm should be disqualified from representing real parties in interest in a case against petitioner when the attorney's prior firm defended petitioner in a previous and separate case.

         We conclude that the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct operate to disqualify a lawyer only when that lawyer, while employed at his former firm, gained actual knowledge of information protected by rules of confidentiality. In particular, if a lawyer acquired no confidential information about a particular client while at his former law firm and that lawyer later joins another firm, neither the lawyer nor his current firm are disqualified from representing a different client in the same or related matter even though the interests of the former and current clients conflict. We therefore deny the petition.

         FACTS

         In 2007, the law firm Hall Jaffee & Clayton (HJC) defended petitioner New Horizon Kids Quest III, Inc., in a tort action, namely Robann C. Blue, a Minor, by and through her Guardian ad Litem, Sandi Williamson v. New Horizon Kids Quest III, Inc. (Blue). Only two attorneys at HJC participated in HJC's representation of petitioner in Blue. Ultimately, the district court dismissed Blue with prejudice through stipulation and order.

         For about the last half of HJC's representation in Blue, Jordan P. Schnitzer worked as an associate attorney at the firm. However, Schnitzer never represented petitioner in Blue or obtained confidential information regarding petitioner while employed at HJC. In 2011, Schnitzer left HJC to join the law firm Kravitz, Schnitzer & Johnson, Chtd. (KSJ).

         In 2014, Martin J. Kravitz from KSJ filed a tort action on behalf of real parties in interest Isabella Godoy, a minor, by and through her mother Veronica Jaime, against petitioner. After accepting this case, Kravitz discovered that HJC defended petitioner in Blue. He knew that Schnitzer previously worked at HJC and further inquired into Schnitzels involvement in Blue. Schnitzer told Kravitz that he "had absolutely no knowledge about the Blue case" and confirmed that he had not gained any confidential information concerning petitioner while at HJC. Thus, Kravitz determined screening was not required and permitted Schnitzer to assist on this case.

         In 2015, petitioner also discovered that Schnitzer worked at HJC during part of its representation in Blue. Petitioner then filed a motion to disqualify real parties in interest's attorneys, Kravitz and Schnitzer. Based on Schnitzer's affidavit denying obtainment of any confidential information concerning petitioner, and an affidavit from an attorney at HJC who participated in Blue confirming that Schnizter had not worked on that case, the district court concluded that Schnitzer never obtained confidential information from Blue. The court further concluded that the cases cited by petitioner in support of its position were distinguishable. Ultimately, the district court denied the motion. ...


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