Wengui v. Clark Hill Plc

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA GUO WENGUI, Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 19-3195 (JEB) CLARK HILL, PLC, et al., Defendants. MEMORANDUM OPINION This case features an asylum-application process gone awry, accompanied by alleged professional misconduct, foreign-government cyber hacking, and social-media propaganda campaigns. After Plaintiff Guo Wengui, a Chinese businessman and prominent political dissident, retained the services of the law firm Clark Hill, PLC to assist him with an asylum petition, someone –– whom the parties presume to be associated with the Chinese government –– hacked into the firm’s computer servers. The hacker thereby gained access to Plaintiff’s confidential information and then published that information on the Internet. Compounding Wengui’s problems, the firm withdrew its representation in response to the attack. Plaintiff asserts that in making his information vulnerable to a targeted hacking and subsequently withdrawing from the matter, Defendants Clark Hill and its attorney Thomas Ragland are liable for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract. Defendants now move to dismiss all claims. To succeed on his tort claims, Wengui must “point to an act (or omission)” that “resulted in a loss” to him. See Seed Co., Ltd. v. Westerman, 840 F. Supp. 2d 116, 127 (D.D.C. 2012). 1 Plaintiff has successfully pleaded that the alleged mishandling of his information and subsequent cyber attack resulted in damages. The withdrawal, however, may have added insult, but it did not add injury. In addition, he cannot establish that the withdrawal breached Defendants’ contractual obligations to him. The Court therefore will dismiss all of Plaintiff’s claims to the extent they rely on the theory that Defendants’ withdrawal constituted a legally remediable wrong, but it will permit those claims to go forward that allege misrepresentations surrounding and mishandling of his confidential information. Finally, it dismisses the demand for punitive damages, as Plaintiff has not satisfied the high bar necessary for seeking such relief. I. Background A. Factual Background As it must at this juncture, the Court draws the facts from the Complaint. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). Plaintiff is a “highly successful businessman” and “well-known Chinese dissident.” ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶ 10. While living in China, he exposed “systemic corruption” and “widespread abuse of human rights” being perpetrated by the Communist Party of China (CCP), China’s ruling political party. Id., ¶ 15. These activities naturally caught the attention of the CCP, which allegedly threatened his livelihood and that of his family in order to put an end to his subversive activities. Id., ¶¶ 18–19. Fearing further persecution, Plaintiff fled his native country in 2015, and he now resides in New York. Id., ¶ 10. Wengui’s escape from China has not prevented further harassment. The Chinese government has, for example, sent emissaries to demonstrate against him outside of his home as part of a larger “malicious negative propaganda campaign” organized against him. Id., ¶¶ 23– 24. In response to this cross-continental maltreatment, Plaintiff set about applying for political ...

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