Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court

By
The Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability filed a formal complaint alleging that respondent Walter Miller, then a circuit court judge, had violated the Oregon Code of Judicial Conduct (Code) in connection with a 2014 voters’ pamphlet statement supporting his judicial candidacy. The commission specifically alleged violations of Rule 2.1(D) (judge shall not engage in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation”) and Rule 5.1(D) (judicial candidate shall not knowingly or with reckless disregard for truth make any “false statement” concerning qualifications, education, experience, or other material fact relating to judicial campaign). The commission conducted a hearing and recommended that the Supreme Court dismiss the formal complaint. The Supreme Court accepted the commission’s recommendation. View "In re Miller" on Justia Law

By
Gerald Rowlett and his two companies, Westlake Development Company, Inc., and Westlake Development Group, LLC (plaintiffs), filed an action for malpractice against the law firm Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt, PC, (Schwabe) and lawyers David Fagan and James Finn (collectively, defendants), alleging claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, and claims related to attorney fees. Defendants had represented plaintiffs in an action against plaintiffs’ business partners in Sunrise Partners, LLC (Sunrise). Plaintiffs settled the Sunrise litigation in 2007, and, soon thereafter, initiated the malpractice action, alleging that they would have had a better outcome in the Sunrise litigation but for the mishandling of their case by defendants. A jury ultimately found that defendants were negligent in their representation of plaintiffs, but that defendants’ negligence did not cause plaintiffs any damage. The jury also reached a defense verdict on the breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and attorney fee claims. Plaintiffs appealed, asserting seven assignments of error. The Court of Appeals reversed as to two of those assignments of error and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court did not agree with the Court of Appeals' judgment with regard to the two alleged errors, reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendants’ closing argument to the jury improperly invoked the erroneous date on the verdict form to argue that the jury should use the settlement date as the date to “value” Rowlett’s interest in Sunrise and thus conclude that plaintiffs suffered no damages. In so ruling, the court may have misunderstood defendants’ theory of defense and their causation argument. On this ground, the Supreme Court reversed. View "Rowlett v. Fagan" on Justia Law

By
The issue presented in this case was one of first impression: to what extent do the confidentiality provisions of Oregon’s mediation statutes (ORS 36.100 to 36.238) prevent a client from offering evidence of communications made by his attorney and others in a subsequent malpractice action against that attorney? Plaintiff retained defendant, an attorney specializing in employment law, to pursue discrimination and retaliation claims against plaintiff’s former employer. In the course of that representation, defendant filed administrative complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries and thereafter a civil action against the former employer for damages on plaintiff’s behalf. After limited discovery, plaintiff, represented by defendant, and plaintiff’s former employer entered into mediation under the terms and conditions set forth in the mediation statutes. Before meeting with the mediator and plaintiff’s former employer, defendant advised plaintiff about the potential value of his claims and the amount for which he might settle the lawsuit. Plaintiff and his former employer, along with their respective lawyers and the mediator, attended a joint mediation session and attempted to resolve the dispute. However, no resolution was reached. After the session ended, the mediator proposed a settlement package to the parties. In the weeks that followed, defendant provided advice to plaintiff about the proposed settlement. At defendant’s urging, plaintiff accepted the proposed terms and signed a settlement agreement with his former employer. One of the terms to which plaintiff agreed was that the settlement agreement would be confidential. After the parties signed the agreement, defendant continued to counsel plaintiff and provide legal advice regarding the settlement. Some months after the mediation ended, plaintiff concluded that defendant’s legal representation had been deficient and negatively affected the outcome of his case. The trial court granted defendant’s motion to strike certain allegations in plaintiff’s complaint and then dismissed the complaint with prejudice under ORCP 21 A(8) for failure to state a claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that ORS 36.220 and 36.222 barred some, but not all, of plaintiff’s allegations, and that the trial court erred in dismissing the complaint with prejudice before a responsive pleading had been filed. The Supreme Court agreed that ORS 36.220 and 36.222 limited the subsequent disclosure of mediation settlement terms and certain communications that occur in the course of or in connection with mediation. The Court disagreed, however, as to the scope of communications that are confidential under those statutes. Furthermore, the Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals as to whether the trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice because no responsive pleading had been filed. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alfieri v. Solomon" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff Darrell Kasberg farmed piece of property leased from the Wheelers. The Wheelers agreed to loan Plaintiff money, using farmland he owned as collateral. When disagreements arose, the Wheelers threatened to evict Plaintiff from both his land and the leased land. On the day of the eviction trial, Plaintiff told his lawyer from Defendant firm Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP that he would be willing to give up his right to repurchase the leased farmland if the Wheelers would remove a crop lien placed on the land in time for him to meet a planting deadline. Plaintiff's lawyer met with the Wheelers' lawyer and they negotiated an oral settlement agreement. Plaintiff was not present at that meeting. The agreement required (amongst other things) that Plaintiff relinquish any interest or claim of interest in, and surrender possession of his collateral farmland. In exchange, the Wheelers agreed to dismiss their breach of contract action and to remove the lien. Plaintiff would later learn and inform his lawyer that the Wheelers had not removed the lien. This resulted in Plaintiff missing the planting deadline, and he lost an opportunity to receive both money from the sale of the crop and related government subsidies. Plaintiff wished to file an suit against the Wheelers for their handling of the crop lien, and approached his lawyer to handle the case. Though his lawyer lead Plaintiff to believe he would be successful in pursuit of the Wheelers, the lawyer had in reality given bad advice with regard to the statute of limitations that governed Plaintiff's suit. Plaintiff then initiated suit against his former lawyer and Defendant firm, alleging legal malpractice in handling the Wheeler lien dispute. The trial court decided that the facts did not present a genuine issue as to whether Plaintiff knew or should have known before he filed his action, that Defendant had negligently negotiated the oral settlement agreement. The court concluded that Plaintiff's action was thus time-barred. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded Plaintiff proffered evidence from which a jury could reasonably find that he did not have actual knowledge that his attorney's acts or omissions were a cause of his damages. As such, the Court reversed the trial court's holding and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Kaseberg v. Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP" on Justia Law

By
Plaintiff Keith Drollinger, a convicted felon, brought suit against the lawyers who represented him in his attempt to obtain post-conviction relief, but shortly before the matter was scheduled for trial, withdrew. Defendants Gordon Mallon, John Lamborn, Robert Raschio and their firm, Mallon Lamborn & Raschio, PC, moved to dismiss the malpractice action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. They argued that, under the Supreme Court’s decision in "Stevens v. Bispham," (316 Or 221)(1993)), the action was barred because plaintiff had not been exonerated of the underlying offenses. The circuit court agreed with Defendants, granted their motion, and dismissed the complaint. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that "Stevens," a case addressing the statute of limitations in a malpractice action brought by a former criminal defendant against trial counsel in the underlying case, did not preclude this convicted Plaintiff from pursuing a malpractice action against post-conviction counsel. Because the circuit court treated actual exoneration as a prerequisite for bringing the action, the Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Drollinger v. Mallon" on Justia Law