Pfeiffer v. Ajamie PLLC, Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-02760

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
Citation469 F.Supp.3d 752
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 4:19-cv-02760
Parties Justin C. PFEIFFER, Plaintiff, v. AJAMIE PLLC d/b/a Ajamie LLP, Thomas R. Ajamie, Dona Szak, John Withers Clay, V, Defendants.
Decision Date25 November 2019

469 F.Supp.3d 752

Justin C. PFEIFFER, Plaintiff,
AJAMIE PLLC d/b/a Ajamie LLP, Thomas R. Ajamie, Dona Szak, John Withers Clay, V, Defendants.

Civil Action No. 4:19-cv-02760

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division.

Signed November 25, 2019

469 F.Supp.3d 756

Justin Carl Pfeiffer, Richmond, TX, pro se.

Charles Henry Peckham, Peckham Martin PLLC, Houston, TX, for Defendants.


Charles Eskridge, United States District Judge

Before the Court is Defendant Ajamie LLP's Motion for Preliminary Injunction and to Place Document Under Seal, filed on an emergency basis and under seal. Dkt 51.

The Court has considered the motion and other submissions, the evidence and testimony introduced at a hearing on the motion, and applicable law. Having done so, the Court largely grants the motion and orders relief as follows.

469 F.Supp.3d 757

1. Background

This case concerns alleged retaliation for reporting alleged international corruption. Plaintiff Justin Pfeiffer asserts that Ajamie LLP operates a foreign bribery enterprise on behalf of itself [Redacted] Dkt 7 at 5–11. Pfeiffer also asserts that Ajamie LLP terminated his employment as retaliation for reporting this alleged enterprise. Id at 14.

On July 25, 2019, Pfeiffer commenced this lawsuit against Ajamie LLP and others, asserting violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, violations of the Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964, dismissal in violation of public policy, tortious interference with prospective relations, breach of contract, detrimental reliance, quantum meruit, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Dkt 1. Pfeiffer filed an amended complaint on August 29, 2019. Dkt 7. The Court denied a motion to dismiss filed by Ajamie LLP alleging pleading defects. Dkt 46. Pfeiffer sought and obtained leave to file a second amended complaint. Dkt 46. Pfeiffer filed this on November 22, 2019. Dkt 67.

By its nature, this case involves client-confidential documents and information. And so at the outset, the Court established a protective order directing the parties to file under seal anything containing attorney-client or attorney work product. Dkt 4. Ajamie LLP requested that order because the original complaint allegedly contained privileged and confidential client information and attorney work product. Dkt 3 at 1. Pfeiffer did not oppose the relief sought. Id.

Pfeiffer asserts that his claims in the instant case are related to [Redacted] Dkt 8 at 1. On October 28, 2019 Pfeiffer filed a Notice and Statement of a Related Case [Redacted] Dkt 49. According to Pfeiffer, [Redacted] Dkt 49 at 3.

Over the course of this lawsuit, including through the above notice, Ajamie LLP learned that Pfeiffer [Redacted] Ajamie LLP has not yet filed an answer in this case. But based on the foregoing, on November 5, 2019, Ajamie LLP filed a standalone counterclaim against Pfeiffer alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract stemming from Pfeiffer's unauthorized disclosures of [Redacted] firm information. Dkt 50.

Ajamie LLP also filed the motion under review here, seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent Pfeiffer from disclosing confidential [Redacted] and documents. Dkt 51. Ajamie LLP alleges that Pfeiffer has already revealed some or all of these documents to others, and that he now threatens to [Redacted] Dkt. 51-2 ¶¶ 14–15.

The Court granted Ajamie LLP temporary relief and ordered expedited briefing. Dkt 53. Pfeiffer responded, and offered ten exhibits. Dkt 57. Pfeiffer appropriately filed this response under seal. But on the CM/ECF system with this filing, Pfeiffer listed detailed descriptions of the exhibits and attachments. The Court found that these descriptions disclosed privileged and confidential information of Ajamie LLP and ordered the Clerk to revise the descriptions. Dkt 63.

The Court held an evidentiary hearing on November 13, 2019. Dkt 62. Ajamie LLP called as witnesses Pfeiffer and Defendant Thomas Ajamie. Ajamie LLP additionally offered eleven exhibits, one of which was additional to documents attached to the parties' filings. Dkt 66. Pfeiffer represented himself and made his own proffer of evidence.

As relevant to this motion, the Court makes the following findings of fact based on the testimony at hearing and the exhibits submitted. Matters noted as testimony

469 F.Supp.3d 758

of a witness constitute an admission or are otherwise sufficiently established that the Court makes it a finding of fact.

Plaintiff Justin Pfeiffer is a practicing attorney. Ajamie LLP hired Pfeiffer as an associate on November 4, 2013. Dkt. 51-2 ¶ 6. Ajamie LLP terminated Pfeiffer's employment on August 4, 2017. Id.

Pfeiffer signed a Confidentiality Policy on his first day of employment at Ajamie LLP. Dkt 57 at 19. Pfeiffer testified that Ajamie LLP provided confidential information to him after he became an associate at the firm.

Ajamie LLP represents [Redacted] Dkt. 51-2 ¶ 7. Ajamie testified that the firm assigned Pfeiffer to work on a matter on behalf of [Redacted] Pfeiffer performed legal services [Redacted] Id at ¶ 9. [Redacted] Dkt 57 at 3–4.

Pfeiffer testified that while employed at Ajamie LLP, he would forward his work emails and [Redacted] documents to his personal email address. Pfeiffer testified that representatives of Ajamie LLP told him on termination of his employment to return all [Redacted] documents. On August 10, 2017, Pfeiffer agreed to return all such documents. Dkt. 66-4.

Pfeiffer testified that alter his termination, he [Redacted] Pfeiffer testified [Redacted]

On October 21, 2019, Pfeiffer provided a copy of these documents to Ajamie LLP's counsel. Dkt. 51-3 ¶ 10. Ajamie recognizes the documents [Redacted] Dkt. 51-2 ¶ 11. These documents include attorney notes, [Redacted] Id. Ajamie also asserts a belief that Pfeiffer possesses confidential information and documents [Redacted] Id at ¶ 19.

Ajamie LLP intended to keep these documents confidential and not to disclose them to unauthorized third parties. Id at ¶ 12. Pfeiffer did not have authorization to take the [Redacted] documents or firm documents from Ajamie LLP, to keep those documents after his employment ended, or to disclose the documents or the information in them to third parties. Id at ¶ 13.

Pfeiffer testified these documents are saved on a thumb drive. He testified that he has made two copies of the thumb drive and given them to two other individuals for safekeeping. Pfeiffer testified these individuals are within his control to request the thumb drives back. Pfeiffer testified that he has made some copies of the documents, but only those [Redacted] Pfeiffer testified that the documents are not saved on the cloud or on any public server.

Pfeiffer testified that he has disclosed at least some [Redacted] of Ajamie LLP to the following persons and entities:

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

Pfeiffer testified that he told [Redacted] that he had documents that may be relevant to that matter.

Pfeiffer testified that he has provided at least [Redacted] of Ajamie LLP to the following persons and entities:

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]

• [Redacted]
469 F.Supp.3d 759
• [Redacted]

Pfeiffer testified that no government agency has subpoenaed or otherwise requested him to provide documents either in the United States [Redacted] The Court finds that Pfeiffer disclosed the documents voluntarily and of his own choice, and not pursuant to any compulsory process.

On the present record, it is unknown what interest any government entity actually has in these documents, if any, or whether they pertain to any active investigation. No government entity has made any filing in this case or taken any position before this Court whatsoever.

2. Legal standard

A preliminary injunction is an "extraordinary remedy." Byrum v. Landreth , 566 F.3d 442, 445 (5th Cir. 2009). A federal court may grant a preliminary injunction only if the movant shows (1) a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) a substantial threat of irreparable harm; (3) the balance of hardships in the applicant's favor; and (4) no disservice to the public interest. Daniels Health Sciences, LLC v. Vascular Health Sciences, LLC , 710 F.3d 579, 582 (5th Cir. 2013).

3. Analysis

a. Substantial likelihood of success on the merits

A plaintiff "is not required to prove [his] entitlement to summary judgment" to show a likelihood of success on the merits. Byrum , 566 F.3d at 466. But the "plaintiff must present a prima facie case." Daniels Health , 710 F.3d at 582.

i. Breach of contract

Under Texas law, "[t]he essential elements of a breach of contract action are: (1) the existence of a valid contract; (2) performance or...

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