Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise ("QHG"), appealed a circuit court's judgment awarding Amy Pertuit ("Amy") $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages. Leif Pertuit ("Leif") had been married to Deanna Mortensen; they had one child, Logan. Leif and Mortensen divorced in 2007. At some point, Mortensen was awarded sole physical custody of Logan, and Leif was awarded visitation. Leif later married Amy, a nurse. At the time of their marriage, Leif and Amy resided in Mobile, Alabama, and Mortensen resided in Enterprise. Eventually, tensions arose between Leif and Mortensen regarding the issue of visitation. In March 2014, Mortensen began sending text messages to Leif accusing Amy of being addicted to drugs. Around that time, Mortensen visited the attorney who had represented her in divorce from Leif. Mortensen expressed concern that Logan was in danger as a result of the visitation arrangement and asked her attorney to assist with obtaining a modification of Leif's visitation. In April 2014, Mortensen contacted Dr. Kathlyn Diefenderfer, a physician whom QHG employed as a hospitalist at Medical Center Enterprise. Mortensen had been Dr. Diefenderfer's patient, and Dr. Diefenderfer's son played sports with Logan. Mortensen informed Dr. Diefenderfer that Logan was scheduled to ride in an automobile with Amy from Enterprise to Mobile for Leif's visitation and expressed concern regarding Amy's ability to drive, given her belief that Amy was using drugs and had lost her nursing license. Dr. Diefenderfer used a hospital computer to check on Amy's drug prescriptions. After reviewing that information,Dr. Diefenderfer told Mortensen: "All I can tell you is I would not put my son in the car." Mortensen went back to her attorney, informing him that Dr. Diefenderfer had acquired the necessary proof of Amy's drug use. Amy received a copy of the modification petition, and was convinced her private health information had been obtained in violation of HIPAA, and filed complaints to the Enterprise Police Department, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. A grand jury indicted Mortensen and Dr. Diefenderfer, which were later recalled, but the two entered diversion agreements with the district attorney's office. Amy then filed suit alleging negligence and wantonness, violation of her right to privacy, the tort of outrage and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying QHG's motion for a judgment as a matter of law with respect to Amy's asserted theories of respondeat superior; ratification; and negligent and wanton training, supervision, and retention because there was not substantial evidence indicating that QHG was liable to Amy as a consequence of Dr. Diefenderfer's conduct under any of those theories. The trial court's judgment awarding Amy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of QHG. View "QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court using a judgment against Alexander Mantle to set off judgments Alexander and Majorie Mantle had against Ray and Gary Garland and failing to recognize the Mantles' right to the proceeds from a settlement of a third-party action against Karl Killmer and Killmer & Associates (collectively, Killmer), holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Ray and Gary were entitled to use the assigned portions of the judgment against Alexander to satisfy the judgments the Mantles had against them for fraudulent transfers; and (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to the portion of the Killmer settlement funds not deposited with the district court. View "Mantle v. North Star Energy & Construction LLC" on Justia Law

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Following an investigation, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Copiah County Justice Court Judge Teresa Bozeman had violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(7), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9 (Rev. 2019). During her tenure on the bench, Judge Bozeman’s conduct resulted in violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9. Specifically, Judge Bozeman (1) initiated improper ex parte communications to investigate a pending civil matter, (2) failed to comply with the statutory limitations of money judgments in justice court, and (3) retaliated against a complainant who filed a complaint with the Commission. The Commission found that Judge Bozeman’s conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute, actionable under article 6, section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission recommended that Judge Bozeman be suspended from office without pay for thirty days, be publicly reprimanded, and be fined $1,000. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the agreed recommendation was appropriate and commensurate with similar cases of misconduct. Thus, the joint motion was granted, and Judge Bozeman was suspended from office without pay for thirty days, was publicly reprimanded, and fined $1,000. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Bozeman" on Justia Law

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Respondent Eric Nisley was elected to the office of Wasco County District Attorney and began serving a four-year term in January 2017. After respondent’s election, the Oregon State Bar charged him with several violations of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct. The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately reviewed the case against respondent, concluded that he had committed some of the charged violations, and imposed the sanction of a 60-day suspension from the practice of law, beginning February 2020. The Supreme Court agreed to exercise its original jurisdiction in the nature of quo warranto to determine whether respondent was the lawful holder of that office. The dispute turned on whether the 60-day suspension from the practice of law caused respondent to “cease[ ] to possess” a qualification for holding office—thus creating a vacancy in the public office—as contemplated by ORS 236.010(1)(g). The Supreme Court concluded respondent’s brief suspension from the practice of law did not render the office of Wasco County District Attorney vacant. View "Oregon ex rel Rosenblum v. Nisley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court awarding Plaintiff $91,172, plus costs and interest, on her legal malpractice complaint arising from Defendant's representation of her in a divorce action, holding that the jury was correctly instructed concerning Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause.On appeal, Defendant challenged the jury instructions concerning some of Plaintiff's claims for damages. Specifically, Defendant argued that the court erred in instructing the jury on Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause using language first discussed in Niehoff v. Shankman & Associates Legal Center, P.A., 763 A.2d 121 (Me. 2000). The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the "modified" or "failure to plead" proximate cause standard in Niehoff and other cases is not an independent alternative test but is, rather, a case-specific application of the proximate cause standard applied in legal malpractice cases; and (2) the trial court properly instructed the jury in this case. View "Reppucci v. Nadeau" on Justia Law

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David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's legal malpractice suit against the Office of the State Public Defender, the State Public Defender, and the individual public defenders who represented him in his criminal case, holding that exoneration is not a prerequisite for a malpractice action.In dismissing Plaintiff's action, the district court found that none of the exceptions to governmental immunity in the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (WGCA) applied and that the exoneration rule made Plaintiff's claim premature. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's malpractice claim did not fall within the WGCA's contract exception; (2) the issue of the Public Defenders' insurance coverage was not properly disposed of on a motion to dismiss; and (3) the exoneration rule did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice suit. View "Dockter v. Lozano" on Justia Law

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Innovative Images, LLC sued its former attorney James Summerville, Summerville Moore, P.C., and The Summerville Firm, LLC (collectively, the “Summerville Defendants”) for legal malpractice. In response, the Summerville Defendants moved to dismiss the suit and to compel arbitration in accordance with the parties’ engagement agreement, which included a clause mandating arbitration for any dispute arising under the agreement. The trial court denied the motion, ruling that the arbitration clause was “unconscionable” and thus unenforceable because it had been entered into in violation of Rule 1.4 (b) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (“GRPC”) for attorneys found in Georgia Bar Rule 4-102 (d). The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the arbitration clause was not void as against public policy or unconscionable. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded after review that regardless of whether the Summerville Defendants violated GRPC Rule 1.4 (b) by entering into the mandatory arbitration clause in the engagement agreement without first apprising Innovative of the advantages and disadvantages of arbitration, the clause was not void as against public policy because Innovative did not argue, and no court has held, that such an arbitration clause could never lawfully be included in an attorney-client contract. For similar reasons, the Supreme Court held the arbitration clause was not substantively unconscionable, and on the limited record before it, Innovative did not show the clause was procedurally unconscionable. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the appellate court's judgment. View "Innovative Images, LLC v. Summerville et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals denying a writ of mandamus ordering the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate and Professional Licensing to convene an informal mediation meeting on a complaint, holding that Appellant had no clear legal right to a mediation meeting.A third party filed a complaint with the Division against Appellant, alleging that Appellant had falsified information on a mortgage application. The Division notified Appellant that he was the subject of the complaint. Appellant sent a letter containing a mediation request, but the Division failed to schedule a mediation meeting. Appellant then filed a complaint in the court of appeals seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the Division to schedule the meeting. The court of appeals denied the writ. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Appellant had no clear legal right to a mediation meeting, and the Division had no clear duty to hold one because Appellant's letter was incontestably untimely. View "State ex rel. Figueroa v. Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate & Professional Licensing" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the board of registration in medicine may use a sealed criminal record as a basis for discipline but that the board is statutorily prohibited from making the contents of that record available to the public.Petitioner, a physician licensed by the board, was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor count of engaging in sexual conduct for a fee. After the board informed Petitioner that he was under investigation the court dismissed Petitioner's criminal case and Petitioner filed an application to renew his medical license. Thereafter, pursuant to Petitioner's request, a judge in the district court ordered Petitioner's criminal record sealed under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 276, 100C. Petitioner notified the board of the sealing order and requested that his disciplinary matter be closed. When the board declined to close the matter Petitioner filed an emergency petition for writ of certiorari. The Supreme Judicial Court held that section 100C does not prohibit the board from using a record sealed under the section in its disciplinary proceedings, but it does prohibit the board from publicly disclosing any information gleaned directly from a record sealed under section 100C. View "Doe v. Board of Registration in Medicine" on Justia Law