Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries
Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co.
For about 10 years Victaulic and three of its insurers, members of the American Insurance Group (AIG), have been engaged in litigation. One case is this lawsuit filed by Victaulic in 2012; in 2013, the Pillsbury law firm became counsel for Victaulic and has represented it since, ultimately winning a $56 million judgment. In 2018, that judgment was reversed based on a combination of errors by the trial judge. Following remand, Victaulic filed an amended complaint; the vigorous litigation continued. In 2021 the insurers learned that two attorneys who had done work for a claims-handling arm of AIG had recently joined the Pillsbury firm, about six years after they left employment at the earlier firm. The insurers moved to disqualify the lawyers and the Pillsbury firm, generating thousands of pages of pleadings, declarations, and exhibits, and two hearings.The trial court concluded that the insurers failed to meet their burden. The court of appeal affirmed. There was no showing that the two attorneys had any confidential information and no “direct professional relationship with the former client in which the attorney personally provided legal advice and services on a legal issue that is closely related to the legal issue in the present representation.” View "Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law
Kappes v. Rhodes
The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on her counterclaim for breach of contract in this legal malpractice lawsuit, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the parties entered into a lawfully enforceable settlement agreement.The underlying lawsuit arose after the death of Plaintiff's mother when Defendant failed timely to file an application with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel and a wrongful death lawsuit. Defendant filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging that the parties had entered into a valid agreement to settle the legal malpractice claim for $100,000. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the settlement agreement was enforceable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the parties had a setting of the funds on the issue of who was settling and who would be bound by the settlement, precluding summary judgment. View "Kappes v. Rhodes" on Justia Law
Johnson v. Armstrong
Johnson suffers from severe, permanent nerve damage, which he alleges was caused by a negligently performed hip replacement surgery. He sued his surgeon, Dr. Armstrong, citing specific negligence and the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. He also brought a res ipsa loquitur claim against a surgical technician who participated in the surgery. Johnson provided one expert witness, also a surgeon, to establish the elements of res ipsa loquitur. The court granted the technician summary judgment, stating that Johnson failed to present an expert witness to establish the standard of care for a technician, that the control element of res ipsa loquitur was not met, and that there was no evidence of negligence on the technician’s part. The court subsequently granted Armstrong summary judgment on the res ipsa loquitur count, leaving the count of specific negligence remaining. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed and vacated in part. The effect of the summary judgment in favor of Armstrong is to preclude Johnson from proving that Armstrong was negligent under the unique proofs of res ipsa loquitur, but the claim for negligence remains outstanding. The summary judgment order with respect to Armstrong was not a final judgment; the appellate court lacked jurisdiction. With respect to the other defendants, the elements of res ipsa loquitur were met at the time of the decision; no further expert testimony on the standard of care was required. Given that the Armstrong summary judgment was pronounced after the technician was orally dismissed from the res ipsa loquitur count, the circuit court was directed to reconsider that order in light of this opinion. View "Johnson v. Armstrong" on Justia Law
Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler
While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law
Adkins v. Clark
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's professional malpractice claim brought under the West Virginia Medical Professional Liability Act (MPLA), holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing the claim with prejudice.Plaintiff sent to Defendant a notice of claim and certificate of merit consistent with the pre-suit notice requirements of the MPLA. Defendant neither requested pre-suit mediation nor declined it. Long after the expiration of the statute of limitations and any statutory tolling periods, Plaintiff received a response letter from Defendant explicitly declining pre-suit mediation. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed her claim. The circuit court dismissed the claim on the grounds that the MPLA does not permit an indefinite tolling of the statute of limitations to facilitate pre-suit mediation and there was no evidence of any affirmative conduct by Defendant that would have induced Plaintiff to delay filing her claim so as to equitably toll the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's decision. View "Adkins v. Clark" on Justia Law
Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al.
Competing trade associations offered memberships to home inspectors, who typically inspect homes prior to home sales. Benefits of membership in the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (InterNACHI) and the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) included online advertising to home buyers, educational resources, online training, and free services such as logo design. From 2015 to 2020, ASHI featured the slogan “American Society of Home Inspectors. Educated. Tested. Verified. Certified” on its website. Contending that tagline mislead consumers, InterNACHI sued ASHI under the federal Lanham Act, claiming the line constituted false advertising because it inaccurately portrayed ASHI’s entire membership as being educated, tested, verified, and certified, even though its membership includes so-called “novice” inspectors who had yet to complete training or become certified. InterNACHI argued this misleading advertising and ASHI’s willingness to promote novice inspectors to the public caused InterNACHI to lose potential members and dues revenues. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ASHI, concluding no reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s allegedly false commercial advertising. To this, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals concurred: because InterNACHI did not present any evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that InterNACHI was injured by ASHI’s slogan, the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ASHI. View "Examination Board, et al. v. International Association, et al." on Justia Law
Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center
Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law
Cal-Am Properties, Inc. v. Edais Engineering, Inc.
Cal-Am, a developer and operator of RV and mobile-home parks leased the Yuma Sundance RV Resort from its owner, intending to construct a new banquet and concert hall on the property. The property owner provided the funding for the construction. Cal-Am managed the project. Cal-Am hired a contractor, Nickle, to design and construct the hall, who then hired Edais Engineering to survey the property and place construction stakes to mark the Hall’s permitted location. No contract existed between Edais and Cal-Am. Edais acknowledges that its placement of the stakes was defective. Cal-Am was forced to adjust its site plan, eliminating eight RV parking spaces. Cal-Am sued Edais for claims including negligence. The trial court granted Edais summary judgment on the negligence claim finding that Cal-Am could not recover its purely economic damages. The court of appeals affirmed.The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, repudiating its 1984 Donnelly Construction holding that a design professional’s duty to use ordinary skill, care, and diligence in rendering professional services extends both to persons in privity with the professional and to persons foreseeably affected by a breach of that duty. Under Arizona’s current framework, which repudiated foreseeability as a basis for duty, design professionals lacking privity of contract with project owners do not owe a duty to those owners to reimburse purely economic damages. View "Cal-Am Properties, Inc. v. Edais Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law
Van Boven v. Freshour
The Supreme Court held that the Texas Medical Board is not required by federal law or permitted by Texas law to merely revise an initial report of a temporary sanction, rather than void it, when the Board later finds that the allegations have not been proved.Federal and State law require the Board to report a disciplinary action against a physician to the National Practitioner Data Bank to restrict the ability of incompetent physicians to move from state to state. The Board issued a temporary sanction against Dr. Robert Wayne Van Boven while it investigated misconduct allegations. The Board then issued a final order concluding that Van Boven was not subject to sanctions. Van Bovcen brought this ultra vires action against Board officials directing them to file a Void Report with the Data Bank, which would remove the initial report against him and a subsequent revision-to-action report from disclosure. The trial court denied Defendants' plea to the jurisdiction asserting sovereign immunity. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Board officials' actions in this case were ultra vires and that the officials were not immune from Van Boven's claims. View "Van Boven v. Freshour" on Justia Law
Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners
Dr. Jacob Schmitz appealed a district court judgment affirming the final order of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners (“Board”) imposing discipline against him. He also appealed an order entered after a limited remand denying his motion for post-judgment relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Dr. Schmitz was a chiropractor licensed to practice in North Dakota. He owned and practiced at Freedom Chiropractic Health Center in Fargo, North Dakota. In March 2019 the Board issued an administrative complaint against Dr. Schmitz, alleging he failed to maintain the chiropractic standard of care for patient and clinical billing records in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(3), that Dr. Schmitz’s membership plans were in violation of N.D. Admin Code 17-03-01-05, and that Dr. Schmitz used Noridian Medicare Private Contract and Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN) forms to have patients opt out of Medicare in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(4). The Board requested the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) to appoint an ALJ to conduct an evidentiary hearing and issue recommended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. Both Dr. Schmitz and the Board moved for summary judgment. The ALJ held a telephonic hearing on the competing motions, issued a recommended order granting the Board’s summary judgment motion on each of the claims, and cancelled the previously scheduled evidentiary hearing. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Board’s final order, adopting an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) recommended order for summary judgment, erred in granting summary judgment on the Board’s claims against Dr. Schmitz. The judgment and the Board’s final order were reversed, and the matter remanded to the Board to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to supplement the administrative record. View "Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law