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‘Game, set and match’ for tennis great

Tennis great Jimmy Connors has prevailed in a long-running legal dispute with his former attorney.

After reviewing Connors’ lengthy career in a game usually dominated by younger men, Judge Terence Evans remarked, “More recently, Connors has been engaged in an equally long-running battle off the court — or rather, in court — against his former attorney, Edward Brennan.”

Technically, the suit was a diversity action applying Illinois contract law. Nevertheless, much of the court’s analysis of a settlement agreement’s indemnification provisions is not grounded in any particularity of Illinois law, but would be just as applicable if Wisconsin law governed.

In 1992, Connors retained Brennan to represent him in all his business dealings. In 1997, Brennan’s law firm dissolved.

The next year, Brennan sued Connors in Illinois state court for payment of fees. Eleven years later, the suit settled with Connors paying Brennan $10.5 million. Michael Constance, a former partner of Brennan, then sued Brennan, seeking some of the proceeds.

Brennan responded by filing this suit against Connors, seeking indemnification pursuant to the earlier settlement agreement.

The district court granted summary judgment to Connors, and the 7th Circuit affirmed June 30.

The settlement agreement contained an indemnification clause providing that Connors and Brennan each agreed to indemnify each other for any claims arising out of their underlying contract.

The court concluded that to provide indemnification in this case would create an “infinitely repeating loop” of liability between the two parties.

Evans wrote for the court, “The indemnification language is the same for both parties, so if ‘regarding the contract referenced in the Complaint’ is broad enough to cover Brennan’s claim for indemnification from Connors, it would also cover Connors’ subsequent claim for indemnification from Brennan.”

Instead, the court adopted Connors’ interpretation that the parties only agreed to indemnify each other from claims that they could have assigned to a third party.

Because Constance did not sue Brennan based on the contract between Brennan and Connors, but because he did not get a share of the settlement, the court held that the indemnification provision does not apply.

“This interpretation is undoubtedly the more logical, as it is hard — if not impossible — to imagine why Connors would have agreed to indemnify Brennan for deliberately cheating his law partner out of a firm asset,” Evans wrote. “Game, set, and match to Connors.”

The case is Brennan v. Connors, No. 10-3825

David Ziemer can be reached at david.ziemer@wislawjournal.com.


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