Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the appellate panel affirming the decision of the trial court to deny Appellant's request to amend her complaint alleging negligence against numerous healthcare providers to allege a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1395dd, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), holding that EMTALA's statute of limitations did not preempt an amendment.Appellant's grandson killed her husband after receiving treatment for his mental illness and dangerous propensities. Appellant sued her grandson's healthcare providers, alleging that their negligent care and treatment of her grandson led to her husband's death. Appellant subsequent moved to amend her complaint under Indiana Trial Rule 15(C) to allege a violation of EMTALA, which has a two-year statute of limitations. The trial court denied the request, and an appellate penal affirmed, concluding that the statute of limitations preempted an amendment under Rule 15(C). The Supreme Court reversed, holding that EMTALA's statute of limitations did not preempt an amendment under Trial Rule 15(C). View "Miller v. Patel" on Justia Law

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Following a preliminary hearing, petitioner Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee was charged in an information with two counts of presenting a false or fraudulent health care claim to an insurer (a form of insurance fraud, counts 1-2), and three counts of perjury (counts 3-5). The superior court denied Banerjee’s motion to dismiss the information as unsupported by reasonable or probable cause. Banerjee petitioned for a writ of prohibition to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying his Penal Code section 995 motion and to issue an order setting aside the information. The Court of Appeal issued an order to show cause and an order staying further proceedings on the information, pending the Court's resolution of the merits of Banerjee’s petition. The State filed a return, and Banerjee filed a traverse. The State argued the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee committed two counts of insurance fraud and three counts of perjury, based on his violations of Labor Code section 139.3(a) between 2014 and 2016. During that period, Banerjee billed a workers’ compensation insurer for services he rendered to patients through his professional corporation and through two other legal entities he owned and controlled. The insurance fraud charges are based on Banerjee’s 2014-2016 billings to the insurer through the two other entities. The perjury charges were based on three instances in which Banerjee signed doctor’s reports, certifying under penalty of perjury that he had not violated “section 139.3.” Banerjee argued: (1) the evidence showed he did not violate the statute's referral prohibition; (2) even if he did not comply with section 139.3(e), the “physician’s office” exception to the referral prohibition applied to all of his referrals to his two other legal entities; and (3) the patient disclosure requirement of section 139.3(e), the referral prohibition of section 139.3(a), and the physician’s office exception to the referral prohibition were unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) Banerjee did not violate section 139.3(a) by referring his patients to his two other legal entities; and (2) the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee specifically intended to present false and fraudulent claims for health care benefits, in violation of Penal Code section 550(a)(6), by billing the workers’ compensation insurer substantially higher amounts through his two other legal entities than he previously and customarily billed the insurer for the same services he formerly rendered through his professional corporation and his former group practice. Thus, the Court granted the writ as to the perjury charges but denied it as to the insurance fraud charges. View "Banerjee v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter challenging the superior court's judgment affirming a decision of the Board of Dental Practice sanctioning Appellant, a licensed dentist in Maine, for unprofessional conduct for her failure to timely provide patient medical records, holding that the Board's findings of fact were insufficient to permit judicial review.An attorney who represented one of Appellant's patients sent a request to Appellant for the patient's medical records. When the request was refused, the attorney filed a complaint with the Board. The Board found that Appellant had engaged in unprofessional conduct, thereby violating Me. Rev. Stat. 18325(1)(E), and sanctioned Appellant. The superior court upheld the Board's decision. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the superior court's judgment and remanded the matter, holding that the Board did not make sufficient factual findings, precluding review. View "Narowetz v. Board of Dental Practice" on Justia Law

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Appellee Northside Leadership Conference (NLC), was a non-profit community development corporation that owned contiguous real property in Pittsburgh situated in a local neighborhood commercial zoning district designated for mixed use. In 2018, NLC applied for variances and special exceptions necessary to, inter alia, maintain the retail space, remodel and reopen the restaurant and permit the construction of six additional dwelling units. In 2018, a three-member panel of the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) conducted a hearing on NLC’s applications. Appellants Stephen Pascal and Chris Gates attended the hearing and objected to NLC’s applications. The ZBA ultimately granted the variance and special exception applications. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether the Commonwealth Court erred in approving a decision granting zoning relief despite: (1) the timing of the decision and (2) the alleged conflict of interest of one member of a three-member panel of the ZBA. We affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for a new hearing before a different three-member panel of the ZBA.The Supreme Court found that the ZBA member ruling on the propriety of zoning applications brought by an organization on whose board she sat at all relevant times "so clearly and obviously endangered the appearance of neutrality that her recusal was required under well-settled due process principles that disallow a person to be the judge of his or her own case or to try a matter in which he or she has an interest in the outcome." The Supreme Court held the Commonwealth Court erred in rejecting appellants’ arguments on this issue and upholding the resulting tainted ZBA decision. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s order in part and reversed in part. The matter was remanded for a new hearing on the appellee NLC’s zoning applications before a newly constituted panel of the ZBA. View "Pascal, et al. v. City of Pgh ZBA, et al." on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court enjoined Robert Francis, whether acting individually or on behalf of a trust or some other entity, from ever again proceeding pro se as a proponent of a claim (i.e., as a plaintiff, third-party claimant, cross-claimant, or counter-claimant) in any present or future litigation in the state courts of Colorado. "While the Colorado Constitution confers upon every person an undisputed right of access to our state courts, that right isn’t absolute. A party’s constitutional right of access to the courts must sometimes yield to the constitutional right of other litigants and the public to have justice administered without denial or delay. Such is the case when courts are called upon to curb the deleterious impact that duplicative and baseless pro se litigation has on finite judicial resources." Francis abused the judicial process for the purpose of harassing his adversaries "for the better part of a decade." State courts warned, reprimanded, and sanctioned Francis. Even the suspension of his law license failed to deter his "appalling conduct." Under the circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded "the extraordinary injunction requested is amply justified. Of course, Francis may still obtain access to judicial relief—he just may not do so without legal representation." View "In re Francis v. Wegener" on Justia Law

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Judge Mark Watts of Jackson County, Mississippi acknowledged he made appearances or filed motions in nine cases in Jackson County Chancery Court more than six months after assuming office. He joined in the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance’s motion recommending a public reprimand and a fine of $2,500. To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and granted the Commission’s recommendation. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Watts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sayedeh Sahba Amjadi appealed the dismissal entered after a settlement was entered by her attorney on her behalf and over her objection with defendant Jerrod West Brown, and appealed an order denying her subsequent motion to vacate the judgment. The settlement was entered by plaintiff’s attorney pursuant to a provision in the attorney’s contingent fee agreement, which purported to grant the attorney the right to accept settlement offers on the client’s behalf in the attorney’s “sole discretion,” so long as the attorney believed in good faith that the settlement offer was reasonable and in the client’s best interest. The Court of Appeal determined such a provision violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and was void to the extent it purported to grant an attorney the right to accept a settlement over the client’s objection. Accordingly, the Court held the settlement to be void and reversed the resulting judgment. The Court also referred plaintiff’s former attorneys to the State Bar for potential discipline, as required by law and by Canon 3D(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics. View "Amjadi v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing this lawsuit on the grounds that Defendants were not timely served, holding that a defendant's filing of an "Appearance of Counsel" does not constitute a voluntary appearance that relieves a plaintiff of the ordinary obligation to serve the defendant with the lawsuit.Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants alleging that Defendants provided Plaintiff with incorrect information regarding the income tax consequences of a sale of land. Attorneys for Defendants filed a document entitled "Appearance of Counsel," after which there was no activity in the case for nearly a year. The district court dismissed the case on the grounds that Plaintiff had not timely served Defendants. Plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate the case, asserting that the Appearance of Counsel was equivalent to service under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-516.01(1). The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Appearance of Counsel was not a voluntary appearance and that Defendants were not timely served. View "Stone Land & Livestock Co. v. HBE, LLP" on Justia Law

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Defendant Bennie Anderson was employed by Jersey City in the Tax Assessor’s office. His position gave him the opportunity to alter property tax descriptions without the property owner filing a formal application with the Zoning Board. In December 2012, defendant accepted a $300 bribe in exchange for altering the tax description of a property from a two-unit dwelling to a three-unit dwelling. Defendant retired from his position in March 2017 and was granted an early service retirement pension. In November 2017, defendant pled guilty in federal court to violating 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), interference with commerce by extortion under color of official right. Defendant was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a fine. Based on defendant’s conviction, the Employees’ Retirement System of Jersey City reduced his pension. The State filed an action in state court to compel the total forfeiture of defendant’s pension pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1. The trial court entered summary judgment for the State, finding that the forfeiture of defendant’s pension did not implicate the constitutional prohibitions against excessive fines because the forfeiture of pension benefits did not constitute a fine. The Appellate Division affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the State, but on different grounds, concluding the forfeiture of defendant’s pension was a fine, but that requiring defendant to forfeit his pension was not excessive. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded forfeiture of defendant’s pension under N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1 did not constitute a fine for purposes of an excessive-fine analysis under the Federal or New Jersey State Constitutions. Because the forfeiture was not a fine, the Court did not reach the constitutional analysis for excessiveness. View "New Jersey v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Lewis, the former Sheriff of Greenville County, asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to hold the 1829 statute under which he was convicted for misconduct in office relating to a sexual affair with an employee, void for vagueness. Specifically, he argued Section 8-1-80 of the South Carolina Code (2019), was unconstitutional because it proscribed "official misconduct, corruption, fraud, or oppression" without defining those terms, and he claimed he was entitled to a directed verdict. Lewis was elected sheriff of Greenville County in the 2016 general election. Lewis hired Savannah Nabors, aged twenty-two, with whom he had previously worked at a local law firm, to be his administrative coordinator. Nabors had no law enforcement experience. She was paid a salary and given numerous benefits, including a new 2017 Ford Explorer equipped with a special "police package," an assigned parking place close to Lewis, a cell phone, an iPad, and a computer. Lewis first had sex with Nabors in 2017 when she accompanied him on a business trip out of state. Nabors testified that Lewis acted appropriately at times but on other occasions, he continued to pursue a relationship with her. Nabors indicated she preferred her relationship with Lewis to be nonsexual; Lewis responded that was "fine" but there would have to be changes, including her not accompanying him to meetings and other places for work. Nabors tendered her resignation in April 2017. By August 2017, Nabors detailed the out-of-state trip in a personal blog and accused Lewis (not specifically by name), of improprieties. Thereafter, she filed a civil lawsuit. Lewis held a press conference in October 2017 and admitted to the affair, but denied allegations of assault, rape, or stalking, maintaining the encounter was consensual. Following a SLED investigation, Lewis was indicted in April 2018 for common law misconduct in office and obstruction of justice. The South Carolina Supreme Court found the applicable statute constitutional, and that the trial court did not err in refusing to quash the indictment against Lewis. View "South Carolina v. Lewis" on Justia Law