Shout-Out: $26M Win for Clare Locke in Defamation Suit

Libby Locke and Tom Clare of Clare Locke, Washington D.C.

Husband and wife litigators Tom Clare and Libby Locke—founders of Kirkland & Ellis spin-off boutique Clare Locke—led a team in winning a $26 million defamation verdict in the Eastern District of North Carolina against Puma Biotechnology and its CEO on Friday.

The pair along with Clare Locke partner Megan Meier sued on behalf of Dr. Fred Eshelman, who founded Pharmaceutical Product Development, a 21,000-employee contract research organization that provides expertise in managing clinical trials.

In 2015, Eshelman invested $22 million in Puma, then started an unsuccessful proxy contest to increase the size of the company’s board of directors by four members—including himself.

During the course of the proxy contest, Eshelman said Puma and its CEO, Alan H. Auerbach, falsely accused him of being fired from his position as CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development after being involved in clinical trial fraud.

Eshelman was deemed to be a public figure—which meant his lawyers had to show actual malice by clear and convincing evidence under the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence.

But Clare Locke had won public figure trials before, including a $3 million jury verdict in federal court on behalf of UVA dean Nicole Eramo against Rolling Stone in November 2016.

Eshelman’s case went to trial in North Carolina on March 11. On March 15, the jurors found that Puma’s statements were false and made with actual malice. They awarded $15.85 million in compensatory damages, $6.5 million in punitive damages and $3.8 million in prejudgment interest.

Puma was represented through discovery and summary judgment by Brant Bishop, a founding partner at Wilkinson Walsh + Eskovitz, and at trial by Hedrick Gardner Kincheloe & Garofalo.