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State Ex Rel. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Kortum

559 N.W.2d 496 (1997)

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State Ex Rel. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Kortum

Nebraska Supreme Court

559 N.W.2d 496 (1997)

Facts

Attorney Steve Smith of the firm Van Steenberg, Chaloupka, Mullin, Holyoke, Pahlke, Smith, Snyder, and Hofmeister, P.C. (Van Steenberg) defended Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (Wal-Mart) (plaintiff) in four personal-injury matters that all occurred at the Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Wal-Mart store. One case concerned plaintiff Pottorff, who injured herself when she slipped and fell on the store’s floor. During Smith’s representation of Wal-Mart in the Pottorff matter, Smith had access to the Wal-Mart property, staff, manuals, and other information. Around the same time as the Pottorff litigation, Debra Holden fell in the parking lot of the Scottsbluff Wal-Mart store and injured herself. Two years after the Pottorff matter concluded, Tylor Petitt (defendant) of Van Steenberg represented Holden against Wal-Mart. Holden and Pottorff both alleged negligence and failure to warn. Wal-Mart defended both cases on the grounds of contributory negligence and assumption of the risk. Wal-Mart filed a motion to disqualify Petitt from the Holden matter, and the trial court denied the motion. Wal-Mart sought a writ of mandamus instructing the trial court to vacate its order denying the motion. The Nebraska Supreme Court appointed a special master to compile recommended findings of fact and conclusions of law. The special master found that Smith received no confidential information during his representation of Wal-Mart. Nevertheless, the special master recommended that the supreme court issue the writ because the nexus between the Pottorff and Holden cases was too close to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Connolly, J.)

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