Toyota Wins Ruling Against Former Company Lawyer Who Must Pay $2.6 Million
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Toyota Motor Corp. said an arbitrator ruled in its favor on all of its claims against Dimitrios Biller, a former in-house attorney who accused the carmaker of racketeering and hiding evidence in rollover lawsuits.
The arbitrator found Biller “liable for breach of contract, conversion and statutory unauthorized computer access” and awarded Toyota $2.5 million for unauthorized disclosures Biller made and $100,000 in punitive damages, Toyota said yesterday in a statement posted on its website.
Biller, who worked at Toyota from 2003 to 2007, sued the carmaker in Los Angeles federal court in July 2009. He claimed the company destroyed engineering and testing evidence relevant in more than 300 suits over sport utility rollover accidents. Biller accused Toyota of racketeering, wrongful termination, infliction of emotional distress and defamation.
“Throughout this process, Mr. Biller has continuously made misleading and inaccurate allegations about Toyota’s conduct, and we feel this award is an appropriate consequence of his actions and completely discredits his meritless attacks on our company and our people,” Christopher Reynolds, Toyota Motor Sales Inc.’s general counsel, said in the statement.
Biller, who represented himself in the lawsuit, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
A federal judge compelled Biller to arbitrate his claims as was stipulated in his September 2007 severance agreement.
Toyota rose 2.3 percent to 3,370 yen at the 11 a.m. trading break in Tokyo.
The arbitrator dismissed Biller’s racketeering claims and ruled against him on his defamation and fraud claims, Toyota said. The arbitrator also ordered Biller to return confidential documents he took from Toyota, the carmaker said.
Biller’s claims preceded Toyota’s recall of about 8 million vehicles on five continents to repair defects linked to unintended acceleration.
His allegations prompted a Texas lawyer, E. Todd Tracy, to try to reopen 16 rollover lawsuits that had been dismissed or settled. Biller brought four boxes of documents to the Texas court that Tracy said at the time contained evidence of Toyota’s misconduct. The documents were kept under seal and Tracy ended his effort to reopen the cases.
The boxes Biller brought to Texas “without a request, subpoena or legal compulsion” were part of the unauthorized disclosures of confidential information the arbitrator found him liable for, according to Toyota’s statement.
The arbitrator, retired Judge Gary L. Taylor, said in his findings that Biller became “highly frustrated” and left Toyota with a $3.7 million severance payment in 2007 when the carmaker didn’t embrace his concept of compliance with new electronic discovery requirements in litigation.
Biller started to accuse Toyota publicly of hiding evidence in rollover suits only after the carmaker sued him in 2008 for disclosing confidential settlement policies and tactics through a consulting business he had started, according to the arbitrator’s findings that were provided by Toyota.
“Mr. Biller seeks to justify his disclosures as a necessity to speak out on a matter of public concern to protect the public and the courts,” Taylor said. “His claimed public- spirited motive is undermined by his actions. He accepted $3.7 million to not make disclosures, and waited almost two years before making disclosures until Toyota sued him.”
The case is is Biller v. Toyota Motor Corp., 2:09-cv-05429, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).
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