Goulding v. Weiss, No. 18-1791 (7th Cir. 2019)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Nutmeg LLC, formerly managed by Goulding, served as an investment advisor and sole general partner of more than a dozen investment funds, each a limited partnership under Illinois or Minnesota law. Goulding’s management of the Funds ended in 2009, when the SEC brought an enforcement action against him, Nutmeg, and others under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, alleging that Nutmeg misappropriated client assets and failed to maintain proper records. The district court found that the SEC made the showing necessary to warrant the issuance of a restraining order prohibiting Goulding from managing the Funds and granted the SEC’s unopposed motion to appoint attorney Weiss as receiver for Nutmeg. Unsatisfied with Weiss’s performance, Goulding and limited partners from certain funds managed by Nutmeg filed an individual and derivative action on behalf of the Funds, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice. The court dismissed the federal securities law claim, claims against Nutmeg, all legal malpractice claims against Weiss and her firm, and two breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Seventh Circuit
Affirmed, holding that even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, no reasonable jury could find that either Weiss or her firm willfully and deliberately violated any fiduciary duties.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 MICHAEL ALONSO, individually and derivatively on behalf of NUTMEG/MERCURY FUND, LLP (hereinafter within this caption MERCURY FUND, LLP), et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, and RANDALL S. GOULDING, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. LESLIE J. WEISS and BARNES & THORNBURG, Defendants-Appellees. ____________________ Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:12-cv-7373 — Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED APRIL 11, 2019 — DECIDED AUGUST 6, 2019 ____________________ Before SYKES, SCUDDER, and ST. EVE, Circuit Judges. 2 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 SCUDDER, Circuit Judge. This appeal centers on the performance of the court-appointed receiver of nancial advisory rm Nutmeg Group, LLC. The district court appointed the receiver after the Securities and Exchange Commission initiated an enforcement action against Nutmeg and its managing member, Randall Goulding. Against the Commission’s allegations of ongoing fraud and misappropriation of client assets, the district court presiding over the SEC matter entered a temporary restraining order prohibiting Goulding from operating Nutmeg and appointed a receiver to oversee all aspects of the rm’s business. This civil suit followed. Goulding and a group of limited partners in one or more of the Nutmeg funds alleged that the receiver breached her duciary duties and, in doing so, reduced the value of the funds’ assets. After dismissing certain counts, the district court entered summary judgment in the receiver’s favor on all remaining claims. Because we agree that no reasonable jury could nd that the receiver engaged in a willful, deliberate, or even grossly negligent breach of a duciary duty, we a rm. I A Nutmeg Group, LLC, formerly managed by Randall Goulding, served as an investment advisor and sole general partner of more than a dozen investment funds, which we will refer to collectively as the Funds. Each of the constituent funds is a limited partnership under Illinois or Minnesota law. With Goulding at the helm, Nutmeg executed transactions on behalf of the Funds and oversaw their investment strategies. Goulding’s management of the Funds ended in Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 3 2009, when the SEC brought an enforcement action against him, Nutmeg, and others in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging violations of the Investment Advisors Act of 1940. The thrust of the Commission’s complaint was that Nutmeg misappropriated client assets and failed to maintain proper records. See SEC v. Nutmeg Grp., LLC, No. 09 C 1775, 2011 WL 5042094 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2011). The district court handling the SEC action found that the Commission made the showing necessary to warrant the issuance of a restraining order prohibiting Goulding from managing the Funds. The court also granted the SEC’s unopposed motion to appoint attorney Leslie Weiss as receiver for Nutmeg. The appointment order granted Weiss the authority to “oversee all aspects of Nutmeg’s operations and business,” including “serving as general partner and investment advisor” to the Funds. It also provided that, as receiver, Weiss was “solely the agent of [the] [c]ourt,” and should continue Nutmeg’s business “in such manner, to such extent, and for such duration as [she] may in the exercise of her business judgment and in good faith deem to be necessary or appropriate.” The order directed Weiss to le regular status reports with the district court detailing her acts as receiver. The appointment order separately addressed Weiss’s liability, broadly providing that Weiss and any professionals she retained would not be held liable to anyone “for their own good faith compliance with any order, rule, law, judgment, or decree.” The order added that neither Weiss nor any retained personnel would be held liable “with respect to the performance of their duties and responsibilities as Receiver and Retained Personnel . . . except upon a nding by [the district] [c]ourt that they acted or failed to act as a result of 4 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 malfeasance, bad faith, gross negligence or in reckless disregard of their duties.” B Following her appointment, Weiss submitted the required status reports to the district court. In her rst report, she broadly shared the results of her initial due diligence. She informed the court of her review of the Funds’ assets, which included convertible notes (many of which were in default); lawsuits or judgments against borrowers who had defaulted on their notes or refused to convert notes to stocks; and “shells” of failed borrower companies that Nutmeg or the Funds had recovered when the companies defaulted on their debt. Weiss also reported on her e orts to assess the collectability of any outstanding judgments, while also conveying her concern that some of the notes’ issuers were not nancially stable. In time Weiss submitted additional reports informing the district court of particular developments and challenges she was encountering as well as decisions she was making as receiver. To further ful ll her duties, Weiss sought assistance from investment advisors and attorneys. For example, in addition to retaining Barnes & Thornburg, the law rm where she is a partner, Weiss hired McClendon, Morrison & Partners, LLC as an investment advisor. She also consulted with a collection rm regarding the collectability of certain judgments against borrowers who had defaulted on their notes. Unsatis ed with Weiss’s performance as receiver, Goulding and a group of limited partners from certain funds managed by Nutmeg led an individual and derivative action on behalf of the Funds. The complaint named as defendants Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 5 Weiss, Barnes & Thornburg, Nutmeg, and the Funds, and alleged state-law claims for breach of duciary duty and legal malpractice. Speci cally, the plainti s alleged that Weiss breached her duciary duties as receiver, including under Illinois’s and Minnesota’s partnership statutes, by failing to pursue certain opportunities to the detriment of one or more of the Funds and, separately, by not converting certain debt owed to Nutmeg or a particular fund into stock to be sold on the open market. The plainti s also brought a federal claim pursuant to the Investment Advisors Act of 1940 and SEC Rule 206(4)-2. For their part, Weiss and Barnes & Thornburg led a motion to dismiss, which the district court granted in part. The court dismissed the plainti s’ federal securities law claim as well as several other counts in an amended complaint, including all claims against Nutmeg, all legal malpractice claims against Weiss and Barnes & Thornburg, and two breach of duciary duty claims against Weiss. These dismissals are not at issue on appeal. Weiss and Barnes & Thornburg then successfully moved for summary judgment on the remaining seventeen counts. In a detailed and thorough opinion, the district court assessed each of the plainti s’ allegations, concluding that even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plainti s, no reasonable jury could nd that either Weiss or Barnes & Thornburg willfully and deliberately violated any duciary duties. On appeal the plainti s challenge the district court’s ruling on select claims advanced against Weiss. 6 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 II A We begin with a brief word on our appellate jurisdiction. We do so because the plainti s’ amended complaint named not only Weiss and Barnes & Thornburg as defendants, but also Nutmeg and the Funds. The district court’s nal judgment did not address the Funds, however. We nonetheless agree with the parties that the district court’s judgment constituted a nal and appealable judgment under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. First, although the amended complaint named 13 separate funds as defendants, the plainti s did not assert any claims against these entities or seek any relief from them. More to it, the summary judgment order, by its terms, expressly resolved all claims in the district court. See Baltimore Orioles, Inc. v. Major League Baseball Players Ass'n, 805 F.2d 663, 666 (7th Cir. 1986) (explaining that “a decision is nal for the purpose of § 1291 if it ends the litigation on the merits and leaves nothing for the district court to do but execute the judgment”). In these circumstances, our appellate jurisdiction is secure. And this is so despite ongoing proceedings in the district court in the underlying SEC enforcement action. The docket shows that the parties consented to a bench trial before a magistrate judge in January 2018. They are awaiting a decision. We have no reason to believe any outcome of the bench trial will a ect this appeal, however. Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 7 B We turn next to the standard of liability governing the plainti s’ state-law claims for breach of duciary duty. The plainti s assert that Minnesota and Illinois law apply because each of the funds is either a Minnesota or Illinois limited partnership. With both states having adopted the Uniform Limited Partnership Act—and the plainti s not identifying any con ict in the states’ respective interpretations of the Act— our analysis proceeds by applying Illinois law. We would reach the same conclusions under Minnesota law. To recover for a breach of duciary duty, Illinois law required the plainti s to establish the existence of a duciary duty, a breach of that duty, and damages proximately caused by the breach. See Gross v. Town of Cicero, Ill., 619 F.3d 697, 709 (7th Cir. 2010). On this much the parties agree. From there, however, they dispute the substantive standard to which Weiss should be held when assessing whether she breached her duciary duties as receiver. The district court relied on our 1985 decision in In re Chicago Paci c Corp. and determined that, to hold a court-appointed receiver personally liable, the plainti s must show that Weiss engaged in a “willful and deliberate” violation of her duciary duties. 773 F.2d 909, 915 (7th Cir. 1985) (citing Mosser v. Darrow, 341 U.S. 267, 272 (1951) and Sherr v. Winkler, 552 F.2d 1367, 1375 (10th Cir. 1977)). In this way, the district court e ectively saw the Illinois state-law standard of liability as mirroring the federal willful and deliberate standard announced by the Supreme Court in the bankruptcy context in Mosser v. Darrow, see 341 U.S. at 272, which we, in turn, have applied in cases involving alleged breaches of duty by bankruptcy trustees. See, e.g., Grochocinski v. Mayer Brown Rowe & 8 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 Maw, LLP, 719 F.3d 785, 800 (7th Cir. 2013); In re Chicago Pac. Corp., 773 F.2d at 915. The plainti s contend that the federal benchmark sets the liability bar too high. By their measure, the lesser gross negligence standard that the Illinois legislature made applicable to the acts of all general partners re ects the proper rule of decision. See 805 ILCS 215/408(c); see also Minn. Stat. § 321.0408(c). This is especially so, the plainti s urge, because the district court order appointing Weiss as receiver expressly stated that she could be held liable upon a showing of gross negligence. The plainti s have some, but not all, of the analysis right. They are right, of course, that they brought claims under Illinois (and Minnesota) law. They are equally right, as a matter of subject matter jurisdiction, that the doctrine of ancillary jurisdiction permitted them to bring these claims against Weiss, a federally-appointed receiver, in the same federal court presiding over the SEC action, here, the Northern District of Illinois. See, e.g., Robinson v. Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. Inc., 918 F.2d 579, 586 (6th Cir. 1990) (quoting C. WRIGHT & A. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 2985 at 45) (“It is well settled that ‘actions against a receiver arising out of his conduct of the receivership business may be brought in the appointing court even though there may not be any independent grounds for asserting federal jurisdiction.’”). This case presents a slight wrinkle. Ordinarily in the receivership context, the exercise of ancillary jurisdiction would entail the same district judge responsible for the SEC matter (here, Judge Coleman) also hearing any claims asserted against a court-appointed receiver. Here the record shows that the plainti s sought permission to le claims against the Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 9 receiver and her appointed counsel in the Northern District of Illinois and Judge Coleman appropriately authorized the request. But a di erent judge, Judge Lefkow, ultimately handled the plainti s’ ancillary claims. We can view all of this as reasonably occurring as part of the Northern District’s case management following the death of Judge Hibbler, the district judge who had presided over the SEC enforcement action since its inception. In these circumstances, we agree with the plainti s that the district court properly exercised ancillary jurisdiction over the claims challenging Weiss’s performance as a court-appointed receiver. For her part, Weiss too agrees that the district court had subject matter jurisdiction over the plainti s’ claims. Turning to the claims themselves, we agree with the plainti s that state law, and not federal bankruptcy law or federal common law, supplies the controlling standard of duciary care. See 28 U.S.C. § 959(b) (stating that a court-appointed receiver “shall manage and operate the property in his possession as such trustee, receiver or manager according to the requirements of the valid laws of the State in which such property is situated, in the same manner that the owner or possessor thereof would be bound to do if in possession thereof”). Where we part ways with the plainti s is in their insistence that Weiss had to abide by the ordinary gross negligence standard that both governs general partners under Illinois (and Minnesota) law and appears in the receivership appointment order. Put another way, the plainti s see Weiss as a general partner, albeit court-appointed, who should be held to the run-of-the-mill general partner standard of liability under Illinois law. If only the analysis was so straightforward. 10 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 As a threshold matter, it is far from clear that the district court, in appointing Weiss as receiver, made her the general partner of the Funds. The appointment order, to be sure, authorized Weiss to “oversee all aspects of Nutmeg’s operations, which include, but are not limited to, serving as general partner and investment advisor” to the Funds. While this language makes plain that Weiss acquired the authority held in the ordinary course by a fund’s general partner, this is not the same as making Weiss a general partner for any and all purposes, including for personal liability for a breach of a duciary duty such that ordinary state partnership statutes should apply. This conclusion is underscored by the fact that the appointment of Weiss as receiver was far from an ordinarycourse event—indeed, it came upon a nding by the district court that Nutmeg, as the sole general partner of the Funds, and Goulding, as Nutmeg’s managing partner, had engaged in substantial malfeasance. What is more, the order appointing Weiss did not put her only in the former shoes of Nutmeg and Goulding. To the contrary, Weiss was appointed not as a duciary of any particular fund but instead “solely [as] the agent of th[e] Court in acting as Receiver,” and charged with the broad responsibility of “tak[ing] such action necessary and appropriate to prevent the dissipation or concealment of any funds or assets constituting Receivership Property and otherwise preserve any such funds and assets.” To identify the proper rule or decision, we need to ask what standard of duciary care Illinois courts have adopted, not for ordinary general partners, but in the context of a courtappointed receiver. If Illinois caselaw does not supply the answer, the question becomes what standard the Illinois Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 11 Supreme Court would adopt if presented with the issue. See In re Zimmer, NextGen Knee Implant Products Liab. Litig., 884 F.3d 746, 751 (7th Cir. 2018) (collecting authorities and explaining that a federal court’s task in applying state law is to determine how the state’s highest court would rule and, where a state’s courts have yet to address the question, to examine the law in other jurisdictions to discern the probable direction of the state law at issue). Our research has identi ed no Illinois case addressing the question. But that observation does not lead to a dead end. In predicting what standard of liability the Illinois Supreme Court would adopt, we have every reason to believe the court would see a court-appointed receiver as just that—as an individual serving not as an ordinary duciary or general partner, but instead at a federal court’s direction to ful ll unique responsibilities. Here that would mean treating Weiss as a receiver appointed to oversee and to protect the assets of at least 13 limited partnerships in the wake of a federal district court nding substantial misconduct by Nutmeg and its former managing partner. Informed by our decision in Chicago Paci c Corp., we believe the Illinois Supreme Court would arrive at the willful and deliberate standard of personal liability for a court-appointed receiver. See 773 F.2d at 915. This heightened standard of liability roots itself in the Supreme Court’s 1951 decision in Mosser and accounts for the context in which a receiver is operating. The standard recognizes that if a receiver is “burdened with having to defend against suits by litigants disappointed by his actions on the court’s behalf, his work for the court will be impeded.” Matter of Linton, 136 F.3d 544, 545 (7th Cir. 1998). So too does this standard re ect the reality that 12 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 receivers are often appointed to take charge of entities with which they have had no prior involvement: imposing personal liability for mistakes in business judgment could discourage competent individuals from acting as receivers. Given the clarity and reasons supporting this standard in our caselaw—developed, to be sure, in the analogous bankruptcy context—we conclude that the Illinois Supreme Court most likely would chart the same course as a matter of Illinois law. The practical considerations warranting a heightened liability standard are far from ction here. Take, for example, the observations the district court made in the underlying SEC matter. Judge Hibbler went out of his way to warn that “Goulding’s obstinacy in the underlying litigation demonstrates an animosity towards the Receiver and provides further pause to be wary of any purported claim he might raise against the Receiver, particularly in the absence of even a scintilla of evidence that the Receiver acted in bad faith.” SEC v. Nutmeg Grp., LLC, No. 09 C 1775, 2011 WL 5042092, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2011). In much the same vein, Judge Hibbler observed that “[t]o say that Goulding has been uncooperative with the Receiver is to understate his recalcitrance.” Id. In the end, we believe the Illinois Supreme Court would require a showing that Weiss willfully and deliberately violated her duciary duties before imposing judgment for personal liability. Under this standard, the plainti s must show that Weiss intentionally took actions she knew violated her duciary duties. See, e.g., Petrovic v. Dep't of Employment Security, 2016 IL 118562, ¶ 30–31 (de ning “deliberate and willful” in the context of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act as “conscious act[s] made in violation of company rules, when the employee knows it is against the rules”); see also Levy v. Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 13 Markal Sales Corp., 268 Ill. App. 3d 355, 380 (1st Dist. 1994) ( nding a “willful breach of a duciary duty” based on evidence that corporate directors engaged in acts that were “lacking in good faith, underhanded, deceitful and sly”). Even if our prediction is mistaken, however, all agree that Illinois law, at the very least, would hold Weiss to a standard of gross negligence. See 805 ILCS 215/408(c). And the plainti s are quick to remind that this same gross negligence standard appears in the district court’s order appointing Weiss as receiver in the rst instance. Fair enough. It is certainly possible, especially as a matter of comity, that the Illinois Supreme Court would inform its identi cation and de nition of the controlling liability standard by the standard appearing in the order appointing Weiss as receiver. Under a gross negligence standard, the plainti s could not recover absent a showing that Weiss acted in her capacity as receiver with “reckless indi erence to or deliberate disregard of” her duties or that her actions were “without the bounds of reason.” Sherman v. Ryan, 392 Ill. App. 3d 712, 732 (1st Dist. 2009) (quoting Benihana of Tokyo, Inc. v. Benihana, Inc., 891 A.2d 150, 192 (Del. Ch. 2005)). We can stop short of staking out a more de nitive position on the substantive liability standard, however. As our ensuing analysis shows, the district court properly determined that the record evidence required entry of summary judgment for Weiss. This is so, we conclude, whether we apply the heightened willful and deliberate standard or the lesser gross negligence standard. 14 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 III The plainti s challenge the entry of summary judgment on sixteen distinct claims alleging that Weiss breached her duciary duties by failing to take certain actions like bringing lawsuits, enforcing notes, converting debt owed to Nutmeg or one or another of its funds into stock, or entering into certain transactions. We pause to highlight that, based on our review of the briefs, the plainti s do not challenge any aspect of the district court’s rulings on the claims asserted against Barnes & Thornburg. Accordingly, this appeal proceeds only as to the plainti s’ challenge to the district court’s resolution of claims against Weiss as receiver. See Maha ey v. Ramos, 588 F.3d 1142, 1146 (7th Cir. 2009) (declining to consider claims not adequately briefed). As to those claims, we review the district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, construing all facts and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plainti s’ favor as the nonmoving party. See Van den Bosch v. Raemisch, 658 F.3d 778, 785 (7th Cir. 2011). A We begin with the plainti s’ claims challenging Weiss’s decisions to pursue or decline certain opportunities on behalf of Nutmeg. As the plainti s see it, Weiss breached her duciary duties by failing to pursue certain litigation and by failing to enforce certain judgments and promissory notes. The district court carefully considered and rejected this category of claims, and we see no error in its analysis. A few examples su ce to explain why. Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 15 Consider Count V. The plainti s alleged that Weiss breached her duties by failing to enforce a $2.7 million judgment held by a particular Nutmeg fund against an entity called RMD Entertainment Group. While the plainti s assert that Weiss made no e ort to settle or collect the judgment, the district court saw the facts otherwise. Instead, the court explained, the evidence demonstrates that Weiss investigated the collectability of the judgment by contacting RMD and learning not only that Nutmeg’s judgment may be defective, but also that RMD had no assets in the United States. But Weiss did not stop at RMD’s word. She went further by consulting a collection agency, which con rmed that RMD was judgment proof. She then conveyed this information to the district court handling the SEC matter, explaining that she had contacted third parties to inquire about their interest in purchasing the judgment but was unable to nd a buyer. The plainti s, although plainly disagreeing with Weiss’s business judgment, did not show that this diligence never occurred. So, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plainti s, the record shows that Weiss took steps to collect on this judgment and ultimately decided it was not worth pursuing. The district court was on sound footing concluding that no reasonable jury could nd that Weiss willfully or even recklessly breached her duciary duties. Similarly, in Count XI, the plainti s alleged that Weiss breached her duciary duties by failing to follow Goulding’s advice and “d[oing] nothing” to monetize a defaulted convertible note issued by North Bay Resources. But here, too, we see the evidence much the same way as the district court. The record shows that Weiss contacted North Bay and explained that, based on Nutmeg’s records, she believed the rm still owed on the note. North Bay disagreed, taking the position 16 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 that the note had been satis ed with shares issued to Nutmeg. In a sworn declaration, Weiss explained that, based on her due diligence, she made the decision not to expend further resources to pursue a claim against North Bay. An informed decision not to move forward with a particular course of action falls short of demonstrating a willful and deliberate (or, for that matter, a grossly negligent) violation of her duties. We likewise agree with the district court that Count VII (the plainti s’ third failure to enforce claim) and Counts X, XIV, and XVI (relating to lawsuits on behalf of the Funds) fail for the same reasons. In each instance, the evidence shows that Weiss investigated the potential claims or litigation opportunities, considered the strengths and weaknesses of available options, and weighed the costs of pursuing certain opportunities before exercising her business judgment. The plainti s, while vigorously disagreeing with Weiss’s decisions, did not bring forth evidence to show that a jury could nd that those decisions re ected a willful, deliberate, or grossly negligent breach of her duciary duties. B The plainti s also brought a series of claims (in Counts VI, VIII, and XVII) alleging that Weiss breached her duties by failing to convert debt owed to Nutmeg or to certain funds into stock to be sold on the open market. Here again, though, the district court got it right in concluding that the record evidence requires a contrary conclusion. The plainti s allege three instances where, as they would have it, Weiss should have converted certain debt to stock and then liquidated the equity at a pro t. For example, the plainti s contend that Weiss breached her duties by settling a Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 17 $50,000 note owed by an entity named GoIP Global, rather than exercising a right to convert the note to stock. Yet even if we credit the plainti s’ view that it was both feasible and advantageous for Weiss to convert the GoIP debt and sell the stock, we agree with the district court that the plainti s’ allegations, at most, support an inference that Weiss exercised poor judgment. But a poor business decision falls well short of demonstrating either a willful and deliberate or even a grossly negligent breach of her duties. At a more speci c level, the record shows that Weiss did convert some of the GoIP debt and tried to convert the remainder, only to nd GoIP non-responsive. She then sought, received, and followed professional investment advice about what to do with the remaining debt. Even viewing the facts in the plainti s’ strongest favor, we cannot conclude that Weiss came anywhere close to willfully, deliberately, or even negligently o ending her duciary obligations: she retained—and sought guidance from—an investment advisory rm, and when faced with two choices, she chose the option advised by the rm. Absent from the record are facts showing that Weiss intended to harm the Funds by settling the GoIP debt rather than undertaking conversion and liquidation transactions. And the record shows the same level of diligence as to the facts underlying the allegations in Counts VIII and XVII. C The plainti s also devote substantial attention to three speci c claims against the receiver. Once again, though, the district court properly saw no genuine issue of material fact pertinent to these claims. 18 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 First, in Count IV, the plainti s allege that Weiss breached her duciary duties by failing to receive court approval to pay any fees exceeding a $150,000 cap imposed by the district court to Crowe Horwath, the accounting rm that advised her in the execution of her receivership responsibilities. While it is undisputed that Weiss incurred $168,000 in advisory fees beyond the cap, we agree with the district court that no reasonable jury could nd that her doing so re ected an intentional breach of her duciary duties. The court handling the SEC matter appointed Crowe Horwath before Weiss became receiver and explicitly authorized her to continue using the rm. The record also shows that Crowe Horwath estimated its fees at $168,000 to complete its outstanding work. Weiss shared this information with the district court and kept the court informed of what Crowe Horwath was doing, why the work was needed, and how much it would cost. She also heeded the court’s instruction to take a “conservative approach” by submitting payment requests in installments as Crowe performed its work. While it is clear that the plainti s believe Crowe Horwath’s work was unnecessary, what is missing is evidence showing that Weiss’s continued use of Crowe’s services re ected a willful, deliberate, or grossly negligent outing of the district court’s directions or her duciary duties. Indeed, neither the district court overseeing the SEC matter nor the Commission itself took issue with Weiss’s handling of the additional payments for Crowe Horwath’s services. Second, in Count IX, the plainti s allege that Weiss breached her duciary duties by terminating a transaction that would have enabled Inverso Corp., a corporate shell owned by several Nutmeg funds, to be used as a vehicle for an initial public o ering. Notably, however, in the SEC’s Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 19 motion to appoint Weiss as receiver, the Commission agged the Inverso deal and directed Weiss to review it. Upon doing so Weiss chose to halt the transaction because it “reeked of a scam.” In her sworn declarations, Weiss provided a detailed explanation of why she did not approve the transaction: she questioned its legitimacy and determined the business plan was implausible because, among other things, it projected Inverso would gain 5% of the global market share for multiple sclerosis treatment in just two years and 5% of global cancer treatment revenues in just four years with a budget of only a few million dollars. No evidence suggests Weiss formed these views on a whim or held them in willful or deliberate (or grossly negligent) disregard of her duties as receiver. Third, Count XIX alleged that Weiss breached her duciary duties by expending attorneys’ fees on a frivolous motion to show cause. In April 2010, in the SEC matter, Weiss led a motion for an order to show cause against Goulding for his failure to cooperate with her. She pointed to 11 di erent instances of his noncooperation, one of which involved locating evidence of investor approval to modify the operating agreement for the Nutmeg/Mercury LLP Fund. As it turned out, however, Weiss already had the relevant documents in the les seized from Nutmeg. Goulding reacted to learning of this mistake by urging the district court in the SEC case to sanction Weiss. The district court denied the motion, explaining that there was “no evidence of an intentional fraud, concealment or conspiracy” on Weiss’s part and because “there [was] no suggestion that all of the other issues raised in the [r]eceiver’s motion also were without merit.” We see no error with this conclusion. 20 Nos. 18-1740 & 18-1791 IV The plainti s’ amended complaints and arguments on appeal are expansive. Based upon our review of the record and the parties’ briefs, we have focused only on those claims that we believe warrant discussion. But our ultimate conclusion— that no reasonable jury could nd that Weiss engaged in a willful, deliberate, or even grossly negligent breach of a duciary duty—applies with equal force to the totality of the plainti s’ claims on appeal. For these reasons, we AFFIRM.
Primary Holding
Seventh Circuit rejects breach of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice claims against an attorney appointed as the receiver for an investment firm.

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