Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed suit against various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. The People alleged this scheme caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing opioid prescriptions, opioid use, opioid abuse, and opioid-related deaths. In their suit, the People allege causes of action for violations of the False Advertising Law, and the public nuisance statutes. After several years of litigation, the defendants served business record subpoenas on four nonparty state agencies: the California State Board of Registered Nursing (Nursing Board), the California State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board), the Medical Board of California (Medical Board), and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The Pharmacy Board, the Medical Board, and the DOJ served objections to the subpoenas. The Nursing Board filed a motion for a protective order seeking relief from the production obligations of its subpoena. After further litigation, which is recounted below, the trial court ordered the state agencies to produce documents in response to the subpoenas. In consolidated proceedings, the state agencies challenged the trial court's orders compelling production of documents. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the motions to compel against the Pharmacy Board and Medical Board were untimely, and the defendants were required to serve consumer notices on at least the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals whose identities would be disclosed in the administrative records, investigatory files, and coroner’s reports. Furthermore, the Court concluded the requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files, were overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. "The requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files also ran afoul of the constitutional right to privacy and the statutory official information and deliberative process privileges." The trial court was directed to vacate its orders compelling production of documents, and to enter new orders denying the motions to compel and, for the Nursing Board, granting its motion for a protective order. View "Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Janet Heath appealed a district court order and judgment that granted Angela Palmer and Taylor Real Estate’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing her claims for negligence and breach of contract. The events that brought about this case began in the fall of 2017 when Heath began looking to buy a house in Bingham County, Idaho. Heath and Palmer communicated back and forth via emails and text messages, arranging financing through a lender, and discussing property listings. They met to view several listings together, including a property owned by Donald and Shirley Ciccone. With Palmer's help, Heath made a written offer on the Ciccione property. The offer, titled "RE-21 Real Estate Purchase and Sale Agreement," indicated Palmer and Taylor Real Estate were acting as “nonagents” for Heath. Heath also signed an Agency Disclosure Brochure indicating that she was a “customer” of Palmer and Taylor Real Estate. The offer form further stated that Heath would remain a “customer” unless she entered into a written representation agreement. Heath and Palmer never signed such an agreement. The Ciccones made a counter-offer which Heath accepted. The Ciccones gave Palmer a property condition disclosure, which revealed the existence of a shared driveway agreement with a neighboring property owned by Walter and Wilma Wallace. At some point before the closing date, the title company contacted Palmer and informed her that the Driveway Agreement needed to be modified to “run with the land” before it would insure the title. Palmer contacted Mr. Wallace and informed him that Heath was trying to buy the Ciccone property but could not do so without a driveway agreement. The Wallaces and the Ciccones signed a 2018 Driveway Agreement, which was essentially the same as the 1998 Driveway Agreement except that it was “a covenant running with the land” and redefined the shared portion of the driveway. Heath and the Ciccones closed on the property, and the warranty deed and the 2018 Driveway Agreement were recorded with the Bingham County Recorder that afternoon. Heath stated in her declaration that she would not have gone through with the sale if she had known that the driveway easement had been shortened by approximately two-thirds of its original length, effectively cutting off access to the garages on her property and significantly reducing the property’s value. The proceedings in this case began in June 2018 when the Wallaces filed a petition to quiet title against Heath and another individual living in her home. The Wallaces filed their petition after a dispute with Heath regarding the dimensions and use of the shared driveway. Finding that the district court erred in concluding that there was no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Palmer and Taylor Real Estate violated the statutory duties owed to Heath as a “customer” under Idaho Code section 54-2086, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Palmer and Taylor Real Estate. View "Wallace v. Heath" on Justia Law

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Dat was born in a Kenyan refugee camp in 1993. Admitted to the U.S. around 1994, he became a lawful permanent resident. Dat pled guilty to robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951, and was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment. Dat’s robbery conviction is a deportable offense, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Dat moved to vacate his guilty plea, claiming that his attorney, Allen, assured him that his immigration status would not be affected by his plea. Allen testified that she repeatedly told Dat the charges were “deportable offenses,” that she never told him, his mother, or his fiancée that he would not be deported. that she encouraged Dat to hire an immigration attorney, and that they reviewed the Plea Petition, which says that non-citizens would be permanently removed from the U.S. if found guilty of most felony offenses. The Plea Agreement refers to immigration consequences. Dat and Allen also reviewed the PSR, which stated that immigration proceedings would commence after his release from custody.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding that Dat was not denied effective assistance of counsel. It was objectively reasonable for Allen to tell Dat that he “could” face immigration ramifications that “could” result in deportation. An alien with a deportable conviction may still seek “relief from removal. These “immigration law complexities” should caution any defense attorney not to advise a defendant considering a guilty plea that the result of a post-conviction, contested removal proceeding is certain. View "Dat v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) affirming its previous order emergently suspending Dr. Blake Donaldson's license and finding cause for discipline and the Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts' subsequent decision to discipline Donaldson's license, holding that there was no error.From 1995 to 2017, the Board licensed Donaldson as an osteopathic physician and surgeon. In 2017, the Board filed a complaint alleging that Donaldson had engaged in several instances of sexual misconduct with a patient. The AHC, acting pursuant to the emergency procedures set forth in Mo. Rev. Stat. 334.102, found probable cause to believe Donaldson engaged in sexual contact with a patient and emergently suspended Donald's license. The AHC then affirmed its previous order. Thereafter, the Board revoked Donaldson's license and prohibited him from applying for reinstatement for seven years. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the AHC's decision was authorized by law and was not arbitrary and capricious. View "Donaldson v. Missouri State Board of Registration for Healing Arts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals concluding that statements made by a medical doctor during a medical board investigation were inadmissible in a subsequent criminal prosecution of that doctor, holding that the trial court properly admitted incriminating answers given by the doctor during the investigation.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) a medical license is a property right, and the threatened loss of the license is a form of coercion that can compromise the defendant's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination; (2) in order for coercion to be sufficient to warrant the suppression of statements made during a medical board investigative review, the coercion must be both subjectively believed and objectively reasonable; and (3) competent, credible evidence supported the trial court's factual finding that the doctor did not objectively believe that a refusal truthfully to answer questions posed by the medical board investigator could lead to the loss of the doctor's medical license. View "State v. Gideon" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, Michael Mitchell, Chief Indigent Defender for the Office of Public Defender for East Baton Rouge Parish, filed a “Motion to Withdraw from Current Appointments and to Decline Future Appointments” in 2018 in each of these Nineteenth Judicial District Court (“19th JDC”), Section VI cases. Mitchell alleged that long term chronic underfunding of the public defender’s office had necessitated the implementation of “service restriction protocols,” pursuant to La. Administrative Code, Title 22, Section 1701 et seq., and led to the elimination of a number of attorney and support staff positions. Mitchell asserted that the consequent increase in the workloads of the remaining attorneys could potentially create conflicts of interest, as counsel might have to allot more time to one case over another, and could potentially cause ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. In response (which were confined to 19th JDC, Section VI cases), the State filed motions for dismissal of the motions for withdrawal and Daubert objections to expert testimony relative to the La. Project since it was based on the “Delphi Method,” contending, inter alia, that the Delphi Method produced unreliable generalized conclusions about the Louisiana public defender system and, further, that Louisiana v. Peart, 621 So.2d 780 (La. 1993), required individualized findings as to whether there has been ineffective assistance of counsel in each specific case. The district court ruled in favor of the State, implicitly finding that any remedy related to chronic underfunding of the public defender system was within the exclusive purview of the Louisiana Legislature and was outside the parameters of what the court had the authority to fashion; however, the court stated that it would consider any individual motions to withdraw from, or to decline, representation on a case-by-case basis. Thereafter, the appellate court granted the district public defender’s writ application, in part, to reverse the district court’s denial of the motions to withdraw, to vacate the district court orders appointing the public defender in the remaining ongoing consolidated cases, and to grant the request to allow the named public defenders to withdraw from future representation of indigent defendants “until the caseloads are no greater than 100% of his or her annual capacity.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found the appellate court's conclusion was reached without evidence of the specific factual details surrounding the work performance of the individual assistant public defenders: "the question of whether assistance of counsel has been constitutionally ineffective cannot be answered without a detailed examination of the specific facts and circumstances of the representation provided by counsel to the individual defendant. Therefore, the appellate court erred in reversing the district court and ruling in favor of Mr. Mitchell." The district court's rulings were reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Covington" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Appellant's administrative appeal from a decision of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) in favor of the DOH director, Board of Examiners in Dentistry of the DOH, and the DOH, holding that the trial justice did not err.The Board imposed sanctions upon Appellant John F. Begg, D.D.S. for violations of R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-10(19), (23), and (24) and sections 25.1.1, 27.1(s), 27.1(x), and 27.1(w) of DOH's rules and regulations pertaining to dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. The trial justice affirmed the Board's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DOH had subject matter jurisdiction over the administrative proceedings; (2) the Board did not utilize the subpoena power provided to it by R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-4 and 5-31.1-14 in its request for patient healthcare information, nor was it required to do so; and (3) legally competent evidence existed to support the sanctions imposed by the Board. View "Begg v. Alexander-Scott" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court considered the amended recommendation of the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“Commission”) that now-former District Court Judge Ryan Kamada be sanctioned by public censure for violations of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct that occurred while he was serving as a judicial officer. The recommendation concludes that then-Judge Kamada’s conduct violated the following provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct: Canon 1, Rule 1.1(A) (requiring a judge to comply with the law), Rule 1.2 (requiring a judge to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary), Rule 1.3 (prohibiting abuse of the prestige of judicial office); Canon 2, Rule 2.9 (prohibiting ex parte communications), Rule 2.10 (prohibiting judicial statements on pending cases); and Canon 3, (prohibiting the intentional disclosure of nonpublic judicial information). Having considered the full record, the Supreme Court concluded the Commission properly found that then-Judge Kamada violated numerous provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Had Kamada not already resigned his position, removal from office would have been an appropriate sanction for his misconduct. Because he has resigned, the Court concurred with the Commission’s recommendation that Kamada should have been publicly censured. View "In the Matter of Ryan L. Kamada" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the president of the International Congress for Joint Reconstruction, Inc. (ICJR) retained Mark Sacaris, part owner of the Center for Healthcare Education and Research, Inc. (CHE), to assist ICJR in producing medical education conferences on the subject of joint-reconstruction surgery. Their agreement was unwritten, and there was no discussion of the rates ICJR would be charged. Sacaris was given full control over ICJR’s money accounts as part of the arrangement. Sacaris used ICJR’s money accounts to pay CHE’s invoices without notifying ICJR’s board members of the amounts ICJR was being charged. Over time, and also without informing the board of ICJR, he increased the scope of CHE’s services, thereby creating additional sources of profit for CHE, and indirectly for himself, but he did not disclose his interest in these arrangements to ICJR. Eventually the ICJR board was informed by Sacaris that ICJR had amassed a $2 million to CHE. ICJR terminated its relationship with Sacaris and CHE. CHE filed suit to recover amounts it claimed it was owed by ICJR under the agreement. ICJR cross-sued Sacaris and CHE, asserting Sacaris secretly profited from his relationship with ICJR. After a bench trial, the court found ICJR liable to CHE for breach of contract. Although the court also found that CHE and Sacaris breached their fiduciary duties to ICJR in earning all four categories of the profits ICJR sought to disgorge, the court awarded ICJR recovery only as to categories two and four. On appeal, ICJR contended the trial court erred in determining that ICJR could not recover disgorgement of CHE and Sacaris’s profits from their undisclosed charges for management services without proof their breach of fiduciary duties caused ICJR to suffer monetary damages. The Court of Appeal agreed ICJR was not required to show it suffered monetary harm to establish a right to disgorgement of CHE and Sacaris' profits from undisclosed charges for event management services. The Court of Appeal reversed that portion of the judgment affected by the error and remanded for the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of the award of disgorgement. However, the Court rejected ICJR’s claim that the court erred in determining that running symposia for pharmaceutical companies was not a corporate opportunity of ICJR. View "Center Healthcare Ed. & Res. v. Internat. Cong. Joint Reconst." on Justia Law

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The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether “collectibility” was a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice action. Specifically, the issue presented was whether plaintiff’s damages in this legal malpractice action were limited to the amount she could have actually collected on a judgment against the tortfeasor in the underlying lawsuit. Elaine Ewing was injured in an automobile accident in 2015, when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Marc Melancon. Her counsel failed to forward the original petition for damages within seven days as required by La. R.S. 13:850. The original petition was filed on April 22, 2016, after the one-year prescriptive period had passed. Ms. Ewing’s suit was dismissed on an exception of prescription. Ms. Ewing subsequently filed a legal malpractice action against her attorney and Westport Insurance Corporation, counsel's malpractice insurer. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting the court should apply the “collectibility rule.” Defendants alleged Ms. Ewing’s recovery could be no greater than her potential recovery in the underlying personal injury lawsuit, and recovery in this case should have been capped at Mr. Melancon’s insurance policy limits. The Supreme Court held that proof of collectibility of an underlying judgment was not an element necessary for a plaintiff to establish a claim for legal malpractice, nor could collectibility be asserted by an attorney as an affirmative defense in a legal malpractice action. View "Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law