Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Brace, a farmer, owns hundreds of acres in Erie County, Pennsylvania. He cleared 30 acres of wetlands, draining it to grow crops. In 1994, the Third Circuit affirmed that Brace had violated the Clean Water Act. In 2012, Brade bought 14 additional acres of wetlands. Again, he engaged in clearing, excavation, and filling without required permits. During a second suit under the Act, Brace’s counsel submitted perfunctory pleadings and failed to cooperate in discovery, repeatedly extending and missing deadlines. Counsel submitted over-length briefs smuggling in extra-record materials. The court repeatedly struck Brace’s materials but generally chose leniency. Eventually, the court struck Brace’s opposition to summary judgment after analyzing the “Poulis factors,” then granted the government summary judgment on liability, holding that Brace had violated the Act. The court ordered Brace to submit a proposed deed restriction and restoration plan.The Third Circuit rejected Brace’s appeal. While “it stretches credulity [to believe that Brace had] no idea how counsel [wa]s conducting this case,” the court gave Brace the benefit of the doubt. Brace’s lawyer’s misconduct forced the government to waste time and money “deciphering incomprehensible pleadings, scouring through noncompliant briefs, and moving again and again for compliance" to no avail. Counsel acted in bad faith; repeated orders to show cause, warnings, and threats of sanctions did not deter counsel’s chronic misbehavior. The sanction “was hardly an abuse of discretion.” View "United States v. Brace" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that Respondent, C. Randy Pool, a Judge of the General Court of Justice, District Court Division, Judicial District 29A, be censured for conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(4), and 3A(5) of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-376(b) for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.The Judicial Standards Commission filed a Recommendation of Judicial Discipline recommending that Respondent be censured for sexual misconduct. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission's findings of fact were supported by clear and convincing evidence and that the Commission's conclusions of law were supported by those facts. The Court then ordered that Respondent be censured. View "In re Pool" on Justia Law

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In this legal malpractice action by an insurer against a law firm retained to represent its insured in a separate prior litigation, the Supreme Court held that, where the insurer had a duty to defend, the insurer had standing through its contractual subrogation provision to maintain the malpractice action against counsel hired to represent the insured.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm, concluding that the insurer lacked standing to directly pursue a legal malpractice action because there was no privity between the law firm and the insurer. The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the insurer lacked standing to pursue the professional negligence action. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below, holding that the insurer had standing to maintain this legal malpractice action because the insurer was contractually surrogated to the insured's rights under the insurance policy. View "Arch Insurance Co. v. Kubicki Draper, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted the findings of fact by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission and its recommendation that the Court suspend the Honorable Barry Sims of the Sixth Judicial District, Seventh Division, from his duties based on certain misconduct, holding that suspension was warranted.The report of uncontested sanction arose from complaints lodged against Judge Sims concerning his courtroom comments and conduct toward members of the Bar. Judge Sims agreed that sanction of suspension was appropriate. The Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of suspension and suspended Judge Sims from his duties without pay for thirty days with an additional sixty days suspended on the condition that he performs certain remedial actions. View "Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. Sims" on Justia Law

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A physician's professional conduct was examined by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. During the disciplinary proceeding a stipulated protective order was entered by the Board. The professional complaint against the physician was dismissed, and approximately two years later the physician requested the Board modify its protective order to allow the physician to use three documents in a different legal proceeding. The Board refused, and the physician appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) the stipulated blanket protective order making all documents in the administrative proceeding subject to the order and prohibiting their use in any other legal proceeding was contrary to the public policy expressed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Discovery Code; and (2) the physician's claim seeking access to the initial report of misconduct was not properly before the Court. View "State ex rel. Okla. St. Bd. of Medical Licensure & Supervision v. Rivero" on Justia Law

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In this legal malpractice action, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court effectively granting summary judgment to Defendants, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that the continuous representation doctrine was not applicable to the facts presented in this case.The circuit court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, concluding that the applicable two-year statute of limitations on Plaintiff's claim had expired before the filing of his legal malpractice lawsuit. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in failing to apply the continuous representation doctrine to find that his complaint was timely filed. The Supreme Court converted the dismissal to summary judgment because the lower court considered matters outside the pleadings and affirmed, holding that because there was no continuing representation of Plaintiff by Defendants, the circuit court properly ruled that Plaintiff's complaint was time-barred. View "Hupp v. Monahan" on Justia Law

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D.C. was employed by Applied, 1996-2008, and claimed three industrial injuries: a specific injury to her neck and right upper extremity in 2001, a specific injury to her neck and both upper extremities in 2005, and a cumulative trauma injury to her neck, both upper extremities, and psyche ending on her last day working. D.C. claimed her injuries were due to the constant use of a computer keyboard. In 2006, she developed a pain disorder, anxiety, and depression, which she claimed were compensable consequences of her physical injuries. She later claimed that she was sexually exploited by Dr. Massey, the physician primarily responsible for the treatment of her industrial injuries. D.C. was diagnosed with PTSD. Applied's workers’ compensation carriers disputed liability for her psychiatric injuries.A workers’ compensation judge found that all of D.C.’s injury claims were industrial; awarded D.C. 100 percent permanent disability (PD) based on her PTSD alone; found no apportionment; and concluded that the insurers were jointly and severally liable for that award since Dr. Massey treated all three of her industrial injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board generally affirmed.The court of appeal concluded there was substantial evidence of repeated exposure to injury-causing events and new injuries after 2005 that supported the finding of cumulative trauma ending in 2008. D.C. met her burden of proving that her PTSD was a compensable consequence injury that resulted from the treatment for her industrial injuries and that her employment was a contributing cause; as a matter of law, a patient cannot consent to sexual contact with her physician. The court rejected several challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The 100 percent PD award must be annulled as based on an incorrect legal theory, the alternative path theory. View "Applied Materials v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Jensen was charged as a coconspirator in a felony indictment alleging a scheme under which members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued hard-to-obtain concealed firearms permits in exchange for substantial donations to an independent expenditure committee supporting the reelection campaign of Sheriff Smith. Jensen is a sheriff’s department captain identified as the individual within the sheriff’s department who facilitated the conspiracy. Jensen unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him, alleging that that office leaked grand jury transcripts to the press days before the transcripts became public which created a conflict of interest requiring disqualification. He also joined in codefendant Schumb’s motion to disqualify the office due to Schumb’s friendship with District Attorney Rosen and Rosen’s chief assistant, Boyarsky.The court of appeal rejected Jensen’s arguments for finding a conflict of interest requiring disqualification: the grand jury transcript leak, Schumb’s relationships with Rosen and Boyarsky, and a dispute between Rosen and Sheriff Smith about access to recordings of county jail inmate phone calls. The trial court could reasonably conclude Jensen did not demonstrate that the district attorney’s office was the source of the leak. Jensen himself does not have a personal relationship with Rosen or Boyarsky. The trial court could reasonably conclude that Jensen did not establish a conflict of interest based on the existence of a dispute between the district attorney and the elected official with supervisory power over Jensen. View "Jensen v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Schumb was charged as a coconspirator in a felony indictment alleging a quid pro quo scheme in which members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued hard-to-obtain concealed firearms permits in exchange for substantial monetary donations to the reelection campaign of Sheriff Smith. Schumb is an attorney with a history of fundraising for elected officials; he accepted the donations as a treasurer of an independent expenditure committee supporting Sheriff Smith’s reelection. Schumb is a friend of Rosen, the elected Santa Clara County District Attorney, and previously raised funds for Rosen’s campaigns.Schumb unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him, arguing that his friendships with Rosen and Rosen’s chief assistant, Boyarsky, created a conflict of interest making it unlikely Schumb would receive a fair trial. Schumb asserted that he intends to call Rosen and Boyarsky as both fact and character witnesses at trial and. despite their personal connections to the case, neither Rosen nor Boyarsky made any effort to create an ethical wall between themselves and the attorneys prosecuting the case. The court of appeal vacated and directed the lower court to enter a new order disqualifying the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in Schumb's prosecution. View "Schumb v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and his medical corporation appeal from the trial court's order of his motion for a preliminary injunction against CVS. In June 2020, CVS stopped filling plaintiff's prescriptions for controlled substances for his patients, citing concerns about his prescribing patterns. The trial court denied the injunction on several grounds, including the conclusion that plaintiff should have first sought relief from the California State Board of Pharmacy (Board).The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's conclusion, which was based on the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, on the alternative, but closely related ground under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. In this case, the Board has primary jurisdiction to consider the particular statutory obligations underlying plaintiff's injunction motion. The court concluded that the trial court correctly recognized that an order requiring CVS to honor particular prescriptions would involve judgments concerning the statutory obligations of pharmacists that the Board is both expected and equipped to resolve. Furthermore, the Board is also empowered to issue an abatement order, if warranted, that would perform the equivalent role of an injunction in providing the relief that plaintiff seeks. Accordingly, the trial court reasonably ruled that plaintiff should first seek relief from the Board before pursuing his claims in court. View "Bradley v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law