Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
Municipal Workers Compensation Fund, Inc. v. Morgan Keegan & Co.
Municipal Workers Compensation Fund, Inc. ("the Fund"), appealed a circuit court's order denying the Fund's motion to vacate a judgment entered on an arbitration award. The Fund entrusted the management and investment of approximately $50 million in assets to Morgan Asset Management, Inc. ("MAM"), and Morgan Keegan & Company, Inc. ("Morgan Keegan"). MAM served as an investment advisor for a managed account and certain mutual funds owned by the Fund. Morgan Keegan served as the broker-dealer for the Fund's managed account and had the authority as the broker-dealer to execute transactions in that account as directed by the Fund. A second account at Morgan Keegan held the mutual funds that had been sold to the Fund through a Morgan Keegan broker. The Fund stated that it directed MAM and Morgan Keegan to invest its funds conservatively and that it relied on MAM and Morgan Keegan for sound financial advice and management. However, according to the Fund, MAM and Morgan Keegan disregarded this mandate by recommending that the Fund purchase and hold what the Fund says were unsuitable investments, by overconcentrating the Fund's assets in investments that had undue exposure to the sub-prime mortgage market and in other risky investments, and by misrepresenting and failing to disclose material facts pertaining to the investments. The Fund claims that it sustained losses in excess of $15 million in 2007 and 2008 as a result of the actions of MAM and Morgan Keegan. The Fund initiated arbitration proceedings against MAM and Morgan Keegan by filing a statement of claim with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority ("FINRA") pursuant to the arbitration provision contained in its contracts with MAM and Morgan Keegan, asserting claims of breach of fiduciary duty; breach of contract; negligence; fraud; violations of NASD and NYSE Rules; and violations of the Alabama Securities Act. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded from the admissible evidence entered at trial, the Fund established an evident partiality on the part of one of the arbitrators, and that the Fund was entitled to have the judgment entered on the arbitration award vacated. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Municipal Workers Compensation Fund, Inc. v. Morgan Keegan & Co." on Justia Law
Amis v. Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Amis alleged that his former attorneys committed malpractice by “caus[ing]” him to execute a settlement agreement that converted his company’s corporate obligations into Amis’s personal obligations without advising Amis that he had little to no risk of personal liability in the underlying litigation. All advice he received from the attorneys regarding the settlement agreement was given during mediation. The attorneys argued that Amis could not obtain evidence to support his claims, and that the law firm could not produce evidence to defend itself, because the disclosure of such evidence was barred by the mediation confidentiality statutes, Evidence Code section 1115. The trial court agreed on both counts and entered summary judgment for the firm. The court of appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court has broadly applied the mediation confidentiality statutes and all but categorically prohibited judicially crafted exceptions, even in situations where justice seems to call for a different result. View "Amis v. Greenberg Traurig, LLP" on Justia Law
Bezio v. Draeger
When Plaintiff retained a Maine law firm to represent him in a legal action, he signed an attorney-client engagement letter that contained an arbitration provision. Plaintiff later sued the law firm and individual defendants (collectively, Defendants) for malpractice and violations of Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Defendants moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. The district court granted the motion under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred in enforcing the arbitration clause. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the action, as (1) Maine professional responsibility law for attorneys permits arbitration of legal malpractice claims so long as there is no prospective limitation on the law firm's liability; and (2) Maine law, like the FAA, is not hostile to the use of the arbitration forum, and Maine would enforce the arbitration of malpractice claims provision in this case.View "Bezio v. Draeger" on Justia Law
LJL 33rd Street Associates, LLC v. Pitcairn Properties Inc.
These appeals arose out of LJL's exercise of its contractual option to purchase Pitcairn's ownership stake in a jointly owned high-rise luxury residential building in New York City, after which the parties pursued an arbitration to determine the value of the property. Both parties subsequently appealed from the district court's judgment. In LJL's appeal, the court agreed with its contention that the arbitrator's exclusion of Pitcairn's hearsay exhibits was within the arbitrator's authorized discretion and, therefore, vacated the district court's order overturning the arbitrator's determination of the Stated Value. The court agreed with the district court's conclusion that the arbitrator acted in accordance with the terms of the arbitration agreement in refusing to determine the Purchase Price and, therefore, remanded with instructions to confirm the arbitration award in its entirety. In Pitcairn's appeal, the court found no error in the district court's dismissal of Pitcairn's claims for breach of fiduciary duties and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "LJL 33rd Street Associates, LLC v. Pitcairn Properties Inc." on Justia Law
Slater-Moore v. Goeldner
Norma Slater-Moore hired the Goeldner Law Firm and its attorneys to represent her in what ultimately was an unsuccessful lawsuit and its appeal. Slater-Moore and Goeldner entered into two separate contracts during the course of that litigation, both containing nearly identical provisions stating that any attorney-fee disputes would be submitted to arbitration. Slater-Moore later sued Goeldner for legal malpractice and breach of contract, disputing, among other allegations, the amount she was billed for attorney fees. Goeldner successfully moved the Circuit Court to compel arbitration of the attorney-fee dispute, and Slater-Moore appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court found ]no grounds for revocation of a valid agreement to arbitrate the fee dispute, the Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment. View "Slater-Moore v. Goeldner" on Justia Law
HPD LLC v. TETRA Techs., Inc.
HPD, LLC and TETRA Technologies Inc. entered into an agreement for HPD to supply equipment to be used in TETRA's future facility. The contract contained a provision for binding arbitration. After the construction of the plant was completed, TETRA filed a complaint against HPD, alleging that the equipment designed by HPD did not perform to expectations. TETRA also sought a declaratory judgment that the contract and the embedded arbitration clause were illegal and thus void because HPD performed engineering services without obtaining a certificate of authorization as allegedly required by Ark. Code Ann. 17-30-303. HPD moved to compel arbitration. After a hearing, the circuit court rule in TETRA's favor that it would determine the threshold issues of arbitrability before deciding whether the case must proceed to arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the entry of an order compelling arbitration, holding that the circuit court erred by not honoring the parties' clear expression of intent to arbitrate the existing disputes. View "HPD LLC v. TETRA Techs., Inc." on Justia Law
Hodges v. Reasonover
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on a binding arbitration clause in an attorney-client retainer agreement and whether that clause was enforceable where the client filed suit for legal malpractice. This case presented two important countervailing public policies: Louisiana and federal law explicitly favor the enforcement of arbitration clauses in written contracts; by the same token, Louisiana law also imposes a fiduciary duty "of the highest order" requiring attorneys to act with "the utmost fidelity and forthrightness" in their dealings with clients, and any contractual clause which may limit the client's rights against the attorney is subject to close scrutiny. After its careful study, the Supreme Court held there is no per se rule against arbitration clauses in attorney-client retainer agreements, provided the clause is fair and reasonable to the client. However, the attorneys' fiduciary obligation to the client encompasses ethical duties of loyalty and candor, which in turn require attorneys to fully disclose the scope and the terms of the arbitration clause. An attorney must clearly explain the precise types of disputes the arbitration clause is meant to cover and must set forth, in plain language, those legal rights the parties will give up by agreeing to arbitration. In this case, the Defendants did not make the necessary disclosures, thus, the arbitration clause was unenforceable. Accordingly, the judgment of the lower courts was affirmed. View "Hodges v. Reasonover" on Justia Law
Biller v. Toyota Motor Corp., et al.
Plaintiff, the former in-house counsel for Toyota Motor Corp. (TMS), presented TMS with a claim asserting, inter alia, constructive wrongful discharge related to TMS's alleged unethical discovery practices. TMS and plaintiff settled the claims and entered into a Severance Agreement. TMS subsequently sued in state superior court seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) and permanent injunctive relieve to prevent plaintiff from violating the attorney-client privilege and plaintiff filed a cross complaint for a TRO and a permanent injunction prohibiting TMS from interfering with his business practices and those of his consulting business. The court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 1 et seq., governed the Severance Agreement; the FAA authorized limited review of the Final Award; and the arbitrator did not manifestly disregard the law governing the Severance Agreement where the arbitrator's writing was sufficient under the terms of the Severance Agreement and the arbitrator did not manifestly disregard California law in addressing plaintiff's affirmative defenses. The court also held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiff's contempt motion. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Biller v. Toyota Motor Corp., et al." on Justia Law
Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins.
St. Paul appealed from the district court's grant of a petition by Scandinavian to vacate an arbitral award in St. Paul's favor and denying a cross-petition by St. Paul to confirm the same award. St. Paul had initiated the arbitration to resolve a dispute concerning the interpretation of the parties' reinsurance contract. The principal issue on appeal was whether the failure of two arbitrators to disclose their concurrent service as arbitrators in another, arguably similar, arbitration constituted "evident partiality" within the meaning of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2). The court concluded, under the circumstances, that the fact of the arbitrators' overlapping service in both the Platinum Arbitration and the St. Paul Arbitration did not, in itself, suggest that they were predisposed to rule in any particular way in the St. Paul Arbitration. As a result, their failure to disclose that concurrent service was not indicative of evident partiality. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded with instruction to the district court to affirm the award. View "Scandinavian Reinsurance Co. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins." on Justia Law
BDO Seidman, LLP v. SSW Holding Co.
SSW Holding filed a complaint against BDO Seidman and other defendants, asserting several causes of action and seeking damages arising from a tax-advantaged investment strategy involving investments in distressed debt that SSW entered into and utilized on its federal tax returns for the 2001-2005 tax years. BDO filed an amended motion to compel arbitration and stay the motion, asserting that it and SSW entered into two consulting agreements that provided for arbitration before the American Arbitration Association. The circuit court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) SSW's claims fell within the scope of the arbitration provisions; and (2) the circuit court erred in finding that the arbitration provisions were unenforceable and invalid due to fraud and procedural and substantive unconscionability. Remanded. View "BDO Seidman, LLP v. SSW Holding Co." on Justia Law