Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the superior court dismissing this complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, holding that, for the most part, the doctrines of exhaustion of administrative remedies, ripeness, and standing did not prohibit Plaintiff from proceeding with his lawsuit.Plaintiff was an engineer who designed, tested, and built electronic circuits from consumer products through his consulting firm. At issue in this dispute with the Arizona Board of Technical Registration was whether Plaintiff's work required registration with the Board. Plaintiff brought this action under the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 12-1831 to -1846, challenging the constitutionality of statutes prohibiting people and firms from engaging in "engineering practices unless registered with the Board." The superior court dismissed the complaint on two bases. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) three causes of action in Plaintiff's complaint were justiciable, and the superior court erred by dismissing them s nonjusticiable; and (2) the court correctly dismissed the fourth cause of action as unripe. View "Mills v. Arizona Bd. of Technical Registration" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a petition sought by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for expedited consideration and report of uncontested sanction following its investigation of complaints against Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne, holding that Judge Bourne's conduct warranted sanctions.Several complaints involving two counts were filed against Judge Bourne involving his conduct toward unrepresented litigants. Judge Bourne did not contest either count, waived a formal disciplinary hearing, and accepted the investigatory panel's recommended sanction of suspension without pay for ninety days, with seventy-five days held in abeyance for one year. The commission accepted the recommended sanction. The Supreme Court suspended Judge Bourne from the bench without pay for ninety days with seventy-five days held in abeyance if he agrees to, among other things, never again to hold judicial office after his current term expires, ordering that the mandate shall issue immediately. View "Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. Bourne" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the terms of a settlement resulted in a de facto assignment of a corporation's theoretical legal malpractice claim to Amit Shah by using the corporation as his alter ego, holding that there was no error.In 2013, Shah and another minority shareholder of Duro, Inc. brought this action against Duro and its third shareholder, alleging money laundering and racketeering. In 2015, Plaintiffs added a shareholder derivative claim of legal malpractice, nominally on behalf of Duro, against a law firm and its attorneys (May Oberfell), who had represented Defendants in the case. In 2017, Plaintiffs settled their claims, preserving any claims Duro might have against May Oberfell. Shah subsequently took effective control of Duro and transferred all of Duro's assets except the legal malpractice claim. Thereafter, Shah, through Duro, filed a complaint against May Oberfell. The district court granted summary judgment for May Oberfell, concluding that the legal malpractice claim had undergone a "de facto" assignment, and therefore, the claim was barred under Indiana law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that May Oberfell was entitled to summary judgment. View "Duro, Inc. v. Walton" on Justia Law

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Wang sued her former attorney Nesse, alleging professional malpractice in his representation of Wang in her marital dissolution action. Following Nesse’s death, his estate moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Wang’s complaint, filed on December 21, 2015, was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6. According to Nesse’s estate, although Wang and Nesse filed a substitution of attorney form on December 30, 2014, Nesse’s representation of Wang had actually ended earlier, on December 3 or December 17 at the latest, when Wang “discharged” Nesse or “consented” to his withdrawal. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The court of appeal reversed. There is a triable issue of material fact as to whether Nesse continued to represent her on December 21, 2014, so Nesse’s estate failed to establish that the statute of limitations bars her complaint as a matter of law. View "Wang v. Nesse" on Justia Law

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Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

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For about 10 years Victaulic and three of its insurers, members of the American Insurance Group (AIG), have been engaged in litigation. One case is this lawsuit filed by Victaulic in 2012; in 2013, the Pillsbury law firm became counsel for Victaulic and has represented it since, ultimately winning a $56 million judgment. In 2018, that judgment was reversed based on a combination of errors by the trial judge. Following remand, Victaulic filed an amended complaint; the vigorous litigation continued. In 2021 the insurers learned that two attorneys who had done work for a claims-handling arm of AIG had recently joined the Pillsbury firm, about six years after they left employment at the earlier firm. The insurers moved to disqualify the lawyers and the Pillsbury firm, generating thousands of pages of pleadings, declarations, and exhibits, and two hearings.The trial court concluded that the insurers failed to meet their burden. The court of appeal affirmed. There was no showing that the two attorneys had any confidential information and no “direct professional relationship with the former client in which the attorney personally provided legal advice and services on a legal issue that is closely related to the legal issue in the present representation.” View "Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on her counterclaim for breach of contract in this legal malpractice lawsuit, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the parties entered into a lawfully enforceable settlement agreement.The underlying lawsuit arose after the death of Plaintiff's mother when Defendant failed timely to file an application with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel and a wrongful death lawsuit. Defendant filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging that the parties had entered into a valid agreement to settle the legal malpractice claim for $100,000. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the settlement agreement was enforceable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the parties had a setting of the funds on the issue of who was settling and who would be bound by the settlement, precluding summary judgment. View "Kappes v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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Johnson suffers from severe, permanent nerve damage, which he alleges was caused by a negligently performed hip replacement surgery. He sued his surgeon, Dr. Armstrong, citing specific negligence and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. He also brought a res ipsa loquitur claim against a surgical technician who participated in the surgery. Johnson provided one expert witness, also a surgeon, to establish the elements of res ipsa loquitur. The court granted the technician summary judgment, stating that Johnson failed to present an expert witness to establish the standard of care for a technician, that the control element of res ipsa loquitur was not met, and that there was no evidence of negligence on the technician’s part. The court subsequently granted Armstrong summary judgment on the res ipsa loquitur count, leaving the count of specific negligence remaining. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed and vacated in part. The effect of the summary judgment in favor of Armstrong is to preclude Johnson from proving that Armstrong was negligent under the unique proofs of res ipsa loquitur, but the claim for negligence remains outstanding. The summary judgment order with respect to Armstrong was not a final judgment; the appellate court lacked jurisdiction. With respect to the other defendants, the elements of res ipsa loquitur were met at the time of the decision; no further expert testimony on the standard of care was required. Given that the Armstrong summary judgment was pronounced after the technician was orally dismissed from the res ipsa loquitur count, the circuit court was directed to reconsider that order in light of this opinion. View "Johnson v. Armstrong" on Justia Law

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While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's professional malpractice claim brought under the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA), holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing the claim with prejudice.Plaintiff sent to Defendant a notice of claim and certificate of merit consistent with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA. Defendant neither requested pre-suit mediation nor declined it. Long after the expiration of the statute of limitations and any statutory tolling periods, Plaintiff received a response letter from Defendant explicitly declining pre-suit mediation. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed her claim. The circuit court dismissed the claim on the grounds that the MPLA does not permit an indefinite tolling of the statute of limitations to facilitate pre-suit mediation and there was no evidence of any affirmative conduct by Defendant that would have induced Plaintiff to delay filing her claim so as to equitably toll the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's decision. View "Adkins v. Clark" on Justia Law