Argued: May 13, 2015.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Norfolk. (2:14-cv-00160-RBS-LRL; 2:87-cv-00363-RBS). Rebecca Beach Smith, Chief District Judge.
Richard Thomas Robol, ROBOL LAW OFFICE, LLC, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants.
Conrad M. Shumadine, WILLCOX & SAVAGE, P.C., Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee.
Brett A. Spain, WILLCOX & SAVAGE, P.C., Norfolk, Virginia; James L. Chapman, IV, Steven M. Stancliff, C. Wiley Grandy, CRENSHAW, WARE & MARTIN, P.L.C., Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellee Recovery Limited Partnership.
Before NIEMEYER, DUNCAN, and THACKER, Circuit Judges. Judge Niemeyer wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge Duncan and Judge Thacker joined.
NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge:
The S.S. Central America, loaded with tons of gold en route from San Francisco to New York, sank in a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina in 1857. Columbus-America Discovery Group (" Columbus-America" ), acting as the agent for Recovery Limited Partnership (" Recovery Limited" ), discovered the wreck in the 1980s, and the district court subsequently granted Columbus-America salvage rights.
For over two decades, Richard T. Robol and Robol Law Office, LLC (collectively, " Robol" ) represented Columbus-America in the proceedings to establish its salvage rights. During the same period, Robol also defended Columbus-America, Recovery Limited, and several other related business entities, including EZRA, Inc., against claims made by others for portions of the gold recovered from the sunken vessel. In addition, Robol leased commercial property in Columbus, Ohio, to EZRA, where documents relating to the salvage operation were stored.
In June 2013, an Ohio court placed several of the companies into receivership and ordered the Receiver to collect their property from all persons holding such property, including the companies' attorneys. The Receiver gave notice of the order to Robol, and thereafter -- in July and August 2013 -- Robol turned over 36 file cabinets of
materials that he had accumulated as counsel and landlord. Robol also encouraged Milton T. Butterworth, Jr., an officer of Columbus-America, to turn over to the Receiver photographs, videos, and other materials related to the salvage of the S.S. Central America.
After Robol withdrew as counsel for the companies, he filed a claim in this in rem admiralty action to obtain a salvage award for himself, alleging that he had provided voluntary assistance to the Receiver in turning over files and documents related to the salvage operation, which proved useful in the continuing salvage of the sunken vessel.
The district court dismissed Robol's claim for failure to state a claim, concluding that Robol had been obligated to return the files and documents to his former clients under the applicable rules of professional responsibility and principles of agency law and therefore that his act of returning the materials to his former clients was not a voluntary act, as would be required for him to obtain a salvage award.
We agree with the district court ...