Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries
Estate of Joyce R. Petersen v. Bitters
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of a $356,619.30 judgment in favor of the Estate of Joyce Rosamond Peterson against Defendants Bitters and Henry. Bitters, a financial advisor, advised Petersen to withdraw $150,000 from her annuities and to loan it to another client of his, Henry. The court rejected Bitters' assertion that the Estate's fraud and breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims were time-barred, and that the district court erred by instead instructing the jury to apply the four-year limitations period for claims of negligence and fraud. The court held that any potential error did not affect Bitters' substantial rights. The court also held that the district court had a duty to make the damages award conform to the law, and did not abuse its discretion by preventing the Estate from recovering twice for a single, indivisible injury; the evidence was insufficient to provide the jury with a reasonably certain basis for calculating pain-and-suffering damages; because it was clear at the Rule 50 hearing that the claims for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty under Nebraska law were identical, the district court did not err by dismissing the Estate's negligence claim; and summary judgment to Defendant Boland was not erroneous because there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Bitters and Boland had entered into a partnership. View "Estate of Joyce R. Petersen v. Bitters" on Justia Law
Leftwich v. Brewster
Jimmy Leftwich, Jr., appealed a circuit court's denial of his motion for a new trial in his negligence action against Steven Brewster. Leftwich alleged that Brewster breached a duty to competently inspect a house that Leftwich purchased. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Brewster. On appeal, Leftwich contended the trial court erred in failing to disqualify two jurors for cause and that the trial court erroneously excluded vital evidence that provided estimated costs to repair the home. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Leftwich v. Brewster" on Justia Law
Howlett v. Chiropractic Center, P.C.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Defendant, a chiropractor, was not negligent in his care of Plaintiff, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in any of the rulings challenged by Plaintiff. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendant herniated her cervical disc, did not treat her consistent with the standard of care required by a chiropractor in Montana, and was negligent in his examination and treatment of her. After denying both parties' motions for partial summary judgment a trial was held. The jury returned a special verdict finding Defendant was not negligent in his care of Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in determining that there was disputed issues of material fact as to the chiropractic standard of care and whether Defendant departed from that standard of care; (2) the court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of Defendant's habits and routine practices when treating patients; (3) the district court did not err in admitting Defendant's perpetuated expert testimony; and (4) any error in admitting alternative cause evidence or allowing Plaintiff to be impeached with her attorney's application to the Montana Chiropractic Legal Panel was harmless. View "Howlett v. Chiropractic Center, P.C." on Justia Law
Bill Birds, Inc. v. Stein Law Firm, P.C.
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
Pollard v. H.C. Partnership d/b/a Hill Crest Behavioral Health Services
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
Block v. Texas Board of Law Examiners
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
Zhang v. Chu
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
Hill, Kertscher & Wharton, LLP v. Moody et al.
“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
In re Stone
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
Gibson v. Myerscough
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