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Settlement turns on judge’s vacating opinion…judge says no

If Richmond lawyer Christopher C. Spencer wants an adverse ruling set aside, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will have to do it, says U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon.

Spencer contended that American Insurance Groups Inc. and its agents defamed him by asserting in a lawsuit that he was responsible for blowing an appeal in an $8.3 million personal injury case, but Moon ruled in January that the absolute litigation privilege barred the suit. After the ruling, AIG said it had concluded that Spencer was not responsible for the botched appeal.

Spencer then asked Moon to vacate the January order and opinion. The parties have agreed to settle the case but only if the judge agrees to vacate the opinion, Spencer said.

The wishes of the parties isn’t enough, Moon said.

“The Dismissal Order represents not just a resolution of Spencer’s claims against the Defendants, but an application of legal rules and principles that have been, and may be, relied on by other courts. While Spencer’s desire to eliminate any potential precedential or persuasive effects of the Dismissal Order is understandable, the appropriate avenue for doing so is his appeal to the Fourth Circuit,” Moon said.

Spencer has a defamation case against McGuireWoods pending in Richmond Circuit Court and has filed an appeal from the dismissal of his defamation action against two of the firm’s lawyers to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Circuit Judge Melvin R. Hughes Jr. cited the persuasiveness of Moon’s opinion in dismissing the libel suit against the attorneys. Arguments on McGuireWoods’ motion to dismiss the case against it as well are set for Monday.

By Alan Cooper

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