(Reuters) – The U.S. branch of global law firm Dentons lost another bid to reverse a $32 million malpractice verdict on Tuesday when the Ohio Supreme Court declined to reconsider an earlier decision in the case.
The verdict came after Dentons US LLP was disqualified from representing client RevoLaze LLC in a patent case because Dentons’ Canadian branch had worked for one of its opponents.
The case could affect firms like Dentons that use a “Swiss verein” structure, which treats offices in different countries as separate entities. Some of the world’s biggest international law firms like Baker & McKenzie, DLA Piper and Norton Rose Fulbright use the structure.
The court on Tuesday rejected without comment Dentons’ request to reconsider its August decision not to hear the dispute, though dissenting Justice Jennifer Brunner said she would have granted the request.
Representatives for Dentons did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
The Patterson Law Firm, which represented RevoLaze, said in a statement that it was “thrilled with what we believe will be the final decision in this case.”
The firm’s attorney Kristi Browne said the decision “helps level the playing field for small businesses who depend on their lawyers to represent them without conflicts of interest.”
RevoLaze, which owns patents for laser technology that makes jeans appear faded, hired Dentons US in 2014 to pursue patent infringement cases against The Gap Inc and other clothing companies in federal court and before the U.S. International Trade Commission.
Gap won a bid to disqualify Dentons US from the ITC case in 2015 because Dentons Canada had represented Gap in other matters. RevoLaze’s case fell apart, and it sued Dentons US and partner Mark Hogge for malpractice in Ohio in 2016.
A Cuyahoga County jury awarded RevoLaze $32.2 million in damages after a 10-day trial, which a state appeals court upheld in April.
Dentons US argued that it was separate from Dentons Canada, and that Gap had consented to the firm’s representation of RevoLaze based on a waiver provision in its retainer agreement with the Canadian branch.
Appellate judge Emanuella Groves said Dentons’ verein structure, “with a common conflicts base, that shares client confidential information throughout the organization,” was “irreconcilable” with Dentons’ argument.
Dentons’ global chairman Joe Andrew said in a statement after the Ohio Supreme Court’s August ruling that the decision would “put in jeopardy the entire legal profession’s ability to rely on client consent, impacting every lawyer and every law firm – regardless of size.”
The case is RevoLaze LLC v. Dentons US LLP, Supreme Court of Ohio, No. 2022-0708.
For RevoLaze: Benjamin Sassé and Elisabeth Arko of Tucker Ellis; Kristi Browne of Patterson Law Firm; and Tom Warren of Warren Terzian
For Dentons and Mark Hogge: Yvette McGee Brown, Tracy Stratford and Thomas Demitrack of Jones Day
(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from RevoLaze’s attorneys.)
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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org