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Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Williams [Maddox v. Williams]

(Conversion, US DC Cir. Ct. of App. 1993) Citation: 855 F.Supp. 406 (6 Jun 1994); 413 US App DC 85, 62 F3d 408 (15 Aug 1995); 81 F.3d 155 (22 Feb 1996 reversing order staying decision)

This breach of contract and conversion suit was originally filed by Wyatt Tarrant & Coombs against Merrell Williams in September, 1993.
The plaintiff alleged that the defendant copied and removed a box full of confidential Brown & Williamson documents while he was working for them as a paralegal. The documents indicated that the company knew as early as 1963 that smoking was responsible for serious health problems and was addictive, yet the company denied the existence of such problems. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. moved to intervene shortly after the suit was brought. It joined other defendants who allegedly conspired and facilitated the disclosure of the converted documents including M&S Enterprises, CBS, attorneys, and congressmen. Williams counter-sued against Brown & Williams for injuries caused by smoking in March, 1994.
The plaintiffs and interveners claim tortious interference with contract, inducing breach of fiduciary duty, inducing violation of an injunction of a Kentucky court, inducing violation of ethical duties, conversion, and civil conspiracy.
The case was originally filed in the Jefferson Circuit Court, Division Ten, Kentucky as Robert L. Maddox, et. al. v. Merrell Williams (NO. 93 CI 04806). The court ordered Williams surrender any material still in his possession and restrained him from disclosing or using any such information.
The information came to the attention of the Subcommittee on Health and the Environment, Committee on Energy and Commerce, of the House of Representatives. Representatives Henry Waxman, chairman of the subcommittee, and Ron Ryden, a member, as well as several media defendants, were issued subpoenas duces tecum on May 17, 1994, to produce the documents and appear for deposition. Waxman and Wyden filed for removal.
The subpoena case was heard in the United States District Court, District of Columbia (94-0171 (HHG)), before the Honorable Harold H. Greene. The judge (855 F.Supp. 406) quashed the subpoenas against the representatives on June 6, 1994. He found that he did not have jurisdiction to rule on the media defendants' subpoenas because they had not validly removed the case to federal court. The congressional defendants were protected from the subpoena duces tecum by the Speech or Debate, and Supremacy Clauses of the Constitution. The documents sought were part of an ongoing congressional investigation, and therefore could not be demanded, regardless of their allegedly illegal origin. Brown & Williamson appealed the decision.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the issue (62 F.3d 408) under the name Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. Merrell Williams, et al. on August 15, 1995. The case was heard by Circuit Judges Silberman, Henderson and Tatel. The court first determined it did have jurisdiction because federal officers may remove any time they would assert a federal defense in a state proceeding, even if they are not parties to the proceeding. Then it determined the applicability of the Speech or Debate Clause. It found that the Clause protected federal officials from any inquiry into a congressional act, thus the depositions and requests for discovery were quashed.
The trial was held in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division (Civil Action No. 1:95CV76GG)