Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

By
Carpenter sued Flint, a councilwoman and the mayor, based on Carpenter’s termination from his position as Director of Transportation, asserting age and political discrimination, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, gross negligence, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Defendants argued that the complaint failed to identify which claims were alleged against which defendants, and that the allegations were “excessively esoteric, compound and argumentative.” Carpenter did not respond by the court’s deadline, and about five weeks later, a stipulated order entered, permitting Carpenter to file an amended complaint by April 21, 2011. Counsel manually filed an amended complaint on May 20, 2011, violating a local rule requiring electronic filing. The clerk accepted the filing, but issued a warning. Carpenter failed to timely respond to a renewed motion to strike. Carpenter responded to a resulting show-cause order, but failed to abide by local rules. Another warning issued. Carpenter’s response to a second show-cause order was noncompliant. The court warned that “future failure to comply … will not be tolerated.” After more than five months without docket activity, the court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Defendants bore some responsibility for delays and the length of delay does not establish the kind of conduct or clear record warranting dismissal; lesser sanctions were appropriate. View "Carpenter v. City of Flint" on Justia Law

By
The Trustee for McKenzie’s bankruptcy estate filed an adversary proceeding against GKH, McKenzie’s law firm (and a creditor), seeking records pertaining to entities in which McKenzie allegedly had an interest (11 U.S.C. 542). The parties entered into an agreed order. The Trustee then filed other actions, arising from the same post-petition transfer of 50 acres from the Cleveland Auto Mall, an entity in which McKenzie had a 50% interest, to a newly formed entity in which McKenzie had no interest. The Trustee alleged violation of the automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. 362(k) and preferential or fraudulent transfer, 11 U.S.C. 547(b) and 544(g)). The Bankruptcy Court dismissed, finding that under Tennessee law and notwithstanding prior dissolution, CAM existed as a separate legal entity such that the land remained its separate property. The Trustee then filed a state court action, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy to commit fraud; GKH allegedly represented McKenzie under a conflict of interest in drafting the transfer documents. Several claims were dismissed as untimely. GKH then sued the Trustee alleging malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed GKH’s adversary proceeding alleging claims, citing quasi-judicial immunity and failure to state a claim, and denied GKH’s motion for leave to file a complaint in state court. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "In re McKenzie" on Justia Law

By
Exact developed business software. Infocon began distributing Exact’s software in 1998. A conflict arose when Exact allegedly abandoned a scheduled upgrade, leaving distributors like Infocon out to dry, and Infocon allegedly failed to remit fees. Exact sued Infocon in 2003. According to the district court, Exact showed “persistent noncompliance with… ever more stringent” discovery orders. When Infocon moved for a default judgment, Exact fired its lawyer, hired new counsel and entered settlement negotiations. . On the eve of settlement, Infocon fired its lawyer, DeMoisey. DeMoisey placed a charging lien on the settlement proceeds. Exact delivered the $4 million settlement to the district court, which distributed most of it to Infocon and placed the remaining $1.2 million in escrow pending resolution of the fee dispute. Nine months later, Infocon sued DeMoisey in Kentucky state court for malpractice. After a summary judgment ruling in favor of the lawyer, the district court held a bench trial and awarded DeMoisey $1.4 million in quantum meruit relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the amount was too high, that Infocon had a right to a jury trial and, for the first time on appeal, that the district court lacked jurisdiction because DeMoisey and Infocon are both from Kentucky. View "Exact Software N. Am., Inc. v. Infocon Sys., Inc." on Justia Law

By
Manning, a lawyer who served as the executor of Barney’s estate and the trustee of a trust for Mrs. Barney, set up accounts at National City Bank, one for the estate and one for the trust. He then wired funds, totaling about $1,250,000, from the bank accounts into the account of his business in violation of his fiduciary duties. Manning’s business failed and Manning confessed to Mrs. Barney that he had absconded with the money from the two accounts. The estate, trust, and Mrs. Barney sued Manning’s law firm in state court, but the suit was rejected on summary judgment. The Barneys then sued the successor to National City Bank to try to recover the money Manning stole. The district court dismissed, citing the affirmative defense of Ohio’s version of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Barneys failed to plead facts giving rise to an inference that the Bank committed any wrongdoing. View "Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat'l Ass'n" on Justia Law

By
Martello, a doctor with a law degree, never passed the bar exam despite four attempts; in 1997 she passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. In 1991, Martello started reviewing medical malpractice cases for Santana, who paid an hourly rate. She alleges that they changed the arrangement for three cases and that Santana wrote that he would pay Martello 20 percent of his fee if the case settled before filing and 25 percent if the case settled after filing suit. Martello alleges that the document was intended to cover future cases. Later, Santana sent Martello a letter stating that: Kentucky canons of ethics prohibit the payment of your fees for assisting … on a contingency basis … you will be billing us on an hourly basis. Martello claims that Santana told her to fabricate time to earn the equivalent of what she would have received under the contract. Martello was dissatisfied with what she received and sued. The district court determined that Martello’s contract claims were barred because the contracts were void as against public policy, while her fraud claims, even accepting tolling agreements, were barred by the statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Martello v. Santana" on Justia Law

By
Pagliara, a licensed securities broker for more than 25 years, maintained a spotless record with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) except for this case. Under a 2002 licensing agreement, Pagliara served both Capital Trust and NBC until 2008. During that time, Butler followed Pagliara’s recommendation to invest $100,000 in bank stocks that later lost value. Butler’s attorney threatened to sue NBC and Pagliara. NBC retained JBPR for defense. Unbeknownst to NBC and JBPR, Pagliara offered to settle the claim for $14,900, $100 below FINRA’s mandatory reporting threshold. Butler refused. Pagliara then informed NBC of his intent to defend the claim in FINRA Arbitration and objected to any settlement of the “frivolous claim.” NBC insisted that Pagliara not have any contact with Butler, based on the License Agreement signed by the parties, which stated that: “NBCS, at its sole option and without the prior approval of either [Capital Trust] or the applicable Representative, may settle or compromise any claim at any time.” JBPR finalized a $30,000 settlement without obtaining a release for Pagliara. Pagliara sued, alleging breach of fiduciary duty, violation of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, and intentional infliction of harm. The district court rejected the claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Pagliara v. Johnston Barton Proctor & Rose, LLP" on Justia Law

By
In 2009 Universal demanded payment from Allstate for medical services that Universal allegedly rendered to 36 persons claiming coverage under Allstate insurance policies. Allstate denied payment, contending that Universal had not, in fact, rendered any services to those persons. Universal filed suit asserting claims for reimbursement, for defamation, and for tortious interference with business relationships. In November 2009, Allstate served Universal with interrogatories and document requests. Universal failed to respond for more than two months, so Allstate filed a motion to compel. In May 2010, the magistrate judge granted Allstate’s motion and ordered Universal to “provide full and complete responses” no later than June 7, 2010. Again Universal did not respond by the deadline or by an extended deadline. Universal finally responded on October 6, but its responses were incomplete. After Universal failed to supplement or to Allstate’s efforts to depose employees, Allstate filed a second motion to dismiss, which was granted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Allstate’s repeated motions, and the court’s own orders, were not enough to compel Universal to do what the Rules required. “Universal’s conduct violated the rules of civil procedure and common courtesy alike” View "Universal Health Grp. v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

By
Stone owned STM, which owed Fifth Third about $1 million, secured by liens on business assets and on Stone’s house. Stone’s attorney, Atherton, introduced Stone to Waldman, a potential investor. Stone did not know that Atherton was indebted to Waldman and had given Waldman STM’s proprietary business data. Atherton filed STM’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition to preserve assets so that Waldman could acquire them. Atherton allowed the automatic stay to expire. Fifth Third foreclosed, obtaining judgments and a lien on Stone’s house. Waldman paid Fifth Third $900,000 for the bank’s rights. Waldman and Atherton offered to pay off Stone’s debts and employ him in exchange for STM’s assets and told Stone to sign documents without reading them, to meet a filing deadline. The documents actually transferred all STM assets exchange for a job. Ultimately, Waldman owned all STM assets and Stone’s indebtedness, with no obligation to forgive it. Waldman filed garnishment actions; Stone filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, alleging that Waldman had fraudulently acquired debts and assets. Atherton was disbarred. The bankruptcy court found that Waldman and Atherton had perpetrated “egregious frauds,” invalidated Stone’s obligations, and awarded Stone $1,191,374 in compensatory and $2,000,000 in punitive damages. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the discharge, but vacated the award of damages as unauthorized. View "Waldman v. Stone" on Justia Law

By
Goldberg, a medical malpractice attorney, appeared before Judge Maloney in several cases. Following complaints that Goldberg concealed assets and retained unearned fees, Maloney ordered Goldberg to pay the estates involved. Goldberg failed to do so. Maloney directed him to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Following a hearing, Maloney found Goldberg to be in criminal contempt and cited Goldberg for attempting to suborn witnesses, charges that did not appear on the hearing notice. Goldberg received a sentence of 18 months. An Ohio appellate court affirmed. Before the Ohio Supreme Court, Goldberg argued for the first time that he had not received sufficient notice of the charges and ineffective assistance because his attorney failed to raise this notice claim. The Ohio Supreme Court declined further review. In 2004, the district court granted habeas relief on the basis that Goldberg received constitutionally inadequate notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that Goldberg had procedurally defaulted on his lack-of-notice claim by failing to raise it in the state court of appeals. On remand, the district court determined that Goldberg had not demonstrated sufficient cause or prejudice to overcome the procedural default, and denied his petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Goldberg v. Maloney" on Justia Law

By
Defendants, two of three lawyers who represented several hundred Kentucky clients in a mass-tort action against the manufacturer of the defective diet drug "fen-phen," settled the case for $200 million, which entitled them under their retainer agreements to approximately $22 million each in attorney fees. By visiting clients and obtaining their signatures on "confidential settlements," for lesser amounts, the two actually disbursed slightly more than $45 million, less than 23 percent of the total settlement. The lawyers kept the remainder for themselves and associated counsel, transferring much of it from the escrow account to various other accounts, including out-of-state accounts. The scheme was discovered; the lawyers were disbarred and convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. One was sentenced to 240 months, the other to 300 months. They were ordered to pay more than $127 million in restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a variety of challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and trial procedures. View "United States v. Cunningham" on Justia Law