Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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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

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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