Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Banking
Spring Street Partners v. Lam, et al.
Spring Street, seeking to recover against Bayou and its owner Douglas Lam on defaulted promissory notes, claimed that certain transfers that defendants made were fraudulent: (1) Bayou's transfer of "hard assets" to LT Seafood when LT Seafood took over Bayou's retail operations at the 415 East Hamilton location; (2) Douglas Lam's transfer of his 49% interest in LT Seafood to DKL & DTL; and (3) DKL & DTL's subsequent transfer of this 49% interest to Vinh Ngo. The court concluded that Spring Street could pierce DKL & DTL's corporate veil on the basis of fraud and impose individual liability on the LLC members. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's summary judgment in favor of Spring Street with regard to these claims. However, the court concluded that Ten Lam and Ngo have raised a genuine dispute of fact as to both which "hard assets" Bayou transferred to LT Seafood and the value of those assets on the date of the transfer. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment in regards to Spring Street's fraudulent transfer claim against Lam and Ngo for the amount of $150,000 and remanded for further proceedings. View "Spring Street Partners v. Lam, et al." on Justia Law
Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. USA by Lamesa National Bank
Lamesa filed suit against Liberty Mutual alleging that Liberty Mutual was liable under a federally-required surety bond for the alleged misconduct of its principal, a trustee in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. On appeal, Liberty Mutual appealed the district court's decision to affirm the bankruptcy court's judgment that the trustee had committed gross negligence and Liberty Mutual, as the trustee's surety, was liable for damages under the terms of the bond. The court held that the controlling limitations period in this case was provided by 11 U.S.C. 322(d). Because Liberty Mutual did not contest that Lamesa's claim was timely under that provision, the court affirmed the bankruptcy court's conclusion that Lamesa's suit was not time-barred. On the merits, the court concluded that the bankruptcy court's finding that the trustee was grossly negligent in performing her duties was not clearly erroneous; expert testimony was not necessary to establish that the trustee failed to meet her standard of care; and Liberty Mutual failed to demonstrate that the district court's damage award was clearly erroneous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. USA by Lamesa National Bank" on Justia Law
Bank of America, N.A. v. Knight
Bank of America lost approximately $34 million when the Knight companies went bankrupt. BOA sued, claiming that Knight’s directors and managers looted the firm and that its accountants failed to detect the embezzlement. The district court dismissed. The accountants invoked the protection of Illinois law, 225 ILCS 450/30.1, which provides that an accountant is liable only to its clients unless the accountant itself committed fraud (not alleged in this case) or “was aware that a primary intent of the client was for the professional services to benefit or influence the particular person bringing the action” The court found that BOA did not plausibly allege that the accountants knew that Knight’s “primary intent” was to benefit the Bank in alleging that the accountants knew that Knight would furnish copies of the financial statements to lenders. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting BOA’s choice not to pursue its claims in the bankruptcy process. View "Bank of America, N.A. v. Knight" on Justia Law
French v. Wachovia Bank, N.A.
In 1968 French founded a successful manufacturing firm that he sold, in 1996, for about $200 million. French executed interlocking irrevocable trusts to benefit his four children upon his death. In 2004 he moved the trust accounts to Wachovia Bank. The trusts held two whole life insurance policies. Wachovia replaced the policies with new ones, providing the same benefit for a significantly lower premium, after months of evaluation and consultation with French and his lawyers. Wachovia received a hefty but industry-standard commission for its insurance-brokerage affiliate. French’s adult children sued Wachovia for breach of fiduciary duty by self-dealing. The district court rejected the claim, based on the trust document’s express conflict-of-interest waiver, and held that the transaction was neither imprudent nor undertaken in bad faith. The court ordered the Frenches to pay the bank’s costs and attorney’s fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The trust documents gave Wachovia broad discretion to invest trust property without regard to risk, conflicts of interest, lack of diversification, or unproductivity. The trust instrument overrides the common-law prohibition against self-dealing and displaces the prudent-investor rule. While there is always a duty to administer the trust in good faith, there was no evidence that the bank acted in bad faith. View "French v. Wachovia Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat’l Ass’n
Manning, a lawyer who served as the executor of Barney’s estate and the trustee of a trust for Mrs. Barney, set up accounts at National City Bank, one for the estate and one for the trust. He then wired funds, totaling about $1,250,000, from the bank accounts into the account of his business in violation of his fiduciary duties. Manning’s business failed and Manning confessed to Mrs. Barney that he had absconded with the money from the two accounts. The estate, trust, and Mrs. Barney sued Manning’s law firm in state court, but the suit was rejected on summary judgment. The Barneys then sued the successor to National City Bank to try to recover the money Manning stole. The district court dismissed, citing the affirmative defense of Ohio’s version of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Barneys failed to plead facts giving rise to an inference that the Bank committed any wrongdoing. View "Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat'l Ass'n" on Justia Law
First Ark. Bank & Trust v. Gill Elrod Ragon Owen & Sherman, P.A.
Developers purchased forty acres with the intent to develop it. Appellants secured a mortgage on the property with a bank. Later Developers formed a municipal property owners' district (the District). Law Firm was retained by the District as legal counsel for the proposed issuance of improvement bonds to finance public improvements in the development. At issue in this case were certain bonds issued by the District that were sold to several banks (Appellants). Developer defaulted on payment of the capital improvement use fees on the bonds and subsequently defaulted on the original mortgage, and the property was sold. Appellants sued Law Firm, alleging that Law Firm had a duty to inform Appellants of the mortgage on the real property and that it failed to inform them. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Law Firm. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding that the circuit court (1) correctly found Law Firm was not liable under the Arkansas Security Act; (2) erred in granting judgment on the issue of attorney malpractice; and (3) correctly found Law Firm had no duty to Appellants under contract, negligence, or breach of a fiduciary duty. View "First Ark. Bank & Trust v. Gill Elrod Ragon Owen & Sherman, P.A." on Justia Law
Dunbar, et al v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al
Homeowners challenged the validity of the foreclosure of their home mortgages. The district court dismissed the suit under Rule 12(b)(6). The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the law firm as fraudulently joined and concluded that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal because the doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction was inapplicable. The court concluded that Homeowners' pleadings mirrored those in Karnatcheva v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and affirmed the district court's dismissal. Homeowners have failed to plead factual content that permitted the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct where the pleadings contained nothing but naked assertions that one or more of the named defendants suspected that Wells Fargo lacked legal title to the mortgages yet chose to publish statements to the contrary. The district court was well within its discretion to file sanctions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Dunbar, et al v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al" on Justia Law
Nuveen Mun. Trust v. Withumsmith Brown PC, et al
In connection with a loan, Bayonne provided Nuveen with an audit report authored by accounting firm, Withum and an opinion letter from Bayonne’s counsel, Lindabury. Soon after the transaction, Bayonne filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, 11 U.S.C. 101. Nuveen claimed that the audit report and opinion letter concealed problems with Bayonne’s financial condition and that, had it known about these financial issues, it would not have entered into the transaction. The district court dismissed claims of fraud (Withum), negligent misrepresentation, and malpractice (Lindabury) based on Nuveen’s noncompliance with New Jersey’s Affidavit of Merit statute, N.J. Stat. 2A:53A-26, which requires an affidavit of merit for certain actions against professionals. The Third Circuit remanded for reconsideration of diversity jurisdiction. On remand, the court accepted an argument that the action was “related to” Bayonne’s bankruptcy proceeding, establishing jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1334(b), and again dismissed. The Third Circuit affirmed as to jurisdiction and held that the AOM Statute can be applied by a federal court without conflicting with FRCP 8. If the AOM Statute applies, noncompliance requires dismissal. The court certified to the New Jersey Supreme Court questions relating to the “nature of the injury” and “cause of action” elements of the statute. View "Nuveen Mun. Trust v. Withumsmith Brown PC, et al" on Justia Law
Hamilton v. Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye & Simmons, LLP
Plaintiff was the president and owner of Company. Plaintiff and Company were sued by an employee for sexual harassment, among other claims. Plaintiff retained Law Firm to represent him and Company. The district court entered judgment against Company. The court later granted Company's motion for a new trial, and the parties subsequently settled. Plaintiff was the personal guarantor on the loans and credit lines provided by lenders to Company. After the original jury verdict, banks and lenders refused to continue extending credit to Plaintiff. As a result, Plaintiff's real estate holdings crumbled, causing Plaintiff to lose dozens of commercial and residential properties. Plainiff then sued the attorney who acted as lead defense counsel and Law Firm (collectively, Appellees), contending that Appellees committed a series of negligent errors during their representation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees and dismissed Plaintiff's claims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, holding that Plaintiff failed to show that his loss of net worth was proximately caused by the actions of Appellees. View "Hamilton v. Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye & Simmons, LLP" on Justia Law
Rivers, Jr. v. Wachovia Corp., et al.
Appellant, a former shareholder in Wachovia, sought to recover personally for the decline in value of his shares of Wachovia stock during the recent financial crisis. The district court dismissed the suit, concluding that appellant's complaint stated a claim derivative of injury to the corporation and that he was therefore barred from bringing a direct or individual cause of action against defendants. The court held that because appellant's varied attempts to recast his derivative claim as individual were unavailing, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Rivers, Jr. v. Wachovia Corp., et al." on Justia Law