The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a federal judge who cited then-attorney Dickie Scruggs for contempt of court…Acker held both Scruggs and the adjusters, sisters Cori and Kerri Rigsby, in contempt of court when the records were not returned to the Rigsbys employer, independent adjusting firm E.A. Renfroe. Acker levied a $65,000 fine to compensate Renfroe’s attorney’s fees in pursuing the records.
Scruggs paid the fine into a holding account and appealed Acker’s decision.
Renfroe, which supplied adjusters to State Farm after Katrina, had sued the Rigsbys in the company’s home state of Alabama for breach of contract. The appellate court held that Scruggs was not a party to the Renfroe vs. Rigsby lawsuit and, therefore, could not be held in contempt. The appellate judges also removed Acker from any further proceedings in the case.
The 11th Circuit ruling has Acker eating his own words:
…Based upon our review of the district court’s two contempt orders in this case, we conclude that Scruggs was not shown to have been an aider or abettor of the Rigsbys. Therefore, he is not subject to the jurisdiction of the district court nor its judgment of civil contempt.
First, it is clear from the earlier June 15, 2007, order that the district court found as a matter of fact that the Rigsbys did not have possession of the documents at the time their return to Renfroe was mandated. The district court stated:
But the fact remains that the Rigsbys themselves did not have possession of the documents on or after December 8, 2006, and this should preclude a jury finding that they knowingly or willfully violated the terms of the preliminary injunction.
Furthermore, in the June 5, 2008, order, the court found that the Rigsbys – who “still had some stolen materials in their possession [at the time the injunction issued] . . . quickly endeavored, if not with complete dedication or success, to comply with the clear mandate of the injunction.”
Their lawyer “promptly asked Scruggs to honor the injunction by returning the stolen materials, and he instructed the Rigsbys to deliver to Renfroe’s counsel all materials in their actual possession.” Thus, the district court itself found that the Rigsbys did not have the documents at the time the injunction issued, and asked Scruggs to comply with the injunction and return his copy.
Second, the district court held in its June 15, 2007, order that it was Scruggs who violated the injunction by giving his copy of the documents to Attorney General Hood. The district court made perfectly clear in this order that it considered Scruggs the principal in the injunction’s violation, referring him to the United States Attorney for prosecution for criminal contempt. The district court said of the Rigsbys:
They could be in criminal contempt only if held vicariously liable as agents or confederates of Scruggs. They certainly were not the brains of the injunction-avoidance schemes. After they gave the documents to Scruggs they were, in effect, controlled by him. (emphasis added) Thus, the district court found as a matter of fact in its June 15 order that Scruggs acted independently and on his own in delivering the documents to Attorney General Hood. It concluded t 3 hat the Rigsbys “were not as clever as Scruggs was.” They, unlike Scruggs, “quickly endeavored . . . to comply with the clear mandate of the injunction.”
The law is clear…
Yes, very clear – and that raises other questions…many other questions…and we’ve yet to hear the end of this story.
Hopefully, the next chapter will address Judge Walker’s reliance on Acker’s Orders and Opinions when the law was otherwise and clear – and the related impact on both the McIntosh case and the Rigsbys’ qui tam claim.
Cori and Keri – acting for we the people – did not steal anything! (and that law is also clear)