United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ANDREW F. ARRIETA, Plaintiff,
SARAH E. BENNETT and ROTHSTEIN, DONATELLI, HUGHES, DAHLSTROM & SCHOENBURG, LLP, Defendants.
Johnson and Eric Hines, Cooper & Scully P.C., Dallas,
Texas; Sean P. McAfee, Law Office of Sean P. McAfee,
Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Tom Carse, Carse Law Firm,
Dallas, Texas, for Plaintiff.
F. Cheney and Joshua A. Allison, Sheehan & Sheehan P.A.,
Albuquerque, New Mexico, for Defendant Sarah E. Bennett.
A. Simons IV and Frieda Simons Burnes, The Simons Firm LLP,
Santa Fe, New Mexico, for Defendant Rothstein, Donatelli,
Hughes, Dahlstrom & Schoenburg LLP.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Kelly, Jr. United States Circuit Judge
MATTER is before the court on three motions: (1)
Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment filed
September 7, 2018 (ECF No. 48), (2) Defendants' Joint
Motion for Summary Judgment September 7, 2018 (ECF No. 49),
and (3) Defendants' Daubert Motion to Exclude
Opinions of Plaintiff's Legal Expert, Claudia Work filed
September 5, 2018 (ECF No. 46). Upon consideration thereof,
the court finds the motions are well taken and should be
Plaintiff Andrew Arrieta married Rachel Rogers in May 2013,
but by 2015 their marriage had soured. Pretrial Order at 7
(ECF No. 61). Mr. Arrieta hired Defendant Sarah Bennett, then
working at Defendant law firm Rothstein Donatelli, to
represent him in the divorce proceedings. Id. For
her representation, Ms. Rogers hired David Walther and Amber
Macias-Mayo. Id. In April 2015, the parties
initially attempted collaborative law procedures to avoid
litigation, but they were not successful. Defs.' Joint
Mot. Summ. J. at 6, Undisputed Material Fact
(“UDMF”) Nos. 3-4 (ECF No. 49). After this
attempt, Mr. Arrieta and Ms. Rogers - without their
attorneys' knowledge - prepared and signed a one-page
handwritten, untitled document addressing certain aspects of
their marriage dissolution. Pretrial Order at 7; UDMF No. 5.
In the document, Ms. Rogers was to pay Mr. Arrieta $3.25
million. Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n Mot. Summ. J., Ex. A (ECF
2, 2015, Ms. Rogers filed a petition for dissolution of
marriage in New Mexico state court. Pretrial Order at 7. On
July 8, she filed a motion to set aside the handwritten
document, UDMF No. 6, while on September 8, Mr. Arrieta filed
a motion to enforce it. Id. On January 12, 2016, the
parties met with a mediator to conduct a settlement
facilitation. UDMF No. 8. The settlement facilitation was not
successful; the parties nonetheless attempted to reach
agreement on a settlement amount and exchanged a series of
offers and counteroffers. UDMF No. 9. This round of
settlement negotiations concluded with an offer from Ms.
Rogers to pay $1.2 million to settle various divorce issues,
$45, 000 for the couple's outstanding tax obligations,
and $35, 000 for the couple's credit card debt.
April 11, 2016, the parties attended a pretrial conference in
district court. UDMF No. 11. The next day, Mr. Arrieta
offered a settlement agreement to Ms. Rogers in which she
would pay $2.8 million as a property settlement. UDMF No. 12.
On April 18, Ms. Rogers countered with her “best and
final” offer to pay $1.35 million as a property
settlement. UDMF No. 13. The following day, Mr. Arrieta
countered with a proposal for Ms. Rogers to pay $2.5 million
in property settlement. UDMF No. 14. That same day, Ms.
Rogers rejected Mr. Arrieta's counterproposal and
notified him that she would not submit any further settlement
offers. UDMF No.15.
April 22, the court entered a pretrial order with a schedule
for discovery and set a trial date of May 9, 2016. UDMF Nos.
17-18. The trial was ultimately continued, first to begin on
September 15, and then to begin on December 13. UDMF Nos.
19-20. After the pretrial order was entered and leading up to
the trial date, the parties engaged in extensive discovery
and investigation, which included deposing witnesses,
subpoenaing documents, retaining experts, and other trial
preparation. UDMF No. 21. On December 8, 2016 - days before
the trial was set to begin - one of Ms. Rogers's
attorneys, Amber Macias-Mayo, contacted Ms. Bennett and told
Ms. Bennett that Ms. Rogers would consider paying Mr. Arietta
$1.5 million as property settlement. UDMF No. 24. This offer
restarted settlement negotiations, and on December 12, the
parties agreed to the $1.5 million payment for property
settlement and memorialized the settlement in a stipulated
memorandum of understanding. Id.
Bennett says she then discussed the settlement agreement with
Mr. Arietta and conveyed to him her professional opinion of
the settlement agreement and her judgment of the risks and
benefits of accepting the settlement rather than proceeding
to trial. UDMF No. 26. Mr. Arietta for his part argues he was
not fully or accurately informed regarding the decision to
accept the settlement and that the advice he did receive was
intended to benefit Ms. Bennett and a law firm she would
later join. Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n at 4 (ECF No. 51);
First Am. Compl. at 4, ¶ 24 (ECF No. 4). Having agreed
to the stipulated memorandum of understanding, the parties
signed a full marital settlement agreement. It merged into
the final decree, which was approved and entered by the state
court on December 28, 2016. UMDF No. 27. The final agreement
provided that Ms. Rogers would pay $1.5 million in property
settlement in increments of $12, 400 per month at 5%
interest, with a 1% discount if paid ahead of schedule.
Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. B. at 53-54 (ECF No. 49-2).
Merger of Law Practices
the entry of the marriage settlement and final decree, David
Walther and Amber Macias-Mayo - who had represented Ms.
Rogers - approached Ms. Bennett and her associate Morgan
Honeycutt to discuss potentially merging their law practices.
Defs.' Mot. Partial Summ. J. at 4. On approximately
January 16 or 17, 2017, Ms. Macias-Mayo had a lunch with Ms.
Honeycutt and broached the ...