Sean F. Murphy Partner

Sean is a litigation partner in McGuireWoods’ Private Wealth Services Group who handles sensitive fiduciary matters in courts throughout the United States.

He represents high net worth individuals and families, executors, guardians, conservators, beneficiaries and trustees in the prosecution and defense of:

  • Probate and estate litigation
  • Trust disputes
  • Breach of fiduciary duty claims
  • Will contests
  • Construction of trusts
  • Reformation of private, split-interest and charitable trusts
  • Accountings
  • Guardianship litigation
  • Petitions for court instructions
  • Claims alleging or seeking protection from allegations of undue influence and fraudulent conveyances
  • Interpretation of or defense of testamentary capacity and a decedent’s intent


Sean is a frequent author and speaker on issues facing corporate fiduciaries and how to avoid fiduciary litigation.


The following are among the significant matters that Sean has handled by himself or in conjunction with other members of the firm:
Fiduciary Matters

Regularly represents corporate fiduciaries in termination of trusts, suits for aid and direction and in negotiating or litigating agreements with beneficiaries regarding trust investments and other trust administration matters.

Regularly provides advice on fiduciary obligations and legal responsibilities of corporate fiduciaries under state laws where the corporate fiduciaries have offices.

Regularly conducts seminars for corporate fiduciaries on ways to avoid fiduciary litigation.

Represented charitable beneficiaries in Maryland Orphans’ Court and Circuit Court in response to widow’s request to invalidate will leaving residuary of estate to them.

Represented trustees of multi-million dollar trust in Virginia state court proceeding seeking approval of their accounting for the trust.

Represented executors of $100 million estate in response to fee and administration challenges from family of decedent.

Represented corporate fiduciary in resolving beneficiary challenges to trustee’s administration of over 20 multi-generational family trusts.

Represented corporate fiduciary in New York Surrogate’s Court and ancillary probate proceedings in Louisiana in dispute over sale of mineral rights owned by trust.

Represented corporate executor of multi-million dollar estate in New York Surrogate’s Court action to remove co-executor for lack of capacity to serve.

Represented a beneficiary in a multi-million dollar trust in Florida state court action seeking removal of the trustees of his trust and opposing the trustees’ request for court approval of their accounting for the trust.

Representing corporate fiduciary in Maryland Circuit Court seeking approval of its accounting for trust.

Defended a mother against a lawsuit of two of her children seeking appointment of a conservator for her and control of her wealth.

Defended corporate fiduciary against beneficiary’s request to terminate a multimillion-dollar trust and the transfer of all trust assets to beneficiary.

Represented corporate fiduciary in resolving beneficiary challenges to trustee’s administration of $20 million family trusts.

Represented a Minnesota bank against a suit in Virginia state court regarding the bank’s actions as trustees for bondholders of a Delaware limited partnership. After a year of litigation, the plaintiffs nonsuited their claims for conversion, fraud and the imposition of a constructive trust.

Represented the petitioners who sought the appointment of a guardian for their father and a conservator to manage his multimillion-dollar estate.

Represented a New York nonprofit charitable foundation in a Virginia state court fiduciary proceeding against the principal officer and director of the foundation and the Executrix of the estate responsible for funding the foundation from the estate. This suit resulted in a satisfactory settlement for the foundation.

Represented the president, majority shareholder and director of two corporations against allegations of an unauthorized inter-corporation transfer characterized as a breach of fiduciary duty and as a fraudulent conveyance. Plaintiffs non-suited after a year and a half of litigation.

Represented the trustees of family trusts in response to the daughter’s claims of mismanagement.

Repeatedly represented religious organizations and other nonprofit organizations in litigation challenging bequests in wills to those clients.

Represented a client in disputes arising from her positions as a beneficiary of a family trust and executor of her mother’s estate.

Represented family members in asserting breach of fiduciary duty in claims arising from relative’s management of mother’s estate and family limited partnership.

Represented husband and grantor of children’s trusts in litigation to remove ex-wife as trustee.

Represented niece of testator in defending aunt’s will against claims of incompetence and undue influence by aunt’s sisters who received nothing under the will.

Challenged on behalf of a child’s mother in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the juvenile court’s determination of jurisdiction over her child as a Child in Need of Assistance (CINA). This case resolved for the first time in Maryland the jurisdictional requirements for a CINA finding in a Maryland juvenile court proceeding. In re Russell, 108 Md. App. 366, 672 A.2d 109 (1996).

Jointly defended the directors of a Virginia bank against a minority shareholder’s class action allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and violations of federal securities laws involving the bank’s “going private” merger. Sandberg v. Virginia Bankshares, 111 S.Ct. 2749 (1991).

Commercial Litigation Matters

Representation of Cypriot subsidiary of multinational corporation in federal court suit against principal U.S. logistics contractor on subcontracts to feed troops in Iraq and Kuwait. Obtained a favorable settlement for the client. Subsequently supervised for four years related litigation on claims of Kuwaiti subcontractors against the client in the courts of Cyprus. Case required factual development and witness interviews in Kuwait, Dubai, Cyprus, Denmark and Great Britain, as well as attendance at the trial in Cyprus.

Representation of multinational corporation in response to a Congressional investigation concerning the use of private security contractors in order to provide dining and food services to feed troops in Iraq and Kuwait.

Representation of Cypriot holding company and two subsidiaries against a triple derivative shareholder claim for over $100 million in Florida state court. The lawsuit required coordination with related litigation in the courts of Cyprus and Switzerland. The Circuit Court granted our motion to dismiss, accepting our argument that the laws of Cyprus did not authorize a triple derivative shareholder lawsuit.

Representation of United States subsidiary of United Kingdom multinational corporation in federal court in multiple lawsuits regarding the sale or lease of aircraft to regional and commuter airlines throughout the United States.

Served as attorneys’ fees expert in support of two different fee petitions for prevailing parties in two different federal court cases. The judges in each case awarded the prevailing parties 100 percent recoveries on their fees and costs in each of these cases.

Representation of New York businessman in a defamation claim filed against Virginia defendants in federal court arising from his negotiation of contract disputes with the Libyan Government.

Representation of lender in the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, Virginia for breach of contract and fraud against the borrower, a Virginia medical practice.

Representation of a Maryland real estate developer in a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Frederick County, Virginia seeking to enforce the sale of undeveloped property.

Representation of commercial rocket service corporation in response to shareholder derivative action filed in the Circuit Court for Loudoun County, Virginia. The subsequent defense challenges to the lawsuit led plaintiffs to an early non-suit.

Representation of a Virginia state authority in the federal court in response to a First Amendment challenge to the loans and grants provided for a public housing project done in conjunction with a Baptist church. The District Court granted the motion to dismiss and the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit then upheld the dismissal of this case.

Representation of 8(a) minority government contractor in response to a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia regarding the provision of security guards for the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Representation of a Canadian defense contractor in response to breach of contract claims from a subcontractor following the sale of radios for battlefield use to the United States Government.

Representation of a competitive local exchange carrier in a tariff dispute with MCI in federal court.

Representation of software reseller against claims of breach of contract and fraud by Novell, Inc. in the United States District Court for the District of Utah.

Representation of a national union in a civil suit against a former employee who had embezzled several million dollars from the client. Obtained a significant recovery for the client.

Representation of former senior executive of IT services company denied the market value of his stock options after he left the company when his employer invoked the company’s standard non-compete clauses in his employment and stock option agreements. We filed suit in the federal court and successfully invoked Texas law to invalidate both sets of the non-compete provisions through a motion for summary judgment.

Representation of an 8(a) government contractor in defeating an emergency injunction request (in state court) claiming misappropriation of trade secrets and fraud. The plaintiff subsequently non-suited the case, and its threatened AAA arbitration demand never materialized.

Representation of the president, majority shareholder and director of two corporations against allegations of an unauthorized inter-corporation transfer characterized as a breach of fiduciary duty and as a fraudulent conveyance.

Obtained and enforced a judgment in the District of Maryland for a lender against a medical clinic and its principals who had converted third-party payments on the clinic's accounts receivables without authorization and in violation of various court orders. Prior to the judgment, these actions led to a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction and two contempt orders against the defendants.

Representation of a supplier of computer equipment to the federal government in a challenge to its BPOL tax assessment by Fairfax County, Virginia, resulting in a 100 percent refund to the company.

A lead attorney for Westinghouse Electric Corporation in defending against more than 10,000 individual asbestos claims consolidated for a common issues trial against Westinghouse and 100 other defendants in Charleston, West Virginia.

Representation of a community bank in obtaining a federal court injunction and subsequent favorable settlement of unfair competition and trade name infringement claims for unauthorized use of the bank's name to obtain credit.

Aided in defense of steering gear manufacturer against Exxon's claims in the Exxon Valdez litigation alleging that the manufacturer of the steering gear system on the EXXON VALDEZ was defective.

Joint defense of the directors of a Virginia bank against a minority shareholder's class action allegations of breach of fiduciary duty and violations of federal securities laws involving the bank's "going private" merger. Sandberg v. Virginia Bankshares, 111 S.Ct. 2749 (1991).

Defense of a Virginia bank against a claim that the bank had unlawfully accelerated payment of borrower's promissory note.

Joint representation of Jordanian owners of Netherland Antilles and Cayman Island corporations in disputes over real estate in California and Virginia, disputes which involved application of the laws of Jordan and defending against allegations of forged documents.

Representation of a private psychiatric hospital in challenge to determinations of Fairfax County Zoning Administrator and Board of Zoning Appeals that effectively precluded the hospital's admission and treatment of certain patients.

Representation of a major credit card company against claims for breach of contract, misappropriation of trade secrets, unjust enrichment and conversion in federal court by an individual who claimed the company had misappropriated his debit card product.

  • William & Mary Law School, JD, 1982
  • University of Maryland, BA, 1979
  • AV Rated, Martindale-Hubbell
  • Selected for inclusion in the “Irish Legal 100” list of the United States’ most distinguished Irish-American legal professionals, 2020
  • Named to "Virginia Super Lawyers," Business Litigation, Super Lawyers, Thomson Reuters, 2006
  • Named to "Washington, D.C. Super Lawyers," Business Litigation, Super Lawyers, Thomson Reuters, 2007
  • District of Columbia
  • Maryland
  • Louisiana
  • Virginia
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
  • U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
  • U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • U.S. Supreme Court
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