Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that 42 U.S.C. 1983 preempted the expert report requirement in the Texas Medical Liability Act (TMLA), set forth in Chapter 74 Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, holding that the court of appeals erred in this respect.The claims in this case were asserted against a state mental health facility and its employees arising from the death of a patient. The claims were pleaded as claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983. In response, Defendants asserted that Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims subject to the requirements of the TMLA. Defendants then moved to dismiss the claims for failure to serve an expert report under section 74.351(b). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that all of Plaintiff's claims were healthcare liability claims but that section 1983 preempted the expert report requirement of the TMLA. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals correctly determined that all of the causes of action Plaintiff asserted were healthcare liability claims under the TMLA; but (2) section 1983 does not preempt the TMLA's expert report requirement, and the court of appeals erred in holding otherwise. View "Rogers v. Bagley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the partial final judgment of the superior court in favor of Defendants - Visconti, Boren & Campbell Ltd. and Richard Boren - in this legal malpractice action, holding that the summary judgment granted for Defendants on the basis of the determination that Boren did not owe a duty to Plaintiff was in error.In his complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants committed legal malpractice in drafting his antenuptial agreement and in rendering advice related to both the antenuptial and a postnuptial agreement. The trial justice granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the narrow issue of Boren's duty in drafting the two agreements. Thereafter, the trial justice granted Plaintiff's motion for entry of partial summary judgment. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment below, holding that the specific question in Plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment was a question of contract interpretation that was inappropriate for determination on summary judgment. View "DeCurtis v. Visconti, Boren & Campbell Ltd." on Justia Law

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Vestal was an IRS Agent and routinely had access to personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. She received annual “Privacy, Information Protection and Disclosure training.” In 2018, Vestal received a notice of proposed suspension for displaying discourteous and unprofessional conduct and for failing to follow managerial directives. In preparing her defense, she sent her attorney a record from a taxpayer’s file, which included personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. Vestal’s attorney was not authorized to receive such information. Vestal sent the record without obtaining authorization, without making redactions, and without relying on advice from legal counsel. Dubois, the deciding official, decided to remove Vestal from service, explaining in his removal letter “that a removal will promote the efficiency of the Service and that a lesser penalty would be inadequate.”The Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit affirmed an administrative judge in sustaining her removal. The disclosure was “very serious,” and intentional. The agency’s table of penalties recommends removal for any first offense of intentional disclosures of taxpayer information to unauthorized persons. While Vestal stated that she incorrectly believed that attorney-client privilege protected the disclosure, the administrative judge explained that Vestal nevertheless did “act[] intentionally.” Vestal’s prior suspension was aggravating; her job performance and her 10 years of service were mitigating though also supporting that she had ample notice of the seriousness of unauthorized disclosures of taxpayer information. View "Vestal v. Department of the Treasury" on Justia Law

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Brace, a farmer, owns hundreds of acres in Erie County, Pennsylvania. He cleared 30 acres of wetlands, draining it to grow crops. In 1994, the Third Circuit affirmed that Brace had violated the Clean Water Act. In 2012, Brade bought 14 additional acres of wetlands. Again, he engaged in clearing, excavation, and filling without required permits. During a second suit under the Act, Brace’s counsel submitted perfunctory pleadings and failed to cooperate in discovery, repeatedly extending and missing deadlines. Counsel submitted over-length briefs smuggling in extra-record materials. The court repeatedly struck Brace’s materials but generally chose leniency. Eventually, the court struck Brace’s opposition to summary judgment after analyzing the “Poulis factors,” then granted the government summary judgment on liability, holding that Brace had violated the Act. The court ordered Brace to submit a proposed deed restriction and restoration plan.The Third Circuit rejected Brace’s appeal. While “it stretches credulity [to believe that Brace had] no idea how counsel [wa]s conducting this case,” the court gave Brace the benefit of the doubt. Brace’s lawyer’s misconduct forced the government to waste time and money “deciphering incomprehensible pleadings, scouring through noncompliant briefs, and moving again and again for compliance" to no avail. Counsel acted in bad faith; repeated orders to show cause, warnings, and threats of sanctions did not deter counsel’s chronic misbehavior. The sanction “was hardly an abuse of discretion.” View "United States v. Brace" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that Respondent, C. Randy Pool, a Judge of the General Court of Justice, District Court Division, Judicial District 29A, be censured for conduct in violation of Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(4), and 3A(5) of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 7A-376(b) for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.The Judicial Standards Commission filed a Recommendation of Judicial Discipline recommending that Respondent be censured for sexual misconduct. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission's findings of fact were supported by clear and convincing evidence and that the Commission's conclusions of law were supported by those facts. The Court then ordered that Respondent be censured. View "In re Pool" on Justia Law

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In this legal malpractice action by an insurer against a law firm retained to represent its insured in a separate prior litigation, the Supreme Court held that, where the insurer had a duty to defend, the insurer had standing through its contractual subrogation provision to maintain the malpractice action against counsel hired to represent the insured.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm, concluding that the insurer lacked standing to directly pursue a legal malpractice action because there was no privity between the law firm and the insurer. The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the insurer lacked standing to pursue the professional negligence action. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below, holding that the insurer had standing to maintain this legal malpractice action because the insurer was contractually surrogated to the insured's rights under the insurance policy. View "Arch Insurance Co. v. Kubicki Draper, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court accepted the findings of fact by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission and its recommendation that the Court suspend the Honorable Barry Sims of the Sixth Judicial District, Seventh Division, from his duties based on certain misconduct, holding that suspension was warranted.The report of uncontested sanction arose from complaints lodged against Judge Sims concerning his courtroom comments and conduct toward members of the Bar. Judge Sims agreed that sanction of suspension was appropriate. The Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of suspension and suspended Judge Sims from his duties without pay for thirty days with an additional sixty days suspended on the condition that he performs certain remedial actions. View "Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. Sims" on Justia Law

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A physician's professional conduct was examined by the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision. During the disciplinary proceeding a stipulated protective order was entered by the Board. The professional complaint against the physician was dismissed, and approximately two years later the physician requested the Board modify its protective order to allow the physician to use three documents in a different legal proceeding. The Board refused, and the physician appealed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) the stipulated blanket protective order making all documents in the administrative proceeding subject to the order and prohibiting their use in any other legal proceeding was contrary to the public policy expressed by the Oklahoma Open Records Act and the Oklahoma Discovery Code; and (2) the physician's claim seeking access to the initial report of misconduct was not properly before the Court. View "State ex rel. Okla. St. Bd. of Medical Licensure & Supervision v. Rivero" on Justia Law

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In this legal malpractice action, the Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court effectively granting summary judgment to Defendants, holding that the circuit court did not err in concluding that the continuous representation doctrine was not applicable to the facts presented in this case.The circuit court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, concluding that the applicable two-year statute of limitations on Plaintiff's claim had expired before the filing of his legal malpractice lawsuit. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in failing to apply the continuous representation doctrine to find that his complaint was timely filed. The Supreme Court converted the dismissal to summary judgment because the lower court considered matters outside the pleadings and affirmed, holding that because there was no continuing representation of Plaintiff by Defendants, the circuit court properly ruled that Plaintiff's complaint was time-barred. View "Hupp v. Monahan" on Justia Law

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D.C. was employed by Applied, 1996-2008, and claimed three industrial injuries: a specific injury to her neck and right upper extremity in 2001, a specific injury to her neck and both upper extremities in 2005, and a cumulative trauma injury to her neck, both upper extremities, and psyche ending on her last day working. D.C. claimed her injuries were due to the constant use of a computer keyboard. In 2006, she developed a pain disorder, anxiety, and depression, which she claimed were compensable consequences of her physical injuries. She later claimed that she was sexually exploited by Dr. Massey, the physician primarily responsible for the treatment of her industrial injuries. D.C. was diagnosed with PTSD. Applied's workers’ compensation carriers disputed liability for her psychiatric injuries.A workers’ compensation judge found that all of D.C.’s injury claims were industrial; awarded D.C. 100 percent permanent disability (PD) based on her PTSD alone; found no apportionment; and concluded that the insurers were jointly and severally liable for that award since Dr. Massey treated all three of her industrial injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board generally affirmed.The court of appeal concluded there was substantial evidence of repeated exposure to injury-causing events and new injuries after 2005 that supported the finding of cumulative trauma ending in 2008. D.C. met her burden of proving that her PTSD was a compensable consequence injury that resulted from the treatment for her industrial injuries and that her employment was a contributing cause; as a matter of law, a patient cannot consent to sexual contact with her physician. The court rejected several challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The 100 percent PD award must be annulled as based on an incorrect legal theory, the alternative path theory. View "Applied Materials v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law