GREENSBORO, N.C. (Legal Newsline) – A California attorney who allegedly has been online trolling his former employer, a Los Angeles-based law firm, and suing in a North Carolina district court, has narrowly missed sanctions, the federal judge who dismissed the case said.
In her three-page order and judgment issued April 9, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles, on the bench in North Carolina's Middle District, informed Erik Syverson how close Syverson came to a sanctions hearing.
"Mr. Syverson is reminded that there are rules in force in both the North Carolina state courts and this court that impose duties on a person who files a complaint or other papers with a court," Eagles said in her order.
"A litigant who files papers for an improper purpose or who makes claims unwarranted by law or unwarranted by a non-frivolous argument for altering existing law, or which have no evidentiary support, is subject to sanctions under Rule 11 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure or Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court also has the inherent authority to impose sanctions when a litigant abuses the judicial process."
Eagles let Syverson off with a warning and then dismissed the case because no part of it had anything to do with the North Carolina district.
"Given the obvious lack of personal jurisdiction, the name-calling and over-the-top conclusory rhetoric in the complaint, and Mr. Syverson's failure to respond to the motion to dismiss, the court has considered initiating proceedings to determine if sanctions are appropriate," the order said.
"In the exercise of its discretion, however, the court will limit itself to warning Mr. Syverson that he will face a sanctions hearing should he file additional papers in this lawsuit or should he initiate another lawsuit that ends up in this court, if those papers show similar indicators of an improper purpose or abuse of the judicial process."
Syverson - now with Syverson, Lesowitz & Gebelin on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills - included descriptive nicknames, in addition to colorful allegations in his complaint against his former employer and co-workers at Raines Feldman LLC in Los Angeles over allegations of intentional infliction of emotion distress.
Raines Partner Miles Feldman, Syverson claimed in the opening paragraphs of his original complaint filed Feb. 25 in a North Carolina court, is "commonly known" in LA's legal community as "malpractice Miles" because of "malpractice lawsuits filed against him during his career, in addition to poor outcomes for clients, as well as difficulty collecting attorney fees from clients."
Raines Partner Richard Decker "is known" as "Richie the rug" because of "his fake hair as well as history of mistreatment of female co-workers," Syverson alleged in his complaint. Syverson claimed that Decker "unilaterally" fired Syverson's secretary "because she made 'the rug' feel uncomfortable," he said in his complaint.
Decker allegedly also encourages associates "to overbill his health insurance clients such as Anthem Blue Cross," the complaint said.
"Once caught by his clients, 'the rug' offered up his only female associate as a sacrificial lamb. 'The rug' terminated her just after she gave birth to a baby boy," the complaint states.
Raines was founded by defendants Robert Pardo and Andrew Raines, "a longtime homosexual married couple," while the firm's Managing Partner Jonathan Littrell has devoted his career "to facilitating the financing of and distribution of drugs deemed illegal under federal law," Syverson said in his complaint.
What Syverson said about the firm and its attorneys in his complaint apparently mirrors what he's been saying in his online attacks.
"This lawsuit is the latest volley in a campaign waged by plaintiff Erik Syverson against his former employer," the 13-page Raines brief submitted to the court in support of a defense motion to dismiss the case said.
The North Carolina federal court is not the correct venue for Syverson's complaint, the defendants argued.
"Raines Feldman is a California law firm," the brief said. "It has no offices outside California and has never maintained an office or appointed an agent for service in North Carolina. The individual defendants are California attorneys who have never worked in North Carolina during their tenure at Raines Feldman, or at any other time."
Meanwhile, Syverson spent all of his time while working for Raines from about 2014 to 2017, in California, the brief said.
"He lived in California, worked in California and was based in Raines Feldman's main California office," the brief said. "Syverson voluntarily left his job at Raines Feldman to start a competing California law firm with two other former Raines Feldman attorneys. Syverson then moved to North Carolina."
After relocating to the East Coast, Syverson threatened to file California and federal employment claims against Raines "and began a campaign of public harassment against the firm and most of its partners," the brief said.
"Among other things, Syverson repeatedly posted false and defamatory statements about the firm and its partners on various social media websites," the brief continued. "Raines Feldman did not respond publicly to these repeated provocations."
While the firm continued to "vehemently deny Syverson's allegations," it did agree to pay its former attorney "a lump sum" and monthly payments "in exchange for mutual releases and a promise to stop harassing and disparaging defendants," the brief said.
The settlement agreement contains an arbitration clause, according to the brief.
"A dispute soon arose over Syverson's alleged breaches of the settlement agreement" but Syverson has refused to arbitrate, the brief said. When Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Service proceeded to appoint arbitrators, Syverson "continuously and unreasonably objected to them, occasionally making offensive comments about the arbitrators."
In July, Raines Feldman filed a petition in California to compel arbitration, which is still pending, and has continued to pay Syverson as required under the settlement agreement, sending him his final payment in February, according to the brief. Syverson has since demanded an additional $250,000 "on top of the payments already made," the brief said.
Later that same month, after Syverson allegedly accelerated his online attacks, Los Angeles County Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order "to prevent Syverson from further harming defendants while they seek to compel arbitration," the brief said.
Syverson's complaint in North Carolina was filed five days later.
In her decision to dismiss the case without prejudice, Eagles said she would be keeping her eye on Syverson, warning the attorney in her order "that future violations of the applicable rules of civil procedure or abuse of the judicial process may result in appropriate sanctions."