Hammer time: more thoughts on Judge Acker’s civil contempt ruling on Scruggs, Rigsby sisters

Judge Acker is perhaps the only person who knows all the facts that are known about the Rigsby sisters’ illicit taking of State Farm claims documents. He has seen the documents themselves — they are under lock and key under a protective order in his courthouse under the injunction he issued in December 2006. And I do not see in this opinion or his prior opinions any hint that these documents are blockbusters or that they have any explosive evidentiary value, or that they amount to anything at all. What is in the documents is not necessarily his concern in Renfroe v. Rigsby lawsuit before him, of course, but he knows what is in them. And if that is true — that these documents are just so much hype promulgated by Scruggs and the Rigsby sisters — I wonder if that is one of the things driving his anger, in addition to the violation of his injunction. There have been a number of depositions taken in the Renfroe case, including testimony submitted under seal, and he is undoubtedly aware of the evidence uncovered by special prosecutors appointed by him to go after Scruggs on a charge of criminal contempt, which was dismissed without an evidentiary hearing earlier this year. So what there is to know about all this, Judge Acker knows it. We don’t exactly know what it is that constitutes all that Judge Acker knows, but we do know this — what he does know has made him very upset.

Before we go on, some brief context on what this is all about may be helpful. Kerri and Cori Rigsby, working with Dickie Scruggs, took State Farm claims documents from their employer, E.A. Renfroe, a business hired by the insurer to adjust Katrina claims. They did this in a massive “data dump” weekend in June 2006, but they also accessed State Farm databases, using a list of Scruggs’ Katrina plaintiffs, in March and April 2006. They did this in a trailer on Trent Lott’s property near the Mississippi Coast. There is a dispute whether the Trailer Lawyers of Missouri were also there, or if they were present, how many were present and whether they were actively involved or merely on the couch watching All My Children.

Renfroe sued the Rigsbys for breach of their confidentiality agreement, and Renfroe got a summary judgment decision that they did breach. During the course of this lawsuit, before the summary judgment, Renfroe asked for an injunction requiring the documents to be returned, and Judge Acker entered an injunction after he found a likelihood that Renfroe would be successful on the merits of its claims. This injunction was in December 2006. It required the Rigsbys and all their “agents, servants, employees, attorneys, and other persons in active concert or participation with them who receive actual notice of this order, by personal service or otherwise (with the express exception of law enforcement officials)” to deliver the stolen documents to Renfroe’s attorneys.

We all know what happened next. Scruggs and Jim Hood talked on the phone, and Scruggs sent his copies of the documents to Hood, who already had his own copies of the documents when he took special delivery of them from the Rigsbys during the data dump. In the criminal contempt prosecution, Judge Vinson dismissed the charges, saying Scruggs met this law enforcement exception, although as Judge Acker points out, this doesn’t make sense, because if that was the way to read the injunction, the Rigsbys themselves could have merely given the documents to Hood or even a passing off-duty cop to avoid giving them back.

The “with the exception of law enforcement officials” is so obviously a qualifier of who needs to give the documents back, rather than an indication of where you can send the documents to avoid giving them back, that it hardly merits serious discussion. But Judge Vinson saw it the other way, and he also said the court had no jurisdiction over Scruggs, and therefore he couldn’t have violated the injunction because it didn’t apply to him. Vinson’s jurisdiction finding, however, was based on the ground that Scruggs was not the attorney-of-record, rather than on any failure of the injunction to extend to persons in Mississippi (Judge Acker’s court is in the District of Northern Alabama). But, Judge Acker said, Scruggs was plainly an “agent” of the Rigsbys. and “if Scruggs was not subject to the injunction, nobody was.”

As he said:

Scruggs was the alter ego of the Rigsbys, and the Rigsbys were the alter egos of Scruggs. They could not have been any more closely “identified” without obtaining a marriage license. There were in bed together.

You get the idea — Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs. Rigsby-Scruggs.

Insurance Coverage Blog
6/6/8