Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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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

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Competing trade associations offered memberships to home inspectors, who typically inspect homes prior to home sales. Benefits of membership in the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) included online advertising to home buyers, educational resources, online training, and free services such as logo design. From 2015 to 2020, ASHI featured the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified” on its website. Contending that tagline mislead consumers, InterNACHI sued ASHI under the federal Lanham Act, claiming the line constituted false advertising because it inaccurately portrayed ASHI’s entire membership as being educated, tested, verified, and certified, even though its membership includes so-called “novice” inspectors who had yet to complete training or become certified. InterNACHI argued this misleading advertising and ASHI’s willingness to promote novice inspectors to the public caused InterNACHI to lose potential members and dues revenues. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s allegedly false commercial advertising. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred: because InterNACHI did not present any evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s slogan, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ASHI. View "Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law