Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Attorney-defendant Peter Porter represented plaintiff Elise Sharon in a lawsuit resulting in a 2008 default judgment entered in favor of Sharon. In October 2015, a judgment debtor wrote to Sharon, claiming the judgment was void. In November 2015, Sharon’s new attorney correctly opined that the judgment was indeed void. In September 2016, the debtor filed a motion to vacate the judgment, which was granted the following month. In May 2017, Sharon filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Porter. During a court trial on stipulated facts, the trial court found the judgment had been valid until it was vacated. The court also found the statute of limitations applicable to Sharon’s lawsuit had been tolled until “actual injury” first occurred in September 2016, when Sharon began incurring hourly attorney fees to oppose the judgment debtor’s motion to vacate the judgment. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding the default judgment was void independent of it being vacated. "Discovery of the void judgment and whatever injury resulted therefrom occurred at least by November 2015 when the judgment debtor wrote to Sharon and her new attorney claiming the judgment was void. The statute ran one year from that date. Sharon’s 2017 lawsuit was time-barred." View "Sharon v. Porter" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a malpractice action against Zbylut, Cox and LPS alleging they had violated their professional duties by undertaking representation of Purposeful Press without her consent, and rendering legal advice in the underlying lawsuits that was adverse to her interests. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of defendants' motions for summary judgment, holding that plaintiff did not dispute that she lacked standing to seek reimbursement of Purposeful Press's funds, and plaintiff failed to present any evidence that would support a finding of an implied attorney-client relationship with the firm. In this case, plaintiff has not identified any harm that defendants' representation of Purposeful Press was alleged to have caused her in her representative capacity as a shareholder. Furthermore, even if there were circumstances under which a corporate attorney might owe such a duty to individual shareholders, no such circumstances were present here. View "Sprengel v. Zbylut" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors (the Board), through its executive director, Keith Simila, brought disciplinary proceedings against Chad Erickson for allegedly violating certain statutes and rules governing the surveying profession. Following an administrative hearing, the Board found that Erickson violated a number of the statutes and rules alleged and revoked his license as a professional land surveyor. Erickson sought judicial review by the district court. On review, the district court upheld the Board’s finding that Erickson had committed certain violations; however, the district court reversed the portion of the Board’s Order revoking Erickson’s license and remanded the matter for further consideration of the appropriate sanction. Erickson appeals from the district court’s decision, arguing that the evidence does not support the Board’s finding of any violations. In addition, Erickson asserts that numerous procedural errors made by the Board necessitate reversal. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court's order, finding the Board's order against Erickson was time-barred. View "Erickson v. Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers & Professional Land Surveyors" on Justia Law

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After the county petitioned the superior court for a writ vacating the Commission's decision and upholding LA County Sheriff's Deputy Mark Montez's discharge, the trial court found that the Commission's decision was unsupported by its own findings and issued a writ ordering the Commission to set aside its decision and reconsider the matters. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order and held that Montez's misconduct was an inexcusable neglect of duty that harmed the Sheriff's Department by compromising the public's ability to trust it, and the Commission abused its discretion by reducing Montez's punishment. The court held that reasonable minds could not differ with regard to the appropriate disciplinary action in Montez's case, and the Commission's conclusion that the misconduct was unlikely to recur was unwarranted. View "County of Los Angeles v. Civil Service Commission of the County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant, who represented Plaintiff in her divorce, and dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice action, holding that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel. Plaintiff asserted in her complaint that the attorney's actions during the divorce proceedings so compromised her position that she was forced to settle on unfavorable terms. Citing Plaintiff's sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement that the divorce settlement was fair and equitable, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff was estopped from asserting that the divorce settlement terms were unfavorable. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the statements by Plaintiff were not the type of sworn statements that are proscribed under the doctrine of judicial estoppel; and (2) therefore, the trial court erred in holding that judicial estoppel precluded Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim against Defendant. View "Kershaw v. Levy" on Justia Law

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After the hospital terminated plaintiff's privileges and staff membership without giving him a hearing, he filed a complaint that included causes of action seeking a writ of administrative mandate, alleging, among other things, the hospital denied him the right to a hearing before terminating his privileges. After determining that the trial court's order denying the petition for writ of administrative mandate was appealable, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of the petition. The court held that the hospital failed to give plaintiff a hearing as required by Business and Professions Code section 809.1 when it terminated his privileges and membership for a medical disciplinary cause or reason. Accordingly, the trial court is directed to enter a new order granting plaintiff's petition for mandate requesting a hearing. View "Alaama v. Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital, Inc." on Justia Law

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Antoinette Belle, as personal representative of the estate of Edith Mitchell, deceased, sued various health-care providers that treated Mitchell while she was hospitalized in April 2009. Belle eventually reached settlements with all of those health-care providers except two physicians. The trial court entered a summary judgment against Belle and in favor of the two physicians, bringing the medical-malpractice action to a close. Belle then filed a legal-malpractice case against four attorneys and three law firms that had represented her at varying times in the medical-malpractice action, alleging they had been negligent in representing her. Belle later brought an additional claim of fraudulent concealment. The attorneys and law firms denied the allegations against them, arguing that Belle's claims were untimely and that they had no factual or legal basis. The trial court agreed and entered judgments in favor of the attorneys and law firms. Belle appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment in the attorneys and law firms. View "Belle v. Goldasich, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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Rebecca Parkinson appealed a district court’s dismissal of her claim for breach of fiduciary duty against her attorney, James Bevis. Parkinson filed a complaint alleging Bevis breached his fiduciary duty when he disclosed a confidential email to the opposing attorney after reaching a settlement in Parkinson’s divorce action. Bevis moved to dismiss under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Parkinson’s complaint failed to state a claim for relief. The district court agreed and dismissed Parkinson’s claim after determining that it was, in essence, a legal malpractice claim, on which Parkinson could not prevail because she admitted that she suffered no damages from Bevis’ disclosure. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in dismissing Parkinson's complaint: whether an attorney must forfeit any or all fees for a breach of fiduciary duty to a client must be determined by applying the rule as stated in section 37 of the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers and the factors the Supreme Court identified to the individual circumstances of each case. In light of this conclusion, the district court’s determination that Parkinson could not pursue her claim on an equitable basis as a matter of law was incorrect. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Parkinson v. Bevis" on Justia Law

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Gulfport OB-GYN was a professional association of physicians specializing in obstetrical and gynecological care. In 2008, it hired the law firm Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A., to assist in negotiating the hiring of Dr. Donielle Daigle and to prepare an employment agreement for her. Five years later, Dr. Daigle and another physician left Gulfport OB-GYN to establish their own practice. They sued Gulfport OB-GYN for unpaid compensation and sought a declaratory judgment that the noncompetition covenant was unenforceable. The departing physicians ultimately prevailed, with the chancery court holding the noncompetition covenant not applicable to Dr. Daigle because she left voluntarily and was not “terminated by the Employer.” The chancery court decision was initially appealed, but the dispute was later settled through mediation when Gulfport OB-GYN agreed to pay Dr. Daigle $425,000. Gulfport OB-GYN then filed this legal-malpractice suit against the attorney who drafted the employment agreement and her firm. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the defendants after finding Gulfport OB-GYN had failed to produce sufficient evidence that it would have received a better deal but for the attorneys’ alleged negligence, i.e., Gulfport OB-GYN failed to prove that the alleged negligence caused it damages. The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Gulfport OB-GYN, P.A. v. Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, P.A." on Justia Law

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In this medical negligence action, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court rendered in accordance with the court's granting of Defendants' motions to dismiss and for summary judgment, holding that the Court could not reach the merits of Plaintiff's claim that Conn. Gen. Stat. 52-190a is unconstitutional. Plaintiff brought this case against the State and numerous superior court judges, a psychiatrist and his employer, and business entities after his wife committed suicide. The trial court granted judgment for Defendants. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that section 52-190a, which requires a plaintiff to append a good faith certificate and supporting opinion letter to the complaint in cases of medical negligence, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Plaintiff failed to challenge the trial court's threshold conclusions that his claims against Defendants were barred by, among other things, the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, this Court could not address the single substantive issue that Plaintiff raised and that the judgment of the trial court must be affirmed. View "Traylor v. State" on Justia Law