Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Spring Street, seeking to recover against Bayou and its owner Douglas Lam on defaulted promissory notes, claimed that certain transfers that defendants made were fraudulent: (1) Bayou's transfer of "hard assets" to LT Seafood when LT Seafood took over Bayou's retail operations at the 415 East Hamilton location; (2) Douglas Lam's transfer of his 49% interest in LT Seafood to DKL & DTL; and (3) DKL & DTL's subsequent transfer of this 49% interest to Vinh Ngo. The court concluded that Spring Street could pierce DKL & DTL's corporate veil on the basis of fraud and impose individual liability on the LLC members. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of Spring Street with regard to these claims. However, the court concluded that Ten Lam and Ngo have raised a genuine dispute of fact as to both which "hard assets" Bayou transferred to LT Seafood and the value of those assets on the date of the transfer. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in regards to Spring Street's fraudulent transfer claim against Lam and Ngo for the amount of $150,000 and remanded for further proceedings. View "Spring Street Partners v. Lam, et al." on Justia Law

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Lamesa filed suit against Liberty Mutual alleging that Liberty Mutual was liable under a federally-required surety bond for the alleged misconduct of its principal, a trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. On appeal, Liberty Mutual appealed the district court's decision to affirm the bankruptcy court's judgment that the trustee had committed gross negligence and Liberty Mutual, as the trustee's surety, was liable for damages under the terms of the bond. The court held that the controlling limitations period in this case was provided by 11 U.S.C. 322(d). Because Liberty Mutual did not contest that Lamesa's claim was timely under that provision, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's conclusion that Lamesa's suit was not time-barred. On the merits, the court concluded that the bankruptcy court's finding that the trustee was grossly negligent in performing her duties was not clearly erroneous; expert testimony was not necessary to establish that the trustee failed to meet her standard of care; and Liberty Mutual failed to demonstrate that the district court's damage award was clearly erroneous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. USA by Lamesa National Bank" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought a class action suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., alleging various breaches of fiduciary duty to plan participants. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed Counts I and IV of the amended complaint which alleged that Idearc Defendants breached their fiduciary duties by allowing plan participants to buy and hold Idearc stock when it was no longer prudent to do so where the amended complaint failed to allege sufficient facts to overcome the "presumption of prudence" the court adopted in Kirschbaum v. Reliant Energy Inc. The court also concluded that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiff's claim for inaccurate disclosures and nondisclosures (Count II) where plaintiff alleged no specific circumstance or specific injury mandating the Idearc Defendants disclose non-public information to plan participants and no general duty to disclose non-public information existed under ERISA or under the court's precedents. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's remaining claims. View "Kopp v. Klein, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant, an attorney and the brother-in-law of Trent Lott, appealed from the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging one of his two convictions for bribing a judge. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his bribe of a circuit court judge in a lawsuit involving a fee-sharing dispute with co-counsel (the "Wilson Case"). Defendant offered to recommend the judge to Lott, who at the time was a U.S. Senator, for a district court judgeship in exchange for the judge's help in winning the Wilson Case. The court concluded that Skilling v. United States, which addressed the constitutionality of the honest-services statute, 18 U.S.C. 1346, had no effect on the district court's subject matter jurisdiction over defendant's guilty plea. Defendant had shown neither his actual innocence of post-Skilling honest-services fraud nor that there was cause and prejudice for failing to raise a constitutional-vagueness challenge to section 1346. Therefore, defendant procedurally defaulted on his claim and the district court correctly denied his section 2255 motion. Finally, the court rejected defendant's First Amendment overbreadth challenge to section 1346. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Scruggs" on Justia Law

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Defendants pleaded guilty to defrauding health-care insurers by billing for pain injections that they never administered. Defendants appealed the district court's order that they pay over $43 million in restitution to 32 victims defrauded by the scheme. The court concluded that the record did not support the entire restitution amount recommended and therefore the district court abused its discretion in adopting the unsupported figure. The court held, however, that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to apply a restitution credit. Accordingly, the court vacated the order of restitution and remanded for recalculation. As defendants' plea agreements stipulated to a forfeiture money judgment in the same amount as the restitution award, the court also vacated the amount of the forfeiture award and remanded for recalculation. The court further held that the government did not breach the plea agreements with defendants. View "United States v. Sharma" on Justia Law

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After its property sustained wind damage during Hurricane Katrina, a real-estate developer sued its insurance provider for coverage, and, in the alternative, its insurance agent for professional negligence. The district court decided that the insurance policy covered wind damage, and a jury decided that there had been no "mutual mistake" between the agent and the provider concerning wind coverage. As a consequence, the district court dismissed with prejudice the developer's negligence claim against its agent. The insurance provider appealed, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, deciding that the policy did not cover wind damage. On remand, the developer moved under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) to set aside the dismissal of its professional negligence claim against the agent in light of the reversal. The district court granted the motion and resurrected the negligence claim against the agent. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the developer Rule 60(b) relief. View "Lowry Dev., LLC v. Groves & Assocs. Ins., Inc." on Justia Law

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A jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff on its claim of fraud and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing against defendants. Defendants' misrepresentations induced plaintiff to settle the asbestos exposure claims of two former employees whom defendants represented in a state-court lawsuit. On appeal, defendants contended that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the instant case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and alternatively that the case called for Burford abstention. Defendants also contended that the evidence established their statute-of-limitations and waiver defenses as a matter of law. The court concluded, however, that defendants misconceived the legal authorities relevant to their jurisdiction, abstention, and waiver arguments. Regarding the statute of limitations issue, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could have found for plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Guy, et al." on Justia Law

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A jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff on its claims of fraud and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing against defendants where defendants' misrepresentations induced plaintiff to settle the asbestos exposure claims of two of plaintiff's employees whom defendants represented in a state-court lawsuit. On appeal, defendants contended that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the instant case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and alternatively that the case called for Burford v. Sun Oil Co. abstention. Defendants also contended that the trial evidence established their statute-of-limitations and waiver defenses as a matter of law. The court held that defendants misconceived the legal authorities relevant to their jurisdiction, abstention, and waiver arguments. Regarding the statute of limitations issue, the court concluded that a reasonable jury could have found for plaintiff. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Guy, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued defendants under Title VII, alleging claims of racial harassment and constructive discharge. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint based on a finding that plaintiff committed perjury and the district court's grant of defendants' motion for sanctions. Plaintiff argued that a less severe sanction was more appropriate and that the district court should have held an evidentiary hearing to allow plaintiff to explain his conflicting testimony. Plaintiff's counsel, who was separately sanctioned, also appealed the denial of his motion for recusal of the magistrate judge. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice where plaintiff plainly committed perjury; plaintiff's argument that the district court failed to hold a hearing was meritless where he made no effort to explain why he and his attorney failed to show at the hearing held by the district court to address objections to the magistrate judge's report; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying counsel's motion for recusal where a reasonable person would not question the magistrate judge's impartiality in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Brown v. Oil States Skagit Smatco, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought to reopen a judgment entered in 2001 after the district judge that entered judgment for defendants in plaintiffs' person injury case was impeached and removed from office. Plaintiffs filed what they termed an independent action in equity on grounds that the judgment was procured by fraud involving the district judge. A new district judge dismissed the suit as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The court reversed and remanded after applying a five-element analysis of an independent action in equity. View "Turner, et al. v. Pleasant, et al." on Justia Law