Sempra Energy Wins Summary Judgment, Five-Year Case Ends

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Hueston Hennigan delivered a victory for Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy services company, securing summary judgment in a five-year-old lawsuit relating to a billion-dollar liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Baja California, Mexico.

The lawsuit, filed in July 2010, was brought by a self-styled Mexican “rancher,” who alleged that Sempra had conspired with Mexican authorities to seize hundreds of acres of property plaintiff claimed to possess, and to cause him to be criminally prosecuted, in order to secure licenses for the LNG terminal.

In a complete victory for Sempra, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo granted summary judgment on plaintiff Ramon Sanchez Ritchie’s sole remaining claim, for malicious prosecution. In a 17-page order, the Court wrote that after “five years of spirited litigation,” plaintiff had failed to present any admissible evidence supporting his malicious prosecution allegations, including that Sempra conspired with Mexican authorities to seize plaintiff’s property, or lied to or knowingly withheld relevant information from Mexican investigators and courts.

To the contrary, the Court found “no dispute” that Sempra’s Mexican affiliate, Energia Costa Azul (ECA), paid millions of dollars to acquire the property from its titled owners, and only initiated criminal proceedings against plaintiff after he entered the property without permission and threatened ECA employees at gunpoint.

Despite claiming to be a rancher of modest means, plaintiff was represented in the case by nine attorneys from three law firms, including Washington, D. C.-based Williams & Connolly. Discovery revealed that the lawsuit was financed by a wealthy Mexican businessman, Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, who is now under federal indictment in San Diego for illegally funneling money to U.S. politicians.
“The court’s order reflects an incredibly careful analysis of an extensive record, and it vindicates our position throughout this litigation that plaintiff’s allegations are baseless,” said Marshall Camp, a Hueston Hennigan partner who represented Sempra.

“This was an incredibly complex case, with fact and expert testimony in two languages and two countries, numerous complex motions, and a financial backer with a vendetta,” said John Hueston. “We are extremely grateful for the judge’s diligence, and the rigorous analysis that allowed the court to see through plaintiff’s rhetoric and grant our client a complete victory.”

Sempra Energy was represented by John Hueston, Marshall Camp, Lee Linderman and Leanne Vanecek.