'Misunderstandings and miscommunication': A curious case may finally get its day in court

Collections case involving radio station owner has gone from basic to baffling

Just before Christmas 2010, New York-based Townsquare Media filed a lawsuit in New York seeking $354,000 from Music Row's Debut Broadcasting for unpaid advertising.

Four months later, the case against the local radio station operator was moved to the Middle District of Tennessee. There it has set for three years and has yet to be tried.

That in itself isn't particularly unusual, either, although the case did go nearly 18 months with no action, which is a bit odd, even in slow-burning cases. But this is a case that was seemingly dispensed at least twice in its life and revived as many times. And now, finally, it very well could be getting its day in court, with a case management conference set for March 13, nearly three years to the day after the case transferred into the Middle District.

In essence, Townsquare's complaint is that its predecessor — Regent Broadcasting — "rendered radio broadcasting services to [Debut]" for $354,000, which has long since gone unpaid. The case transferred from New York state court to federal court and then to federal court here. And that's where it gets complicated.

The magistrate in Nashville recommended the case be dismissed for plaintiff's failure to prosecute after the New York-based attorneys failed to take the normal procedural steps of associating with a local attorney and submitting motions to appear pro hac vice.

Further, the New York-based attorney informed the collection agency handling the matter — Harvey, Scott & St. Charles — that it needed to contract with a Nashville attorney to further the case. That collection agency indeed contracted with a Nashville firm, Buffaloe & Associates, but in doing so initially failed to mention that it was no mere matter of collection but also a pending federal court action. This was problematic, as Buffaloe does not argue cases in federal court.

Nonetheless, despite HS&S knowing Buffaloe didn't practice in federal court and Buffaloe knowing it had a federal case to litigate, neither firm did anything to address the problem, leading to the case's initial dismissal — an outcome that, according to court filings, left HS&S "flabbergasted" and exclaiming (in all caps, mind) that Buffaloe had "DROPPED THE BALL BIG TIME!"

Nevertheless, the court vacated its initial default judgement — in part because it was a comedic series of errors, none of which were the fault of the actual plaintiff, that led to the procedural errors — and reinstated the case to the docket.

Later, because Debut's attorneys failed to file a timely response, another default judgement was entered for Townsquare. It turns out — in what Judge Kevin Sharp called, rather understatedly, "a curious twist" — that Debut's attorneys, James Freeman & Associates, were unaware they were still involved in the case.

"This case has been pending in this Court for almost a year and a half, and the issues have yet to be joined," Sharp wrote in his decision altering the second default judgement in August 2012. "This is due almost exclusively to mis-communication and/or misunderstanding on behalf of counsel for the parties. Suffice it to say that the parties have been fortunate so far, but the Court is highly unlikely to look kindly upon any further procedural missteps."

Showing that he hadn't entirely lost his sense of humor, Sharp ruled that the defense would get their one more chance similar to the plaintiffs under the doctrine "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander," for which he gave a citation (United States v. Husein).

In any event, Debut finally filed a response — among other things, the Nashville company says Townsquare's subsidiary, DiaGlobal, was in breach by failing to performing contracted services — in August 2012, the last action in the case until it was set for a conference earlier this week.

What caused the thaw? It's hard to say; let's just hope everybody knows everybody's lawyers are this time around.