Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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A confidential source, “Bonz” told Champaign Police that he knew a crack cocaine dealer named Moe. Over a few months, the department conducted five controlled buys from Moe, consistent with information from Bonz. After reviewing the video of the transactions, officers identified Moe as Orr, who was on parole after being convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Bonz identified a picture of Orr. Officers tied the involved vehicle and apartment to Orr. Pursuant to a warrant, officers searched Orr’s apartment. They found a semi-automatic pistol with ammunition, approximately 22 grams of crack cocaine, approximately 15 grams of powdered cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Orr voluntarily admitted that the gun and cocaine were his. Indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), Orr unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, asserting Bonz was an unreliable source.Orr testified that he had no reason to possess a firearm. The prosecutor presented evidence of Orr’s drug involvement. The jury found Orr guilty. Before sentencing, the Judicial Council of the Seventh Circuit determined that Judge Bruce had breached the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges by engaging in improper ex parte communications in other cases with members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Although the Council found no evidence that those communications affected the outcome of any case, it suspended Bruce from all criminal matters involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for one year. Orr’s case was transferred to another judge. The Seventh Circuit vacated Orr’s conviction. Judge Bruce’s conduct “cast a pall over certain decisions" that "required the exercise of substantial discretion.” This was not harmless error. View "United States v. Orr" on Justia Law

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Kirby Vickers filed a grievance letter with Idaho Board of Veterinary Medicine (the Board”) against a veterinarian requesting that they take various disciplinary actions. After an investigation, the Board declined to take any action against the veterinarian. Vickers then filed suit in district court, seeking to compel the Board to hold a hearing. The district court dismissed his suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. On appeal, Vickers argued his letter to the Board initiated a contested action for which he was entitled to judicial review. To this, the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed, finding that a private citizen could not initiate a "contested case" with a grievance letter. Vickers points to the language in caselaw: “[t]he filing of a complaint initiates a contested case,”to argue that any public citizen could file a complaint pursuant to Idaho Rule of Administrative Procedure of the Attorney General (“IDAPA”) 04.11.01.240.02 and begin a contested case. However, the Supreme Court found both the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the corresponding IDAPA rules, addressed only agency actions. "Vickers cannot apply these rules to his grievance letter, even if it was referred to as a “complaint” in correspondence from the Board, because it is not an agency action under the APA or IDAPA." The Court affirmed the district court's order dismissed this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Vickers v. Idaho Bd of Veterinary Medicine" on Justia Law

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Ramsey, a medical student. unsuccessfully sought testing accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD from the National Board of Medical Examiners. Ramsey sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the award of a preliminary injunction, requiring the Board to provide her accommodations. Ramsay established irreparable harm because she would likely be forced to withdraw from medical school if she could not take the initial test with accommodations and pass. The balance of equities tipped in her favor because granting her accommodations would not undermine the Board’s interests in fair and accurate testing and it was in the public interest for the ADA to be followed, to increase the number of physicians. Evidence that Ramsay’s reading, processing, and writing skills were abnormally low by multiple measures provided a sufficient comparison of her abilities to those of the general population to support the finding of disability. While the district court viewed Ramsay’s experts more favorably and found the Board’s experts unpersuasive, there is no indication that the court believed that it was compelled to defer to Ramsay’s experts; the court discounted the Board’s experts because they never met with Ramsay, engaged in too demanding an analysis of whether Ramsay had a disability, and overly focused on Ramsay’s academic achievements. View "Ramsay v. National Board of Medical Examiners" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the district court's dismissal of a medical malpractice action brought against a hospital system based on the alleged negligence of independent contractors involved in providing care for a patient in the emergency rooms of two different hospitals owned by the hospital system, holding that a hospital can be held vicariously liable for the negligence of an independent contractor based on the doctrine of apparent authority.In granting the hospital system's motion to dismiss, the district court ruled that a hospital is not vicariously liable for the acts of non-employees. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a plaintiff states a vicarious liability claim against a hospital for the professional negligence of independent contractors in the hospital's emergency room based on a theory of apparent authority if the hospital held itself out as a provider of emergency medical care and the patient looked to the hospital, rather than a specific doctor, for care and relied on the hospital to select the physical and other medical professionals to provide the necessary services. View "Popovich v. Allina Health System" on Justia Law

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Bettye Turner invested approximately $2 million into a securities brokerage account that was created and managed by David Carrick, an investment broker then employed with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (Morgan Stanley). Carrick later worked for Stern, Agee & Leach, Inc. (Stern Agee). Turner and Carrick signed an Account Application in order to transfer Turner’s funds to a Stern Agee account. The Account Application incorporated by reference a Client Account Agreement that contained an arbitration provision. Eventually, Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. (Stifel), acquired and merged with Stern Agee. Turner filed a lawsuit against Carrick and Stifel alleging negligent management and supervision of her investment account. Carrick and Stifel moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied their motion to compel arbitration, and Carrick and Stifel appealed. Because the trial court erred by failing to compel arbitration, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Carrick v. Turner" on Justia Law

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Jonathon Frantz appealed a district court’s award of attorney fees entered against him and his clients, jointly and severally, as a sanction for frivolous conduct. This appeal arose from an easement dispute among family members. The land at issue was split into multiple parcels: the Tracy Parcel, the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and the Osborn Parcel. Plaintiffs Brook Tracy and Travis Mathis owned the Tracy Parcel; Plaintiffs Gailord “Cowboy” Mathis, Brook Tracy, Laura Roll, and Rebecca Stafford owned the Mathis/Roll Parcel; and David and Naomi Osborn owned the Osborn Parcel. In 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Osborns. Frantz was Plaintiffs’ attorney. Plaintiffs claimed that more than thirty years ago they “constructed/placed a home” on the Tracy Parcel, “constructed/placed a cabin” on the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and “created a driveway” through the Osborn Parcel to access their respective properties. Plaintiffs also claimed that for more than thirty years they had openly and continuously used the driveway over the Osborn Parcel for access to the nearest public right-of-way, Highland Drive, which was the only reasonable way to reach their respective properties. Based on this use, Plaintiffs claimed that they had an easement by necessity, an easement by implication, or a prescriptive easement across the Osborn Parcel along the existing driveway. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought a judgment from the district court declaring their rights in the driveway. The trial court denied a preliminary injunction for two reasons: (1) “the allegations in the complaint and the motion contain[ed] gross exaggerations, if not falsehoods” and “the credibility of all of the plaintiffs” was questionable; and (2) Plaintiffs could not establish entitlement to the relief demanded because they came to the hearing unprepared to support the easement theories they advanced with any competent evidence. The Osborns moved for attorney fees, leaving it to the trial court's discretion to award Rule 11 sanctions "if the [c]ourt determines that this motion was pursued frivolously." On appeal, Frantz contended the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees against him personally because it: (1) failed to follow the procedural requirements set out in Idaho Code section 12-123; and (2) erroneously found that he engaged in frivolous conduct. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded this matter did not present a justiciable controversy because the judgment was satisfied and Frantz did not preserve his right to appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 10-1115. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Frantz’s appeal because the issues before the Court were moot. View "Frantz v. Osborn" on Justia Law

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In 1995, 17 plaintiffs sued the Highsmiths on several promissory notes. The parties entered into a stipulation; a single judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiffs in various amounts. In 2005, an attorney representing the plaintiffs renewed the judgment using the standard Judicial Council form. The attorney subsequently died. When the judgment was again due to be renewed in 2015, one of the plaintiffs (Bisordi) did so, again using the standard form. Defendants moved to vacate the 2015 renewal, arguing that it was void because to the extent one plaintiff purported to file it on behalf of the others, doing so constituted the unauthorized practice of law. The trial court agreed. The court of appeal reversed. Bisordi was acting in a “clerical” capacity, or as a “scrivener.” The statutory renewal of judgment is an automatic, ministerial act accomplished by the clerk of the court; entry of the renewal of judgment does not constitute a new or separate judgment. Bisordi did not hold himself out as any kind of attorney, offer the other creditors any legal advice, or resolve for them any “difficult or doubtful legal questions” that might “reasonably demand the application of a trained legal mind.” View "Altizer v. Highsmith" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the "common knowledge" exception to the affidavit requirement for professional negligence claims against a provider of health care can also be applied to determine whether a claim that appears to sound in professional negligence, and does not fall under Nev. Rev. Stat. 41A.100, actually sounds in ordinary negligence and thus is not subject to Nev. Rev. Stat. 41A.071.A nursing home nurse mistakenly administered morphine to a patient that had been prescribed for another patient. The patient died three days later from morphine intoxication. The patient's estate sued the nursing home but did not explicitly assert any claim for professional negligence or file an expert affidavit under section 41A.071. The district court granted summary judgment for the nursing home, concluding that the complaint's allegations sounded in professional negligence and, therefore, the estate was required to file an expert affidavit. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the mistaken administration of another patient's morphine constituted ordinary negligence that a lay juror could assess without expert testimony, and such a claim is not subject to section 41A.071's medical expert affidavit requirement; and (2) the district court correctly granted summary judgment on the allegations regarding the failure to monitor, as those allegations required expert testimony to support. View "Estate of Mary Curtis v. Las Vegas Medical Investors, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals that Ky. Rev. Stat. 413.245, the one-year statute of limitations applicable to the rendering of professional services, does not apply to claims against attorneys when malice is alleged, holding that, regardless of whether malice is alleged, claims arising from an act or omission in the rendering of, or failing to render, professional services are governed by section 413.245.Plaintiff filed a complaint against a law firm and three of its attorneys based upon their allegedly wrongful acts undertaken on behalf of the firm's clients. The circuit court dismissed all claims either for failure to state a claim or for failure to timely file under the applicable statute of limitations. The court of appeals reversed as to the slander of title, civil conspiracy, and Ky. Rev. Stat. 434.155 violation claims, finding that section 413.245 would not time bar the claims if malice were proven. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the court of appeals erred in concluding that section 413.245 does not apply to claims against attorneys when malice is alleged. View "Seiller Waterman, LLC v. RLB Properties, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review centered on a final order of the Oregon State Board of Nursing (the board) and the meaning of the term “time limitations” in ORS 183.645(1). That statute required the chief administrative law judge (ALJ) to assign a different ALJ to a contested case on written request from a party, subject to applicable “time limitations” that the chief ALJ has established by rule for submitting such requests. The chief ALJ established OAR 471-060-0005, under which the chief ALJ evaluated the timeliness of a request by determining whether a party had a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. Licensee Rebecca Pulito challenged a preliminary decision of the chief ALJ that denied her request for a different ALJ. In that decision, the chief ALJ determined that licensee had failed to take advantage of a “reasonable opportunity” to make an earlier request. The contested case proceeded on the merits, and the board issued a final order revoking licensee’s nursing license. The Court of Appeals affirmed without opinion. Licensee then petitioned the Oregon Supreme court for review. Licensee argued OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid because it did not impose a “time limitation” as authorized by ORS 183.645(1). Alternatively, she contended the chief ALJ erred in applying OAR 471-060-0005 because her request for a different ALJ was made within a reasonable time. The Supreme Court concluded OAR 471-060-0005 was invalid as written and that the error in denying licensee’s request for a different ALJ required reversal. Because that ruling was dispositive, the Supreme Court did not reach licensee’s alternative argument that the chief ALJ erred in applying the rule. The final order was reversed and the matter remanded for a new hearing. View "Pulito v. Board of Nursing" on Justia Law