Ryan D. Frei Partner

Ryan is a versatile commercial litigator and a first-chair trial attorney who assists clients in navigating their thorniest business disputes, from pre-litigation counseling through trial and appeal. Most of his engagements arise out of complex contracts within regulated industries, and many involve allegations of fraud or other tortious conduct. He has been with McGuireWoods since 2006, following a one-year clerkship with then-Chief Judge James R. Spencer of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Covering a broad spectrum of industries, Ryan represents clients in state and federal courts across the country. Recent representations have involved energy supply and services, hospitality, the automotive aftermarket, casino development, agribusiness, food-and-beverage supply and distribution, manufacturing, government contracting, construction, supply-chain design, securities, mortgage origination practices, wireless services, commercial real estate, insurance coverage, D&O and fiduciary matters, fraudulent conveyances, and healthcare services. 

A significant part of Ryan’s practice is dedicated to providing practical advice to clients involved in business disputes—typically rooted in disagreements under contracts—to achieve favorable resolutions without the need for litigation. When litigation does ensue, Ryan is a tireless advocate adept at grasping nuanced fact patterns and positioning cases optimally for dispositive motions or trial. 

With substantial bench and jury trial experience in both state and federal courts, Ryan has had trial successes on both sides of the “v.” in a variety of venues. He recently led a team in a week-long federal jury trial in the Western District of Virginia, defending a major automotive aftermarket parts distributor in a lawsuit brought by a former parts manufacturer after a 20-year relationship ended. Plaintiff sought nearly $10 million in damages and asserted claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and civil conversion, with Defendant asserting a counterclaim for breach of contract. After less than two hours of deliberations, the jury found in Defendant’s favor on both Plaintiff’s sole remaining claim and Defendant’s counterclaim for the exact seven-figure damages amount requested in closing argument.

Ryan regularly practices in — and has deep knowledge of — the Eastern District of Virginia, known as the federal “Rocket Docket” for its swift handling of litigation. He recently first-chaired a team that won a combined judgment and fee award of nearly $25 million in a coal supply and services contract dispute in the E.D. Va., following victories on summary judgment and at trial. The 4th Circuit fully affirmed on appeal.

Fluent in Spanish, Ryan uses his language skills to assist clients whose legal needs cross international borders. He maintains a robust pro bono practice, serves as co-chair of the McGuireWoods Richmond office pro bono committee, and was the recipient of the firm’s annual Pro Bono Award in 2016.

During law school, Ryan was the Senior Notes and Comments Editor and a member of the Executive Board of the University of Richmond Law Review. He earned CALI book awards for receiving the highest grades in Contracts (section honor) and International Business Transactions, placed first in the Walter Scott McNeill Legal Writing Competition two years in a row, and received the T.C. Williams Law School Scholarship Award, presented to the graduating student who made the most significant contribution to legal scholarship. As an undergraduate at Cornell University, Ryan won the J.G. White Prize for Excellence in Spanish, supplementing his studies with full Spanish-language immersion at la Universidad de Sevilla, in Seville, Spain.

Ryan publishes and presents CLEs and seminars on a variety of commercial litigation subjects.

Experience

RESULTS DEPEND ON A VARIETY OF FACTORS UNIQUE TO EACH CASE. PRIOR RESULTS DO NOT GUARANTEE OR PREDICT A SIMILAR OUTCOME.
 
Representative Trial Experience

Defended major automotive aftermarket parts distributor in week-long jury trial in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, after all but one of Plaintiff’s claims were dismissed on summary judgment. The relevant time period spanned more than two decades, and nearly ten contracts were at issue. After less than two hours of deliberations, the jury found in Defendant’s favor on all claims, awarding Defendant the exact seven-figure counterclaim damages amount requested in closing argument.

Represented coal producer in week-long bench trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. The trial was conducted virtually—via Zoom—near the height of the pandemic. 

Represented major utility in bench trial in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, arising out of coal supply and services dispute regarding six interrelated contracts.  Obtained the full amount of damages sought, resulting in a combined judgment and attorneys’ fee award of more than $24.5 million. The Fourth Circuit fully affirmed on appeal. 

Served as part of trial team in multi-week jury trial in California state court, representing national wireless provider in class action jury trial on the issue of economic damages arising out of customers’ early termination of wireless contracts.

Represented one of the nation’s largest pork producers in multi-week jury trial in private nuisance action brought in Missouri state court involving one of its hog farms.

Represented corporate and individual clients in bench and jury trials in Virginia state courts arising out of a wide range of business and consumer disputes.

Coordinated and led numerous mock jury and focus group exercises.
 

Representative Motion Practice Experience

Defeated motion for preliminary injunction filed by food distributor in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico against a major pork supplier. The distributor sought relief under a Puerto Rico “dealer” protectionist statute.  After a full-day evidentiary hearing, the court noted in denying the motion that “the merits weigh heavily in favor of [Defendant].”  

Obtained dismissal of multi-count complaint filed by casino developer in Virginia state court, seeking in excess of $100 million in damages. The Plaintiff asserted claims for breach of contract, statutory business conspiracy, and common-law conspiracy against a Virginia municipality and two co-defendants.  Developed and filed demurrer on behalf of the municipality.  The court sustained the demurrer and dismissed all claims with prejudice. 

Argued summary judgment in defending major automotive aftermarket parts distributor in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The court granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, denying Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety. 

Argued Daubert motion in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. The court granted the motion and excluded improper “accounting” opinions offered by an automotive aftermarket industry expert and corresponding derivative opinions offered by an accounting expert. 

Argued summary judgment on behalf of major utility in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Obtained summary judgment on a $2 million component of client’s contract claims and defeated Defendant’s $20 million counterclaim in its entirety.  The Fourth Circuit fully affirmed on appeal. 

Developed and filed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss initial and amended complaints, defending one of the nation’s largest financial institutions in a lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia alleging fraudulent investment advice and breach of fiduciary duty. Plaintiffs opted to file an amended complaint rather than oppose the initial motion to dismiss, and then voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit just days before their opposition to the motion to dismiss their amended complaint was due.  The case was never re-filed. 

Argued plea in bar on the basis of mootness in defending a cardiology practice in an action for injunctive relief and monetary damages in Virginia state court. The court sustained the plea in bar and dismissed the complaint in its entirety.

Argued demurrer to a multi-count complaint seeking compensatory and punitive damages based on a variety of contract and tort theories in Virginia state court, obtaining dismissal with prejudice of all but one count in the complaint, as well as the claims for punitive damages and the imposition of a constructive trust.

Developed and filed plea in bar on the basis of the statute of limitations, triggering voluntary dismissal of a trespass and nuisance action in Virginia state court involving allegations of groundwater contamination. The case was never re-filed.
 

Other Representative Litigation Experience

Represented natural gas marketer defending against multi-count complaint filed by several dozen natural gas producers in West Virginia state court. Plaintiffs pursued wide-ranging contract, statutory, and tort theories, and the subject matter centered on firm transportation of natural gas, requiring familiarity with the FERC regulatory scheme and technical aspects of pipeline infrastructure.

Represented Hawaii luxury resort and major hotel company defending against claims of fraud and breach of contract brought by trade association in Maryland state court and the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. The dispute arose out of a force majeure cancellation of a major conference at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Represented surgical blade manufacturer defending against multi-count complaint filed by Italian distributor in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia. Plaintiff asserted claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Represented major public utility in obtaining $2.1 million default judgment against the owner of a planned gas turbine plant in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The dispute arose out of the owner’s breach of a precedent agreement concerning the proposed expansion of natural gas pipeline infrastructure. 

Represented government contractor defending against 80-count complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Plaintiff alleged an illegal bid-rigging scheme and asserted a variety of tort and statutory claims rooted in allegations of tortious interference and conspiracy, seeking approximately $300 million in damages. 

Defended former diagnostic laboratory executive in $600 million bankruptcy adversary proceeding brought in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The nearly 80-count complaint asserted tort, contract, and statutory claims based on allegations of fraud, mismanagement, and self-dealing.  Served as lead defense-side representative (on behalf of dozens of defense counsel) in multi-month negotiation with Trustee’s counsel to achieve a pre-trial scheduling and discovery protocol. Argued appeal to the District Court resulting in order clarifying client’s right to pursue a third-party contribution claim. 

Represented food distributor in breach-of-contract dispute brought by a seafood supplier in Florida state court.

Represented food distributor in complex breach-of-contract dispute brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, based on the design, construction, and installation of a supply-chain management and material-handling system at a facility in Mississippi.

Routinely defend executives of major hotel company in party and non-party depositions.

Led nationwide witness preparation and deposition defense for more than a dozen former executives and high-level business employees of a large mortgage originator involved in mortgage-backed securities litigations brought in state and federal courts.

Represented hedge fund administrator and its former CEO in securities fraud class action brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Represented major insurance company in securities fraud class action brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Represented major insurance company in breach-of-contract class action brought in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Represented a soil scientist defending a breach-of-contract dispute in Virginia state court involving technical issues regarding soil percolation characteristics. In the middle of the final deposition, Plaintiff's counsel indicated on a break that Plaintiff would be voluntarily dismissing his case based on lack of evidence. The case was never re-filed.
 

Pre-litigation and Other Client Counseling

Advised clothing supplier on potential claims against competitor for misappropriation of trade secrets. Negotiated favorable settlement without the need to file suit.

Advised wine distributor on potential claims against third party for breach of confidentiality agreement. Negotiated favorable settlement without the need to file suit. 

Advised solar and other renewable energy producers on contractual rights, obligations, termination and damages considerations, and potential litigation strategy.

Advised closely held companies and individual members and managers regarding rights and obligations in disputes with other members.

Regularly advise individual and corporate clients on third-party discovery response obligations.
 

Government Investigations and Internal Audits

Represented former corporate executives in criminal securities fraud investigation led by the Department of Justice. 

Conducted pre-merger FCPA and anticorruption review of global medical device manufacturer’s operations in Brazil and Colombia.

Conducted FCPA and anticorruption review of major automobile manufacturer’s operations in Brazil.

Assisted major financial institutions with internal audits, including conduct of management and vendor interviews to ensure regulatory compliance.

Assisted global paper manufacturer with internal antitrust audits.
   

Pro Bono Work

Co-coordinating attorney for pro bono for Richmond office of McGuireWoods LLP.

Represented Colombian mother and son whose family was terrorized by the FARC and paramilitary groups across Colombia for two decades. Obtained grants of asylum and green cards for both clients following years of contested U.S. Immigration Court proceedings.

Represented Nepalese mother who was robbed while performing humanitarian work in her native country. Obtained an administrative “duress” exemption to the Patriot Act’s “material support bar,” which disqualifies from immigration benefits any alien who “affords material support” to recognized terrorist groups.  Later obtained green cards for the client and both of her sons.

Represented indigent plaintiff pursuing Section 1983 claim in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Negotiated favorable settlement. 

Former co-chair of Consumer Auto Fraud practice group for the Greater Richmond Bar Association’s “Triage” initiative.

  • University of Richmond School of Law, JD, cum laude, 2005
  • Cornell University, BA, Government and Spanish, cum laude, with Distinction in All Subjects, 2002

Member, Virginia State Bar

Member, Virginia Bar Association

Member, Federal Bar Association (Richmond Chapter); Board of Directors, November 2018 – Present

Member, Richmond Bar Association; Judiciary Committee, May 2018 – December 2021 (two-term Chairman); Administration of Justice Committee, June 2015 – April 2018; CLE Committee, June 2013 – May 2015

Past Member, Junior Board of the Historic Richmond Foundation

  • Spanish
  • Co-author, "Fraud: Virginia," Practical Law - Commercial Litigation (Thomson Reuters), 2020
  • Co-author, "Tortious Interference: Virginia," Practical Law - Commercial Litigation (Thomson Reuters), 2020
  • Co-author, "Complex Commercial Litigation," Lexology: Getting the Deal Through, 2020
  • Co-author, "United States," Getting the Deal Through: Complex Commercial Litigation, 2018, 2019
  • Author, "Get It Right and Get It in Writing," Boomer Magazine, April-May 2012
  • Comment, Reforming U.S. Immigration Policy in an Era of Latin American Immigration, 39 U. RICH. L. Rev. 1355, 2005
  • Note, Does Time Eclipse Crime?, 38 U. RICH. L. Rev. 1011, 2004
  • Comment, Extracting Oil from Turmoil, 4 Rich. J. Global L. & Bus 147, 2004
  • Virginia
  • U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia

Selected for inclusion, The Best Lawyers in America, Commercial Litigation, Woodward/White Inc., 2020–2023

Named to "Virginia Rising Stars," Business Litigation, Super Lawyers, Thomson Reuters, 2013–2022

Named to "Legal Elite," Civil Litigation, 2019–2021, Virginia Business

Selected for inclusion in “Legal 500 United States,” Energy Litigation: Oil and Gas, 2021

AV Preeminent Rated, Martindale-Hubbell

  • Panelist, Adapting, Preparing and Succeeding in Virtual Litigation in a COVID-19 World, December 17, 2020
  • Co-presenter, Oil & Gas 101 Webinar Series: Traditional Oil and Gas Litigation Dockets - What You Should Know, August 27, 2019
  • Co-presenter, Preparing an Overall Discovery Plan, May 16, 2017
  • Co-presenter, Contract Drafting and Negotiations, October 12, 2016
  • Co-presenter, Issues and Practical Considerations in Commercial Contracting Disputes and Litigation, May 26, 2015
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