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Southwestern Community College District (District) and its governing board (Board) (together Southwestern) demoted Arlie Ricasa from an academic administrator position to a faculty position on the grounds of moral turpitude, immoral conduct, and unfitness to serve in her then-current role. While employed by Southwestern as the director of Student Development and Health Services (DSD), Ricasa also served as an elected board member of a separate entity, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD). The largest number of incoming District students were from SUHSD, and the community viewed the school districts as having significant ties. As a SUHSD board member, Ricasa voted on million-dollar vendor contracts to construction companies, such as Seville Group, Inc. (SGI) and Gilbane Construction Company, who ultimately co-managed a bond project for the SUHSD. Before and after SGI received this contract, Ricasa went to dinners with SGI members that she did not disclose on her Form 700. Ricasa's daughter also received a scholarship from SGI to attend a student leadership conference that Ricasa did not report on her "Form 700." In December 2013, Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the Political Reform Act, which prohibited board members of local agencies from receiving gifts from a single source in excess of $420. Ricasa filed two petitions for writs of administrative mandamus in the trial court seeking, among other things, to set aside the demotion and reinstate her as an academic administrator. Ricasa appealed the denial of her petitions, arguing the demotion occurred in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (the Brown Act) because Southwestern failed to provide her with 24 hours' notice of the hearing at which it heard charges against her, as required by Government Code section 54957. Alternatively, she argued the demotion was unconstitutional because no nexus existed between her alleged misconduct and her fitness to serve as academic administrator. Southwestern also appealed, arguing that the trial court made two legal errors when it: (1) held that Southwestern was required to give 24-hour notice under the Brown Act prior to conducting a closed session at which it voted to initiate disciplinary proceedings, and (2) enjoined Southwestern from committing future Brown Act violations. The Court of Appeal concluded Southwestern did not violate the Brown Act, and that substantial evidence supported Ricasa's demotion. However, the Court reversed that part of the judgment enjoining Southwestern from future Brown Act violations. View "Ricasa v. Office of Admin. Hearings" on Justia Law

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Keith's estate filed a wrongful death and survival action against Ortberg, a licensed clinical social worker and employee assistance program counselor, and her employer Rockford Memorial Hospital, alleging that, on September 30, 2005, Keith had an initial appointment with Ortberg; that it was Ortberg’s duty to evaluate Keith’s mental health condition; that Ortberg breached her duty by performing an inadequate assessment and failed to recognize that Keith was at high risk for suicide, and failed to refer him to an emergency room or a psychiatrist for immediate treatment. Keith died by suicide on or about October 6, 2005. The circuit court submitted an instruction, over plaintiff’s objection, asking the jury to respond “Yes” or “No”: Was it reasonably foreseeable to Ortberg on September 30, that Keith would commit suicide on or before October 9? The jury entered a general verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding damages of $1,495,151, but answered “No” on the special interrogatory. The circuit court ruled that the special interrogatory answer was inconsistent with the general verdict and entered judgment in defendants’ favor. The appellate court found, and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, that the special interrogatory was not in proper form and should not have been given to the jury; it did not apply the objective “reasonable person” standard for determining foreseeability and, therefore, misstated the law, Because the special interrogatory was ambiguous, the jury’s answer was not necessarily inconsistent with its general verdict. View "Stanphill v. Ortberg" on Justia Law

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In 2002, in Texas, Dr. Phillips performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy on Bramlett, a 36-year-old mother. While hospitalized, Bramlett suffered internal bleeding and died. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Phillips, who held a $200,000 professional liability insurance policy with MedPro. He notified MedPro of the lawsuit. In 2003, the hospital settled with the Bramletts for approximately $2.3 million. The Bramletts wrote to Dr. Phillips’s attorney, Davidson, with a $200,000 Stowers demand; under Texas law, if an insurer rejects a plaintiff's demand that is within the insured’s policy limit and that a reasonably prudent insurer would accept, the insurer will later be liable for any amount awarded over the policy limit. MedPro twice refused to settle. The family won a $14 million verdict. The Supreme Court of Texas capped Dr. Phillips’s liability. The family sued MedPro, which settled. MedPro was insured by AISLIC, which declined to cover MedPro’s settlement. The district court granted AISLIC summary judgment, concluding that coverage was excluded because MedPro should have foreseen the family’s claim. An exclusion precluded coverage for “any claim arising out of any Wrongful Act” which occurred prior to June 30, 2005, if before that date MedPro “knew or could have reasonably foreseen that such Wrongful Act could lead to a claim.” The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether MedPro’s failure to settle was a Wrongful Act and whether MedPro could have foreseen a "claim" before the malpractice trial. View "Medical Protective Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Kathryn Honea purported to appeal a judgment in favor of Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. ("Raymond James"), and Bernard Michaud, an employee of Raymond James (collectively, "RJFS"), in the underlying action seeking to vacate an arbitration award. In 1997, Honea opened several investment accounts with Raymond James. In March 2006, Honea sued RJFS alleging that her accounts had been mismanaged. She sought damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, wantonness, fraud, and violations of the Alabama Securities Act. The case went to arbitration. An arbitration panel entered an award in favor of RJFS, and on January 14, 2008, Honea filed in the trial court a motion to vacate that arbitration award. In this case's fourth trip before the Alabama Supreme Court, Honea's 2017 motion to vacate interjected issues and sought relief beyond the scope of the remand action ordered in "Raymond James III," which directed a Rule 59(g) hearing. "The trial court would have no jurisdiction to rule on it, and any ruling, whether express or a denial by operation of law, would be void." Accordingly, the Court dismissed this appeal. View "Honea v. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on release language in a settlement agreement. This case began as a legal malpractice action by Delie Shepard and Ashley Stowers (the Plaintiffs) against Robert Germany and his law firm, Pittman, Germany, Roberts & Welsh, LLP. Shepard and Stowers were represented by Michael Crowley and Edward Blackmon; Germany and his firm were represented by Fred Krutz and Daniel Mulholland. After several years of litigation and mediation, the parties reached a settlement. In the settlement, Shepard and Stowers agreed “to execute a Full and Complete Release.” The parties agreed to and memorialized the essential terms of their settlement in an email exchange. Although the essential terms were agreed upon, Crowley’s email to Krutz did not specify the precise language of the “Full and Complete Releases.” Believing that the parties had a meeting of the minds on the essential terms of the settlement in an email exchange, Germany moved to enforce the settlement agreement using the release language proposed by his attorneys. Shepard and Stowers later filed their own motion to enforce the settlement agreement using their proposed releases. Before Shepard and Stowers filed their motion, the circuit court held a hearing on Germany’s motion to enforce the settlement agreement. The circuit court entered an Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal. Unsatisfied with the order enforcing the settlement agreement, which required their signature on the releases, Crowley and Blackmon filed an emergency petition for writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court, which was ordered to be treated as a Notice of Appeal. They later filed a notice of appeal in the underlying case on behalf of Shepard and Stowers. The appeal sought essentially the same relief as Crowley and Blackmon’s petition, so the Supreme Court consolidated the cases. The issue for the Supreme Court was whether the circuit court abused its discretion by enforcing a settlement agreement using specific release language that required the Plaintiffs’ attorneys’ signatures. Finding that the circuit court abused its discretion, the Supreme Court reversed the Order Enforcing Settlement Agreement and Judgment of Dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Crowley v. Germany" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court remanded this matter to the circuit court with directions to reinstate a default judgment granted to Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP and J. Richard Kiefer (collectively, Bingham) against Meredith Lawrence on its counterclaim to enforce a promissory note made by Lawrence in partial payment of attorney’s fees owed by Lawrence to Bingham, holding that the trial court erred in setting aside the default judgment and that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming that order. Specifically, the Court held that because Bingham’s counterclaim was a compulsory counterclaim to Lawrence’s action against Bingham for professional negligence and because the complaint called into question the validity of the promissory note at issue, Bingham’s counterclaim was justiciable even though it was filed three an a half months prior to the promissory note’s due date. View "Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP v. Lawrence" on Justia Law

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Defendant struck Plaintiff, a pedestrian with his vehicle. Plaintiff filed a personal injury suit. Defendant filed an answer with an affirmative defense. Defendant answered an interrogatory about his drivers' license by stating that he had diabetes and required medical approval to drive, but refused to answer follow-up questions about his medical condition, stating that the question violates HIPAA, doctor-patient privilege; the Defendant has not placed his medical condition at issue. The court found that Plaintiff had legitimate cause to believe that Defendant had sight problems that could have been related to the accident and held Defendant’s attorney in contempt. The court found the attorney was not entitled to assert the physician-patient privilege, 735 ILCS 5/8-802. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s reversal of the contempt order. A plaintiff may not waive a defendant’s privilege by putting the defendant’s medical condition at issue. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant asserted anything about defendant’s physical or mental condition. If these allegations put a defendant’s medical condition in issue, then it will be at issue in most traffic accident cases. The court urged the legislature to clarify the meaning of “at issue” and noted that, when a patient obtains a physician’s report to maintain his driving privileges, he is not seeking treatment so the privilege does not apply to the record filed with the Secretary of State. View "Palm v. Holocker" on Justia Law

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In this fraud and professional negligence case the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals that a $80 million punitive damage award was unreasonable and reinstated the trial court’s award, otherwise affirming the appellate court’s judgment, holding that the $80 million award was not grossly excessive and was constitutionally acceptable. Plaintiffs participated in a tax shelter marketed by Defendant, their accounting firm. After the IRS disallowed the tax shelter, Plaintiffs settled with the IRS, paying a total of $20 million for back taxes, interest and penalties and amounts paid to Defendant for fees. Plaintiffs then commenced this action to recoup the $20 million. The trial court found Defendant liable for fraud and gross professional negligence and awarded $20 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on liability and compensatory damages but reduced the punitive damage award to equal the compensatory damage award. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision that Defendant was liable for fraudulent conduct and the compensatory damage award; but (2) reversed the remittitur and reinstated the trial court’s punitive damage award, holding that the facts supported an $80 million punitive damage assessment and that an award of that magnitude was constitutionally acceptable. View "Yung v. Grant Thornton, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court adopted the Exoneration Rule, the majority rule across the nation providing that a criminal defense attorney may not be sued for legal malpractice in a case resulting in the conviction of his or her client unless the client has been exonerated by direct appeal or upon post-conviction relief, and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ legal malpractice claim against Defendants. The trial court dismissed Plaintiffs’ legal malpractice action against Plaintiff’s defense attorneys. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that a criminal defendant who has been convicted at trial and whose conviction has not been overturned on appeal or through other post-conviction proceedings may not bring a legal malpractice action against his defense attorneys for alleged negligence occurring during the representation. The Court of Appeals’ opinion was based on the Exoneration Rule, which the court had previously applied. The Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider the merits of the rule, adopted the rule, and affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff failed to allege that he had been exonerated of his convictions through post-conviction proceedings, the trial court did not err in dismissing his legal malpractice action without prejudice. View "Lawrence v. Bingham, Greenebaum, Doll, LLP" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors ("Board") appealed district court judgments affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding to the Board its disciplinary decisions against Michael Berg, Apex Engineering Group, Inc., Scott Olson, Dain Miller, Thomas Welle, and Timothy Paustian. Respondents Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian were former employees of Ulteig Engineers, Inc. Olson was terminated from Ulteig in 2009. In 2010, Berg, Miller, Welle, and Paustian resigned from Ulteig and, along with Olson, started a competing business, Apex. Following the Respondents' departure, Ulteig sued Apex and filed an ethics complaint with the Board, alleging Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian violated the Professional Engineers' Code of Ethics by disclosing Ulteig's confidential information and failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest by not informing Ulteig of their decision to form Apex. Ulteig also alleged the Respondents knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects that Ulteig had been contracted to perform before the Respondents' departure from Ulteig. The Board found that each of the Respondents had violated one or more of the provisions of the code of ethics. Respondents appealed the Board's disciplinary decisions to the district court. The court affirmed the Board's decision that Welle, Berg, and Miller failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The court reversed the determination that Miller, Welle, and Paustian had improperly disclosed confidential information. The court also reversed the decision that Berg, Olson, and Welle knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects Ulteig had been contracted to perform before their departure from Ulteig. The court remanded to the Board for reconsideration the discipline imposed on Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle, and Paustian in light of the court's reversal of the disciplinary decisions. The court also awarded attorney fees to Berg, Welle, Apex, Olson, Miller, and Paustian. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the Board argued the district court wrongfully reversed the Board's disciplinary decisions because the decisions were supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court concluded a preponderance of the evidence supported the Board's factual findings regarding the improper solicitation by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. Those findings supported a conclusion that Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex knowingly sought or accepted employment for professional services for an assignment for which Ulteig was previously employed or contracted to perform in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6). The Supreme Court therefore reversed those parts of the district court's judgments relating to the violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6) by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. View "Berg, et al. v. North Dakota State Board of Registration" on Justia Law