Litigators of the Week: Thomas Dupree Jr. and Helgi Walker of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Nailing his U.S. Supreme Court debut, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Thomas Dupree Jr. won a 9-0 decision on Tuesday morning that will make it harder to sue foreign companies in U.S. courts. At most law firms, that would have been the big news of the day. But within an hour headlines were popping up about another major appeals court ruling won by Gibson Dunn partner Helgi Walker that stymied the Federal Communications Commission's latest attempt to impose so-called net neutrality on Internet providers.
"You'd think I wouldn't have gotten upstaged," Dupree joked in an interview. There's no hard feelings though. "It was a memorable hour or so in the life of the firm, and particularly the D.C. office," he said. "We congratulated each other at lunch."
Dupree's client, Daimler AG, was trying to block a California lawsuit accusing its Argentine subsidiary of taking part in human rights abuses during Argentina's "Dirty War" of the 1970s and 1980s, including torture and murder. Lawyers for victims persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that California has general jurisdiction over Germany-based Daimler because the company's U.S. subsidiary does business there.
Dupree countered that such a broad view of U.S. jurisdiction would violate companies' due process rights. While Dupree's position didn't sit well with some global human rights advocates, his side won over both the liberal and conservative wings of the court.
The ruling wasn't exactly a shocker. During oral argument, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Dupree, "Do you care how you win?"—a confidence-booster if there ever was one.
"I'm glad the court understood the practical consequences of a finding of general jurisdiction," Dupree said. "It was a frightening prospect that...a defendant could be brought into the U.S. to defend claims arising anywhere in the world."
Dupree may have been fighting for a client accused of heinous overseas crimes, but Walker's assignment for client Verizon Inc. in the net neutrality case proved just as controversial. The backstory starts in 2008, when the FCC tried to punish Comcast Corp. for preventing Internet subscribers from accessing file-sharing networks. Comcast turned to Walker, then a partner at Wiley Rein. In 2010, she won a landmark ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that the FCC improperly exercised jurisdiction over broadcast providers like Comcast. We named Walker Litigator of the Week for that win.
The FCC responded by enforcing so-called "common carrier" regulations that blocked Internet service providers from throttling lawful content. Verizon challenged the new regulations and tapped Walker for the case. "I had a running start on the issues," she explained in an e-mail on Tuesday, as she was flying from Washington to Los Angeles for Gibson Dunn's new partner retreat. (A former Gibson Dunn associate, Walker re-joined the firm in September).
Siding with Walker, the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday that the FCC exceeded its authority. The court suggested, however, that the FCC could impose net neutrality rules by changing its classification of Internet providers. That means court fights and lobbying battles will likely continue, as The Washington Post explained here.
For now, Walker is savoring the victory. "We did have a good week here," she said.