Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

by
The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division granting summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiffs' claim under N.Y. Jud. Law 487(1) against their former attorneys who allegedly induced them to bring a meritless lawsuit in order to generate a legal fee, holding that the suit was properly dismissed. In moving for summary judgment, Defendants argued that Plaintiffs' section 487 claim must be dismissed because Plaintiffs failed to allege any misrepresentations made in the context of ongoing litigation. Supreme Court denied the motion with respect to the section 487 claim, concluding that Plaintiffs raised triable issues of fact. The Appellate Division reversed and granted summary judgment on that claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Defendants established prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the section 487 claim and that Plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact in response. View "Bill Birds, Inc. v. Stein Law Firm, P.C." on Justia Law

by
The estate of Ed Young, deceased, by and through its personal representative, Fannie Pollard, appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services ("Hill Crest") in a wrongful-death action alleging medical malpractice. On May 7, 2017, the estate of Ed Young sued Hill Crest alleging that Hill Crest caused Young's death on May 9, 2015, by improperly administering the antipsychotic drugs Haldol and Thorazine to Young as a chemical restraint without taking a proper medical history and evaluating him. The style of the complaint indicated that it was filed by the "Estate of Ed Young and Fannie M. Pollard as personal representative of the Estate of Ed Young." On May 8, 2017, the probate court appointed Fannie M. Pollard as administrator of Young's estate. On May 9, 2017, the two-year limitations period under Alabama's wrongful-death act expired. On June 15, 2017, the estate filed an amended complaint, adding additional claims against Hill Crest. The amended complaint listed as plaintiffs the estate and Pollard as the personal representative of the estate. The parties then engaged in discovery. In 2019, Hill Crest moved for summary judgment, arguing that Pollard was not the personal representative of the estate when the complaint was filed, and therefore she lacked capacity to bring suit. Furthermore, Hill Crest argued the complaint was a nullity and there was no properly filed underlying action to which Pollard's subsequent appointment as personal representative could relate. The Alabama Supreme Court found Hill Crest's argument regarding the relation-back doctrine as unavailing: "the relation-back doctrine 'simply recognizes and clarifies what has already occurred' in that application of the doctrine does not extend the limitations period but merely allows substitution of a party in a suit otherwise timely filed." Summary judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Pollard v. H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff filed suit against the Board for its refusal to waive the active practice requirement to accommodate his disability. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claim as barred by sovereign immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims under the first prong of United States v. Georgia, because plaintiff did not allege any conduct that violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court explained that the active practice requirement ensures that applicants have both achieved and maintained the skill and knowledge required to practice law in Texas. By waiving this requirement to admit a lawyer who has neither passed the Texas bar exam nor practiced law for thirteen years would not inform the Board of whether plaintiff currently has the necessary knowledge and skill to practice law. Therefore, the modification plaintiff sought was not reasonable. The court did not reach the issue relied on by the district court. However, plaintiff's claims should have been dismissed without prejudice and thus the court modified the district court's dismissal. View "Block v. Texas Board of Law Examiners" on Justia Law

by
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendant's special motion to strike plaintiff's malicious prosecution suit as meritless. The court held that plaintiff lacked proof he probably would succeed in proving defendant maliciously added him as a defendant in the underlying wage-and-hour lawsuit where it was common for plaintiffs to search for people they suspect may be alter egos of corporate shells. In this case, plaintiff failed to establish that this reason was not the subjective purpose defendant had for adding plaintiff as a defendant. View "Zhang v. Chu" on Justia Law

by
“Under longstanding Georgia law,” when a client sues his former attorney for legal malpractice, the client impliedly waives the attorney-client privilege with respect to the underlying matter or matters to the extent necessary for the attorney to defend against the legal malpractice claim. The issue this case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review was whether the implied waiver extended to the client’s communications with other attorneys who represented the client with respect to the same underlying matter, but whom the client chose not to sue. The trial court held that the waiver did not extend to such other counsel and therefore denied a motion for a protective order in this legal malpractice case. The Court of Appeals reversed. The issue presented was a matter of first impression for the Supreme Court, which held that when a client sues his former attorney for legal malpractice, the implied waiver of the attorney-client privilege extends to the client’s communications who represented the client with respect to the same underlying transaction or litigation. View "Hill, Kertscher & Wharton, LLP v. Moody et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court ordered that Respondent Michael A. Stone, a judge of the General Court of Justice, District Court Division 16A, be censured for conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, and 2B of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of N.C. Gen. Laws 7A-376, holding that the Judicial Standards Commission's findings were adequately supported by clear and convincing evidence and supported the Commission's conclusions of law. The Commission filed a statement of charges against Respondent alleging that he had engaged in conduct inappropriate to his judicial office by, among other things, demonstrating a lack of respect for the office and by making a number of misleading and grossly negligent assertions regarding his representation of a former client. Based on its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Commission recommended that the Supreme Court censure Respondent. After weighing the severity of Respondent's misconduct against his candor and cooperation, the Supreme Court concluded that the Commission's recommended censure was appropriate. View "In re Stone" on Justia Law

by
The cause of Cory's 2006 death was undetermined. The police later reopened the investigation. A grand jury indicted her husband, Lovelace, an Illinois criminal defense lawyer. Lovelace's first trial resulted in a hung jury. In his 2017 retrial, a jury found him not guilty. In a suit against under 42 U.S.C. 1983, Lovelace claimed that the defendants fabricated evidence, coerced witnesses, and concealed exculpatory evidence. The case was assigned to Judge Myerscough. A year later, the case was reassigned to Judge Bruce. Months later, the plaintiffs successfully moved to disqualify Bruce. The case was reassigned back to Myerscough, who informed counsel about circumstances that might seem relevant to her impartiality, her usual practice. Myerscough's daughter had just been hired as an Exoneration Project attorney. The plaintiffs’ law firm funds the Project and donates the time of its attorneys. The plaintiffs’ attorney stated that she worked with the judge’s daughter at the Project but did not supervise her and was not responsible for her compensation. Screening was implemented. Myerscough had recently attended a fundraiser for Illinois Innocence Project, where her daughter previously worked. The fundraiser recognized “exonerees,” including Lovelace. Defendants unsuccessfully requested that Myerscough disqualify herself under 28 U.S.C. 455(a). The Seventh Circuit denied a mandamus petition. There was no reasonable question as to Myerscough’s impartiality; no “objective, disinterested observer” could “entertain a significant doubt that justice would be done” based on the fundraiser. Section 455(b) requires recusal only if a judge’s close relative is “acting as a lawyer in the proceeding” or is known “to have an interest that could be substantially affected.” Nothing beyond the bare fact of the daughter’s employment poses a risk of bias. View "Gibson v. Myerscough" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a permits dismissal based on an affirmative defense and that the alleged destruction of evidence is an action "taken in connection with representing a client in litigation," thus entitling the defendant attorneys to attorney immunity. Plaintiff hired Defendants to represent her in a lawsuit. Plaintiff later sued Defendants for, inter alia, fraud, trespass to chattel, and conversion, alleging that Defendants intentionally destroyed key evidence in the case. Defendants moved to dismiss the case under Rule 91a, claiming that it was entitled to attorney immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that affirmative defenses such as attorney immunity cannot be the basis of a Rule 91a dismissal and that Defendants were not entitled to attorney immunity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 91a permits motions to dismiss based on affirmative defenses "if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them, do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought"; and (2) because Defendants' allegedly wrongful conduct involved the provision of legal services that conduct was protected by attorney immunity. View "Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim as baseless under Peeler v. Hughes & Luce, 909 S.W.2d 494 (Tex. 1995), holding that Peeler did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim. Plaintiff, a former client, sued her criminal defense attorney for malpractice after her conviction was vacated based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court dismissed the claim as baseless under Peeler. In Peeler, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that "plaintiffs who have been convicted of a criminal offense may negate the sole proximate cause bar to their claim for legal malpractice in connection with that conviction only if they have been exonerated on direct appeal, through post-conviction relief, or otherwise." The trial court concluded that, because Plaintiff had failed to prove her exoneration, the Peeler doctrine barred her malpractice claim. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) exoneration under Peeler requires both that the underlying criminal conviction be vacated and also proof of innocence; and (2) therefore, the Peeler doctrine did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice claim, and Plaintiff must now obtain a finding of her innocence in the malpractice action to maintain her claim. View "Gray v. Skelton" on Justia Law

by
In a 2007 RICO action, Needle (a Pennsylvania sole practitioner) and Illinois attorneys represented the plaintiffs under a contingent fee agreement. The Illinois attorneys withdrew; Needle recruited Illinois attorney Royce as local counsel. They eventually settled the case for $4.2 million. The settlement agreement did not address attorney’s fees, costs, or expenses. Needle wanted $2.5 million, leaving the plaintiffs with $1.7 million. The attorneys also disagreed over the division of the fee between themselves. Royce filed an interpleader action. Needle “routinely and unapologetically tested the district court’s patience, disregarded court orders, and caused unnecessary delays.” The court repeatedly sanctioned Needle, ultimately following the written fee agreement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of attorneys’ fees of one-third of the settlement, with Needle 60 receiving percent and Royce 40 percent of the aggregate. During the dispute, Needle was without counsel and was on the verge of a default judgment, when three partners from the O’Connor law firm stepped in to represent Needle P.C. Less than three months after appearing as counsel, O’Connor “understandably” withdrew due to irreconcilable differences and a total breakdown of the attorney-client relationship. O’Connor sought compensation under a quantum meruit theory and perfected an attorney’s lien. The district court granted O’Connor’s petition to adjudicate and enforce the lien. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. O’Connor is entitled to recover in quantum meruit and the district court properly concluded that the petitioned fees were reasonable. View "Michael Needle, P.C. v. Cozen O'Connor" on Justia Law