John M. Simpson has handled complex commercial, employment, regulatory, and appellate cases at all levels of the American legal system for more than four decades. He has conducted numerous jury and bench trials in both federal and state court and administrative hearings before a number of federal and state agencies. Mr. Simpson is experienced in the conduct of complex, protracted federal court litigation and has a deep background in federal administrative law involving multiple U.S. regulatory programs. Mr. Simpson also has several decades of experience in employment law and has handled discrimination claims in federal and state court, with several precedent-setting cases. He has argued 20 appeals in various federal and state courts.
Recently, Mr. Simpson achieved a national profile in the area of animal law and animal rights litigation. Mr. Simpson tried a landmark case under the Endangered Species Act to a defense verdict for the client in a case that received international media attention and in which the court made an explicit finding that Mr. Simpson had "pulverized" the testimony of the plaintiff and lead witness on cross examination. [677 F. Supp.2d 55, 67 (D.D.C. 2009), aff'd, 659 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2011)]. In that same litigation, Mr. Simpson obtained an unprecedented ruling that the client was entitled to recover attorneys' fees because the court found the plaintiffs' case to be "frivolous," "vexatious," and "groundless and unreasonable from its inception." This ruling, the first in favor of a private defendant under the 47-year old Endangered Species Act, paved the way for the recovery by the client of more than $25 million from the adverse parties, which represented a 100 per cent recoupment of the legal fees expended on the case. This was reportedly the largest lodestar attorneys' fee claim ever made in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and one of the largest fee recoveries ever under the Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC defense fee recovery standard.
Mr. Simpson is a 1978 graduate of Columbia University School of Law, where he was articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, and a 1972 cum laude graduate of Harvard University. He was a member of the Harvard Varsity Football Team and served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Areas of Practice
Litigation and Appellate Law
Class Action Practice
Entertainment and Sports Law
Lead counsel in California Unfair Competition Law class action against client marine mammal park. After plaintiffs were cross-examined in a bifurcated bench trial limited to standing to sue, court found neither plaintiff to be credible and dismissed action. Is one of the few UCL cases in which standing to sue was actually tried to the court.
Advised cold-weather clothing manufacturer with respect to defamatory statements about animal welfare contained in shareholder proposal advanced by animal activist organization.
Lead counsel representing largest provider of live family entertainment in defense of Endangered Species Act citizen suit spanning more than ten years of protracted litigation and resulting in judgment for defendant, following a six and one-half week bench trial in federal district court that received international media attention; represented same client in oral argument on appeal and obtained a 3-0 affirmance of the judgment. Following appeal obtained unprecedented ruling that client was entitled to recovery of legal fees as a prevailing defendant under the ESA, ultimately resulting in payment of more than $25 million by the adverse parties which represented a 100 per cent recoupment by the client of its legal fees in defending the case over fourteen years. Legal fee claim was characterized by the opposition as the largest lodestar claim in the history of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Lead counsel in entertainment company’s RICO and state tort action against parties to the foregoing ESA case and their counsel; case was resolved with a settlement in which the client recovered $25.4 million.
Lead counsel for major entertainment company in Lanham Act and state law trademark case against renowned rock artist who had used client’s trademark to name his concert tour; case was resolved by settlement that included monetary payment and a consent injunction against the artist prohibiting further infringing uses.
Lead counsel in defense of consumer class action litigation in federal court under California Unfair Competition Law and related consumer statutes brought against corporation operating three marine mammal parks in the United States; obtained summary judgment and dismissal of all claims.
Lead counsel in federal court jury trial defending entertainment company and executive against claims by animal rights activists for actual and punitive damages and statutory penalties arising under the California Ralph Act, Bane Act and Unfair Competition Law and common law theories of assault and battery. After a nearly three-week trial, jury returned take-nothing verdict for defense.
Lead counsel in the design, implementation and defense in more than fifty cases in federal and state court of separate pre-dispute arbitration programs for an internationally known medical center and university covering claims arising out of employment and the provision of medical treatment. One of these cases represented the first federal court decision to enforce, under the Federal Arbitration Act, a pre-dispute arbitration provision in a medical malpractice context.
Lead counsel for professional sports players' union in defense of employment discrimination action brought by union's former director of human resources.
Lead counsel representing group of U.S. sugarcane producers in defense of coordinated federal and state court class actions by sugarcane cutters, involving wage claims under the U.S. Department of Labor temporary foreign agricultural worker regulations and state law, resulting, after six years of litigation, in judgment for the defendants in the federal court action and resolution of the state court actions.
Lead counsel on defense team for major university in case alleging gender discrimination in Division I football program, which, after jury trial, resulted in one-dollar actual damage verdict for plaintiff and, on appeal, established for the first time as a matter of law that punitive damages are not an available remedy under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (proscribing gender discrimination in federally funded programs).
Member of team investigating discipline imposed on profession football player by professional sports league commissioner arising out of highly publicized incident of domestic violence.
Lead counsel representing consortium of agricultural businesses and trade associations as interveners with the government defending the validity of U.S. Department of Labor wage regulations in actions brought by farm workers and farm worker advocate organizations; after nearly nine years of litigation and three separate appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the validity of the regulations was sustained.
Lead counsel defending apple growers in a group of individual and class actions in West Virginia state court alleging breach of contract, violation of state "company store" wage law and violation of contractual work guarantee; following thirteen years of protracted litigation and three appeals to the West Virginia Supreme Court, result was a take-nothing judgment in favor of the defendants. Clients ultimately recovered all legal fees expended through a separate legal malpractice action against prior counsel which was resolved through a state receivership proceeding involving the prior counsel's liability insurer.
Lead counsel defending a treating therapist and major medical institution in a psychiatric malpractice case involving issues of patient stalking; case was tried to a jury in state court twice which resulted in hung juries after two separate, month-long trials and which was ultimately concluded by a 3-0 decision for defendant following an agreed-to arbitration procedure.
Lead counsel representing a major medical research institution in a series of medical malpractice cases over a period of eight years involving the use of an experimental procedure in the cytopathological diagnosis of certain cancers and which also involved handling parallel investigations by a federal congressional subcommittee, the Food and Drug Administration and the state board of medical examiners. Cases were concluded through a single and novel arbitration/settlement procedure.
Lead counsel in an internal investigation for a major medical institution regarding a heart transplant procedure that generated an emotionally charged controversy attracting national media attention.
Co-lead counsel for defense in federal jury trial (and on appeal) of a private action under the federal wiretapping statute and state tort law theories brought by an employee against an employer alleging unlawful workplace surveillance and seeking $12 million in actual and punitive damages, which ultimately resulted in judgment for the defendant employer.
Co-lead counsel for defense in federal jury trial of a case alleging assault, battery and false imprisonment against a prominent figure in the entertainment industry in which the plaintiff had claimed $110 million in actual and punitive damages and which resulted in take-nothing verdict for defense that was affirmed unanimously on appeal.
Lead counsel (as an associate) for major integrated oil company in appeal resulting in affirmance of district court judgment for client; represented one of the few judgments against the US government in litigation under the crude oil pricing regulations of the Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act of 1973.
Member of defense team representing major rental car company in Texas state court in defense of breach of contract and other claims by franchisees seeking more than $400 million in damages, that spanned nearly ten years and that was tried before a jury to a take-nothing judgment for the defendant on the plaintiffs' claims and a $10 million verdict for defendant on its counterclaim. On appeal, handled the appellate briefs that resulted in affirmance by the intermediate court of appeals and refusal of a writ of error by the Supreme Court of Texas.
Member of defense team in largest civil enforcement action brought against a single major oil company by the United States under the federal petroleum price and allocation regulations, seeking recovery of more than $ 2 billion in alleged overcharges in eight-year long protracted litigation.
- District of Columbia
- North Carolina
- U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
- U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina
- U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina
- U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina
- U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas
- U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
- District of Columbia Court of Appeals
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
- Supreme Court of the United States
- Columbia Law School, J.D., 1978
◦ Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar
◦ Articles Editor, Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
- Harvard University, A.B., cum laude, 1972
◦ Harvard Varsity Football Team
Duane Morris LLP
- Partner, 2018-present
Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP/Fulbright & Jaworski LLP
- Partner, 1986-2018
- Associate, 1978-1986
United States Marine Corps
- Infantry Officer, 1972-1975
- Third Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, First Marine Division
- Commanding General Certificate of Commendation
American Bar Association
District of Columbia Bar
North Carolina Bar
Certified Contract Advisor, National Football League Players Association
Sports Lawyers Association
Honors and Awards
- Listed in The Best Lawyers in America, 2023 and 2024
Listed in Washington, D.C. Super Lawyers for civil litigation
Listed in The Legal 500 for Dispute Resolution-General Commercial Disputes, 2017
Named a Legal Lion, Law360, May 2014
Listed in LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell’s Washington D.C. & Baltimore's Top-Rated Lawyers for Litigation, 2012-2013
Who's Who in American Law
Who's Who in America
Civic and Charitable Activities
Columbia University School of Law Board of Visitors, 1995-2009
Columbia Law School Alumni Association of Washington D.C.
- Board of Directors, 1995-2007
Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program
Co-founder and Contributor, Duane Morris Animal Law Developments Blog
Quoted, "Rift Among Its Players Creating Uncertain Future for ATP Tour," ESPN, January 17, 2019
Co-Author, A Practitioner's Guide to Class Actions, 2d Ed., American Bar Association, 2017
"Proposed Law Would Fundamentally Change Employment Arbitration," Norton Rose Fulbright Client Briefing, December 14, 2017
"Fulbright & Jaworski Partner John Simpson on Ringling Brothers Victory Over Animal Rights Groups," Corporate Crime Reporter, Vol. 28, No. 27, July 7, 2014
"Compromised Plaintiff Was the Elephant in the Courtroom," The National Law Journal, June 16, 2014
Selected Speaking Engagements
- Presenter, "Consumer Fraud and Consumer Product Safety Commission Issues in the Pandemic," Duane Morris COVID-19: Navigating Forward Webinar Series, May 6, 2021
- Speaker, "A Tribute to the Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg," Duane Morris LLP, Webinar, February 3, 2021
"The Wolf is at the Door: Appreciating the Ongoing Animal Activist Threat," National Animal Interest Alliance 2019 Annual Conference, Orlando, Florida, October 25, 2019
"Animal Activists in the Courtroom and Media: Current Trends and Lessons Learned," Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums, Washington, D.C., February 2017
"Circus Elephants in the Courtroom: Reviewing the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® $25.4 Million Victory Over Animal Activists," Safari Club International, Wildlife Law CLE, Las Vegas, February 2016
"Anatomy of a Landmark Animal Rights Case," Animal Law Symposium, Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, Boston, December 2014
"Insights Gained Along the Way to the $25 Million Landmark Settlement Paid by HSUS and the ASPCA to Feld Entertainment," National Animal Interest Alliance, Orlando, Florida, November 2014
"Why We Serve," Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization, Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 2014
"Observations from the Front Lines," National Animal Interest Alliance, Orlando, Florida, November 2013
"Taking on Activists in the Courtroom," Animal Agricultural Alliance Stakeholders Summit, Arlington, Virginia, May, 2013
"Watch Your Back," MeatingPlace, August 2010
"Navigating the Road Ahead: E-Discovery and Information Management Workshop," Moderator, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP., Washington, D.C., October 2006
"Defending Arbitration Agreements in Medical Negligence Cases," Second Annual Health Law Symposium, Austin, Texas, June 2006