Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Rita McIntosh appealed a circuit court’s judgment affirming the Mississippi Real Estate Commission’s disciplinary order against her, finding that McIntosh had engaged in “improper dealing.” According to the order, McIntosh, as exclusive agent of the seller, interjected herself into the lender’s appraiser selection process and then tried to keep the selected appraiser from completing the appraisal assignment. The Commission imposed a ninety-day suspension, plus a thirty-day suspension held in abeyance, along with eight months’ probation and continuing education courses. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court found McIntosh’s alleged conduct did not constitute improper dealing as contemplated by the Mississippi Real Estate Brokers License Act, it reversed rendered judgment in favor of McIntosh. View "McIntosh v. Mississippi Real Estate Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Dr. Andy Barlow was disciplined by the Mississippi State Board of Chiropractic Examiners for advertising in violation of the statutes governing chiropractors. The complaint alleged that Dr. Barlow advertised using professional designations other than “chiropractor,” “doctor of chiropractic,” “D.C.,” or “chiropractic physician”; Dr. Barlow advertised as D.C., and also as DACNB, FACFN, and as a “Chiropractic Neurologist.” The Board levied a monetary penalty plus the costs of his prosecution. The circuit court affirmed the Board, and Dr. Barlow appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, alleging that the statute governing chiropractic advertising had been implicitly amended or repealed, that the statute governing chiropractic advertising violated his First Amendment rights, and that the Board was without authority to assess the costs of the investigation to him. Furthermore, he argued the circuit court erred by failing to afford him a “de novo appeal.” Because Dr. Barlow’s arguments on whether he should be disciplined lack merit, the Court affirmed the judgments of the Board and circuit court on those issues. However, because the Board lacked authority to directly assess Dr. Barlow the costs of its investigation, the Court reversed on the issue of costs. View "Barlow v. Miss.State Bd. of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law

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In a construction-defect matter filed by a homeowners’ association (HOA) against several developers, an attorney for the HOA previously represented one of the developers. The developers moved to disqualify that attorney under Rules 1.9 and 1.10 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The trial court denied the motion, without what the Colorado Supreme Court described as “meaningfully analyzing for purposes” of Rule 1.9 whether this case was “substantially related” to the prior matters in which the attorney represented the developer. Instead, the Court found the trial court relied on issue preclusion, and found that in this situation, the attorney was not disqualified to represent the developer. The Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by not analyzing the facts of this case under Rule 1.9, and therefore vacated the denial of the developers’ motion, and remanded for further proceedings. View "In re Villas at Highland Park Homeowners Assoc. v. Villas at Highland Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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The Vermont Supreme Court rejected plaintiff’s request to extend an exception to the general rule to the circumstances of this case, which wanted to impose on attorneys a duty to prospective beneficiaries of undrafted, unexecuted wills. Doing so, in the Court’s view, would undermine the duty of loyalty that an attorney owes to his or her client and invite claims premised on speculation regarding the testator’s intent. Plaintiff filed a complaint against both defendant and his law firm alleging that defendant committed legal malpractice and consumer fraud, specifically alleging defendant breached a duty of care by failing to advise mother on matters of her estate and failing to draft a codicil reflecting her intent. The court granted defendants a partial motion to dismiss on the consumer fraud allegation. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, adding another count of legal malpractice. This amended complaint alleged that defendant breached a duty owed to plaintiff to the extent that he could have successfully challenged mother’s will. According to plaintiff, he filed six affidavits from mother’s relatives, friends, and neighbors indicating that mother was committed to leaving a House she owned to plaintiff. Defendants again moved for summary judgment in which they argued that an attorney did not owe “a duty to a non-client prospective beneficiary of a nonexistent will or other estate planning document.” The trial court ruled there was no duty to beneficiaries of a client’s estate under Vermont law. The Supreme Court agreed. View "Strong v. Fitzpatrick" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued their former attorneys and the law firm at which they practiced alleging legal malpractice arising from prior litigation. The trial court granted summary judgment in Defendants’ favor without specifying the grounds. The court of appeals affirmed the summary judgment, concluding that no summary judgment evidence existed to raise a material fact issue as to causation, an essential element of a legal malpractice claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the court of appeals did not err in applying the but-for causation test to Plaintiffs’ malpractice claims; and (2) summary judgment was properly granted because the evidence failed to raise a material fact issue as to the causation element of Plaintiffs’ negligence claims. View "Rogers v. Zanetti" on Justia Law

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Tex. Civ. Prac. Rem. Code 150.002 provides that if an expert affidavit in a lawsuit or arbitration for damages arising out of the provision of professional services by licensed or registered professionals is not filed in accordance with the statute, the trial court shall dismiss the claim, and the dismissal may be with prejudice. The Supreme Court held that the statute affords trial courts discretion to dismiss either with or without prejudice. In this case, the statute required dismissal of the amended petition against Defendant. The trial court dismissed the claims without prejudice, but the court of appeals dismissed them with prejudice because, while the amended petition was accompanied by an expert affidavit, an expert affidavit was not filed with the original petition. The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the claims with prejudice, as the record did not conclusively demonstrate that Plaintiff’s claims lacked merit or that the trial court’s decision violated any guiding rules and principles and therefore was an abuse of discretion. View "Pedernal Energy, LLC v. Bruington" on Justia Law

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance charged Montgomery County Justice Court Judge Keith Roberts with misconduct for failing to follow the law in a case before him. Because the Supreme Court found that Judge Roberts committed judicial misconduct, and agreed that the recommended sanctions were appropriate, the Court ordered that Judge Roberts be publicly reprimanded, fined $3,000, and taxed with the costs of these proceedings. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a Formal Complaint charging Charles Vess, Justice Court Judge, South District, Adams County, with willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration ofjustice which brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission and Judge entered into a Stipulation of Agreed Facts and Proposed Recommendation, which was accepted unanimously by the Commission, providing that Judge had violated Canons 1, 2(A), 3(B)(2), 3(B)(4), and 3(B)(5) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution, and recommending that he be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined $1,100, and assessed costs of $200. After conducting a mandated review of the Commission’s recommendation consistent with Section 177A of Article 6 of the Mississippi Constitution, Rule 10 of the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, Rule 10 of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Mississippi caselaw, the Mississippi Supreme Court adopted the recommendation of the Commission and ordered that Judge be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined in the amount of $1,100, and assessed the costs of this proceeding in the amount of $200. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Vess" on Justia Law