Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Plaintiff filed suit against his criminal defense attorney for legal malpractice after he entered a plea of guilty to federal tax charges in United States District Court. Plaintiff alleged his attorney, Martin Schainbaum, negligently advised him to sign "closing agreements" by which he agreed to pay civil tax fraud penalties as part of the disposition of his criminal case. Plaintiff contended that but for Schainbaum's negligence, he would not have agreed to that obligation.The Court of Appeal found that the trial court properly sustained the demurrer without leave to amend because plaintiff failed to plead actual innocence, a necessary element of his cause of action for legal malpractice arising out of a criminal proceeding.The court explained that the civil penalties arose out of the criminal prosecution, as did any alleged legal malpractice attributable to Schainbaum. Furthermore, plaintiff was required to allege actual innocence. Under Coscia v. McKenna & Cuneo (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1194, 1200, plaintiff was required to obtain exoneration of his guilt as a prerequisite to proving actual innocence in his malpractice action against his former criminal defense counsel, which he failed to do so. Therefore, the demurrer was properly sustained and the court affirmed the judgment. View "Genis v. Schainbaum" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiffs' legal malpractice action with prejudice, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiffs filed this legal malpractice suit against Defendant, the law firm of their former attorney who represented them in a tort case involving a boating accident, for its failure to discover and make a claim against a homeowners insurance policy with a $500,000 policy limit. The court granted summary judgment to Defendant and dismissed Plaintiffs' complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in denying Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of whether an endorsement deleted the watercraft exclusion from the insurance policy; (2) did not err in granting summary judgment to Defendant on the issue of whether there was insurance coverage under the insurance policy for the boating accident and dismissing the legal malpractice claims; and (3) did not abuse its discretion in denying Plaintiffs' Rule 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. View "Young v. Hammer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court affirming the sanction imposed upon Thomas B. Whittle, M.D. for committing acts of unprofessional conduct, holding that none of Whittle's claims on appeal had merit.The State brought disciplinary charges against Whittle on the grounds that he practiced medicine in a pattern of incompetence and negligence and that his conduct was unprofessional. The Division of Public Health for the Department of Health and Human Services suspended Whittle's license to practice medicine for six months after holding a hearing. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Department possessed authority under Neb. Rev. Stat. 38-179(15) to define acts of unprofessional conduct, and Neb. Rev. Stat. 010.02(32) did not impermissibly modify, alter, or enlarge portions of its enabling statute; (2) the evidence supported the district court's conclusion that Whittle's actions warranted the discipline imposed; and (3) Whittle's remaining claims were without merit. View "Whittle v. State" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Rodney Davis, a physician assistant, learned to perform liposuction under the guidance of a physician. Davis grew dissatisfied with the physician for whom he worked, so he decided to establish a new practice. To do so, Davis needed a physician to serve as his supervising physician. Davis found Dr. Jerrell Borup, who had been an anesthesiologist for 18 years, but who had not practiced medicine for 12 years. Before meeting Davis, Borup had never performed liposuction or other surgery. Borup agreed to serve as “Medical Director,” although he would never perform a procedure at the new practice. Borup’s role, in practice, consisted of reviewing charts. Davis, who gave himself the title of “Director of Surgery,” would perform all of the liposuction procedures. Davis opened his practice, Pacific Liposculpture, in September 2010. In 2015, the Physician Assistant Board (the Board) filed an accusation accusing Davis of, among other things, the unlicensed practice of medicine, gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, and false and/or misleading advertising. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found the Board’s accusations were established by clear and convincing evidence, and recommended the revocation of Davis’s license. The Board adopted the ALJ’s findings and recommendations. Davis filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus seeking, inter alia, a writ compelling the Board to set aside its decision. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Davis argued the ALJ erred in finding that he committed the various acts alleged, and that the findings were not supported by substantial evidence. He further claimed that the discipline imposed constituted a manifest abuse of discretion. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Davis v. Physician Assistant Board" on Justia Law

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Linda and her husband Milton set up an estate plan with the help of attorney Roth. Milton created a trust and designated himself as sole trustee. Upon his death, Linda and his accountant, Sanders, would become cotrustees. Milton’s assets included a $1.5 million Vanguard account. Milton later changed the Vanguard account and other accounts to transfer on death directly to Linda as the sole primary beneficiary. Milton died in 2016. Linda believed that Roth was still her attorney. Roth and Sanders convinced Linda to waive her rights as co-trustee and to disclaim her interest in the Vanguard account; they suggested that she had acquired these interests through wrongdoing. Roth then transferred the disclaimed Vanguard account directly to Milton’s son, David, instead of to the trust. David sued Linda and obtained an Indiana state court judgment that she exerted undue influence on Milton and that the trust was the proper owner of certain assets Milton had transferred to Linda.Linda sued in federal court, asserting fraud, conspiracy, and malpractice against Roth and Sanders, claiming the two “duped” her into disclaiming certain assets and that Roth committed malpractice by transferring the account to David rather than the trust. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; issue preclusion based on the Indiana judgment foreclosed Linda’s claims because the Indiana jury’s finding of undue influence showed that Roth and Sanders’s advice to disclaim her illegally-obtained interests was neither negligent nor fraudulent. View "Bergal v. Roth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted a question certified by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and answered that the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act applies when a plaintiff alleges that a qualified healthcare provider treated someone else negligently and that the negligent treatment injured the plaintiff.Plaintiff was the husband and father of two individuals killed in a car crash caused by Physician's patient. Plaintiff filed a civil action in federal court alleging that Physician's negligence in prescribing opiates to his patient caused the wrongful deaths of his wife and daughter. The state insurance commissioner, who administered the Patient's Compensation Fund, received permission to intervene. Plaintiff settled with Physician, who was dismissed. Plaintiff then sought excess damages from the Fund. The Fund responded that it had no liability because the underlying claim was not covered by the Act. The district court entered judgment for the Fund. On appeal, the Seventh Circuit certified to questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to answer question one and answered question two in the affirmative, holding that the Act applies where a plaintiff alleges that a qualified healthcare provider's negligent treatment of someone else caused the plaintiff to suffer an injury. View "Cutchin v. Beard" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment and order of the superior court reversing a decision and order of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline (the Board) that required Plaintiff to complete a competence assessment program and fitness for duty evaluation before returning to the practice of medicine, holding that the trial justice did not err.The DOH and the Director of the DOH sought review of the superior court's decision reversing the Board's order requiring Plaintiff, who sought to reenter practice after signing an agreement to cease practice, to complete a competence assessment program and fitness for duty evaluation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial justice (1) did not err in finding that the Board's decision was arbitrary, capricious, and not supported by sufficient evidence; and (2) did not err in declining to remand the case to the Board for further proceedings. View "Kyros v. R.I. Department of Health" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court reversing in part and affirming in part the decision of the Wyoming Board of Medicine to suspend Dr. Rebecca Painter's medical license, holding that the district court did not err.The Board appointed two members (Petitioners) to file a complaint and petition alleging that Painter had violated certain provisions of the Wyoming Medical Practice Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. 33-26-101 through -703. After a contested case hearing, the Board terminated Painter's license upon finding that Painter had exploited her professional relationship with a patient and the patient's family and improperly terminated the physician-patient relationship. The Board then assessed costs and fees against Painter. The district court affirmed some violations, reversed other violations, reversed the Board's assessed fees and affirmed all other costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the contested case hearing procedure did not violate Painter's due process rights; (2) the Board's finding that Painter exploited her professional relationship with the patient was supported by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) the Board's finding that Painter improperly terminated the physician-patient relationship was supported by substantial evidence. View "Hallingbye ex rel. Wyoming Board of Medicine v. Painter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that 42 U.S.C. 1983 preempted the expert report requirement in the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA), set forth in Chapter 74 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, holding that the court of appeals erred in this respect.The claims in this case were asserted against a state mental health facility and its employees arising from the death of a patient. The claims were pleaded as claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In response, Defendants asserted that Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims subject to the requirements of the TMLA. Defendants then moved to dismiss the claims for failure to serve an expert report under section 74.351(b). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that all of Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims but that section 1983 preempted the expert report requirement of the TMLA. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals correctly determined that all of the causes of action Plaintiff asserted were healthcare liability claims under the TMLA; but (2) section 1983 does not preempt the TMLA's expert report requirement, and the court of appeals erred in holding otherwise. View "Rogers v. Bagley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the partial final judgment of the superior court in favor of Defendants - Visconti, Boren & Campbell Ltd. and Richard Boren - in this legal malpractice action, holding that the summary judgment granted for Defendants on the basis of the determination that Boren did not owe a duty to Plaintiff was in error.In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants committed legal malpractice in drafting his antenuptial agreement and in rendering advice related to both the antenuptial and a postnuptial agreement. The trial justice granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the narrow issue of Boren's duty in drafting the two agreements. Thereafter, the trial justice granted Plaintiff's motion for entry of partial summary judgment. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the specific question in Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment was a question of contract interpretation that was inappropriate for determination on summary judgment. View "DeCurtis v. Visconti, Boren & Campbell Ltd." on Justia Law