A federal appellate court has vacated the sanctions imposed against an attorney in Mexico by a lower court for conspiring to fraudulently return a product liability case to courts in the United States after the litigation had been moved to Mexico.


On July 11, a panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Mexican attorney had not been given “constitutionally adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard” by a U.S. federal court judge in Indianapolis, Indiana concerning the fraud charges a defendant raised in the product liability suit.


Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire L.L.C., a subsidiary of Tokyo, Japan’s Bridgestone Corp. based out of Nashville, Tennessee, leveled the fraud charges against attorney Leonel Pereznieto.


Bridgestone Firestone, in addition to Ford Motor Co., is facing numerous product liability cases involving tires on Ford Explorer SUVs that plaintiffs allege failed, resulting in a large number of accidents causing personal injuries and wrongful deaths to numerous drivers and passengers.


Bridgestone claimed that Pereznieto and a judge conspired to have the product liability suit, which was filed by the family of a Mexican national, thrown out of Mexican courts after the judge in Indianapolis ruled that it should be heard in a Mexican court. According to court papers, it was accomplished through filing a deficient claim in an inappropriate court in Morelos, Mexico, a small, densely populated state.


When the case returned to the court in Indianapolis, Judge Sarah Evans Barker fined Pereznieto $100,000 and quashed his testimony and affidavits in all related product liability cases. Pereznieto was an expert plaintiffs witness on why U.S. courts should hear the cases of Mexican nationals.


Judge Barker also imposed a $50,000 fine against Roger Reed and Alberto Guerrero, the plaintiff’s U.S attorneys.


The 7th Circuit panel found that, despite the district court’s authority to address such an abuse, Pereznieto was not given “constitutionally adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard” during the proceeding in which he was given the fine and other sanctions.


The appellate panel also remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings.

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