Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Bradley v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
Plaintiff and his medical corporation appeal from the trial court's order of his motion for a preliminary injunction against CVS. In June 2020, CVS stopped filling plaintiff's prescriptions for controlled substances for his patients, citing concerns about his prescribing patterns. The trial court denied the injunction on several grounds, including the conclusion that plaintiff should have first sought relief from the California State Board of Pharmacy (Board).The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's conclusion, which was based on the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies, on the alternative, but closely related ground under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. In this case, the Board has primary jurisdiction to consider the particular statutory obligations underlying plaintiff's injunction motion. The court concluded that the trial court correctly recognized that an order requiring CVS to honor particular prescriptions would involve judgments concerning the statutory obligations of pharmacists that the Board is both expected and equipped to resolve. Furthermore, the Board is also empowered to issue an abatement order, if warranted, that would perform the equivalent role of an injunction in providing the relief that plaintiff seeks. Accordingly, the trial court reasonably ruled that plaintiff should first seek relief from the Board before pursuing his claims in court. View "Bradley v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law
White v. Molfetta
Appellant Sekayi White was an incarcerated and self-represented plaintiff who filed suit after his criminal defense lawyer, respondent Michael Molfetta, failed to respond to repeated requests for his case file. Having exhausted all avenues of direct state appeal of his conviction, White wanted to use the file to help him prepare petitions for collateral habeas relief. Molfetta received White’s letters, but believed he was prohibited from producing the file because it included protected materials. Instead of explaining the problem directly to his former client and producing the unprotected parts of the file, Molfetta effectively ignored the letters. Molfetta produced the file, minus protected materials, only after being ordered to do so by the trial judge in the underlying litigation here. By the time of the production, White’s deadline to file a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus had expired; his petition in the state court was also denied. White sued to recoup the money he spent reconstructing the file, later asking for emotional distress damages. He got neither. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in Molfetta’s favor, “but we publish in the hope the embarrassment we feel about the case can lead to improvement. … absent a miscarriage of justice (of which we have no evidence here) our moral and professional assessments, however deeply felt, cannot create a cause of action in tort. As explained herein, we must agree with the trial court: White failed to adequately plead and prove injury from Molfetta’s wrongful behavior.” View "White v. Molfetta" on Justia Law
O’Shea v. Lindenberg
Plaintiff Michael O’Shea hired attorney Susan Lindenberg to represent him in a child support action. After O’Shea’s ex-wife was awarded what he believed to be an excessive amount of child support, he filed this action, alleging Lindenberg should have retained a forensic accountant. The case went to trial and the jury concluded, in a special verdict, that Lindenberg owed a professional duty of care that she breached. The jury was unable to agree, however, on whether the breach of duty caused him damage, and the judge declared a mistrial. Lindenberg moved for a directed verdict on the grounds that the evidence presented at trial did not support a finding of causation, specifically, that without the alleged malpractice, O’Shea would have received a better result. The trial court agreed and directed a verdict in Lindenberg’s favor. After review, the Court of Appeal found O’Shea failed to present sufficient testimony on the issue of causation, and therefore affirmed the directed verdict. View "O'Shea v. Lindenberg" on Justia Law
Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. Macias
In 2014, ALADS filed suit against defendants for breaches of their fiduciary duty to ALADS as members of its board of directors. ALADS obtained a temporary restraining order requiring the return of $100,000, and several weeks later a preliminary injunction preventing Defendant Macias from claiming to be a director. In 2018, the trial court entered judgment for ALADS, awarding damages sustained by ALADS and a permanent injunction, but found ALADS did not have standing to recover monetary compensation for its members. Afterwards, ALADs sought cost-of-proof sanctions, which the trial court denied. Both parties appealed.The Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court did not err in its conclusion that defendants breached their fiduciary duties to ALADS, or in its award of damages for harm to ALADS (except in one very minor respect), or in its award of a permanent injunction. However, the trial court did err when it concluded that ALADS did not have standing to seek the $7.8 million in damages on behalf of its members. The court explained that ALADS proved those damages without objection from defendants and had standing to do so. The court further concluded that ALADS was entitled to cost-of-proof sanctions. Accordingly, the court amended the judgment to include the $7.8 million in damages to ALADS's members, affirmed the judgment as amended, and remanded for the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of cost-of-proof sanctions. View "Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs v. Macias" on Justia Law
Michaels v. Greenberg Traurig, LLP
Appellants, Jillian Michaels and Empowered Media, filed suit against respondents, a law firm and its shareholder partner, for nine causes of action, including legal malpractice. The legal malpractice claim involved negotiating a branding contract with a diet supplement company called ThinCare. The trial court granted respondents' motions for summary judgment on six of the nine causes of action. Appellants subsequently moved to dismiss the remaining causes of action, which the trial court granted.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding portions of appellants' expert witness's declaration on damages. In reviewing the evidence, the court concluded that appellants have met their burden of establishing a material factual dispute on causation and their burden of establishing materiality on damages. Furthermore, appellants are not barred from recovery under the doctrine of unclean hands. Finally, the court concluded that there is a statute of limitations question involving materially disputed facts that cannot be resolved by a summary adjudication motion. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court court's grant of summary adjudication on the causes of action for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, declaratory relief to rescind and void litigation agreement, and negligent misrepresentation. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Michaels v. Greenberg Traurig, LLP" on Justia Law
People v. Sommer
Sommer, a psychologist at a mental health clinic on a military base, sexually assaulted three patients under the guise of using “exposure therapy.” A jury convicted Sommer of several felonies, including sexual battery by fraudulent representation (Pen. Code, 243.4(c)). The trial court sentenced him to state prison.The court of appeal affirmed. Sufficient evidence supports the sexual battery by fraud conviction. Confusion is not surprising when a professional unexpectedly touches the sexual parts of the victim’s body during purported professional treatment. Confusion or doubt about the purpose of the touching does not preclude a conviction as long as the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim allowed the touching to occur because of the defendant’s fraudulent misrepresentation of a professional purpose. The prosecutor did not misstate the law during his closing argument by saying: “Confusion is unconsciousness.” The court properly instructed the jury with CALCRIM No. 1191B, regarding consideration of charged sex offenses. The court did not err by refusing to release portions of the victims’ sealed mental health records; the undisclosed information “was not material to the defense.” View "People v. Sommer" on Justia Law
Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct.
The People of the State of California, by and through the Santa Clara County Counsel, the Orange County District Attorney, the Los Angeles County Counsel, and the Oakland City Attorney, filed suit against various pharmaceutical companies involved in the manufacture, marketing, distribution, and sale of prescription opioid medications. The People alleged the defendants made false and misleading statements as part of a deceptive marketing scheme designed to minimize the risks of opioid medications and inflate their benefits. The People alleged this scheme caused a public health crisis in California by dramatically increasing opioid prescriptions, opioid use, opioid abuse, and opioid-related deaths. In their suit, the People allege causes of action for violations of the False Advertising Law, and the public nuisance statutes. After several years of litigation, the defendants served business record subpoenas on four nonparty state agencies: the California State Board of Registered Nursing (Nursing Board), the California State Board of Pharmacy (Pharmacy Board), the Medical Board of California (Medical Board), and the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The Pharmacy Board, the Medical Board, and the DOJ served objections to the subpoenas. The Nursing Board filed a motion for a protective order seeking relief from the production obligations of its subpoena. After further litigation, which is recounted below, the trial court ordered the state agencies to produce documents in response to the subpoenas. In consolidated proceedings, the state agencies challenged the trial court's orders compelling production of documents. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the motions to compel against the Pharmacy Board and Medical Board were untimely, and the defendants were required to serve consumer notices on at least the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care professionals whose identities would be disclosed in the administrative records, investigatory files, and coroner’s reports. Furthermore, the Court concluded the requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files, were overbroad and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. "The requests for complete administrative records and investigatory files also ran afoul of the constitutional right to privacy and the statutory official information and deliberative process privileges." The trial court was directed to vacate its orders compelling production of documents, and to enter new orders denying the motions to compel and, for the Nursing Board, granting its motion for a protective order. View "Board of Registered Nursing v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
Center Healthcare Ed. & Res. v. Internat. Cong. Joint Reconst.
In 2009, the president of the International Congress for Joint Reconstruction, Inc. (ICJR) retained Mark Sacaris, part owner of the Center for Healthcare Education and Research, Inc. (CHE), to assist ICJR in producing medical education conferences on the subject of joint-reconstruction surgery. Their agreement was unwritten, and there was no discussion of the rates ICJR would be charged. Sacaris was given full control over ICJR’s money accounts as part of the arrangement. Sacaris used ICJR’s money accounts to pay CHE’s invoices without notifying ICJR’s board members of the amounts ICJR was being charged. Over time, and also without informing the board of ICJR, he increased the scope of CHE’s services, thereby creating additional sources of profit for CHE, and indirectly for himself, but he did not disclose his interest in these arrangements to ICJR. Eventually the ICJR board was informed by Sacaris that ICJR had amassed a $2 million to CHE. ICJR terminated its relationship with Sacaris and CHE. CHE filed suit to recover amounts it claimed it was owed by ICJR under the agreement. ICJR cross-sued Sacaris and CHE, asserting Sacaris secretly profited from his relationship with ICJR. After a bench trial, the court found ICJR liable to CHE for breach of contract. Although the court also found that CHE and Sacaris breached their fiduciary duties to ICJR in earning all four categories of the profits ICJR sought to disgorge, the court awarded ICJR recovery only as to categories two and four. On appeal, ICJR contended the trial court erred in determining that ICJR could not recover disgorgement of CHE and Sacaris’s profits from their undisclosed charges for management services without proof their breach of fiduciary duties caused ICJR to suffer monetary damages. The Court of Appeal agreed ICJR was not required to show it suffered monetary harm to establish a right to disgorgement of CHE and Sacaris' profits from undisclosed charges for event management services. The Court of Appeal reversed that portion of the judgment affected by the error and remanded for the trial court to determine the appropriate amount of the award of disgorgement. However, the Court rejected ICJR’s claim that the court erred in determining that running symposia for pharmaceutical companies was not a corporate opportunity of ICJR. View "Center Healthcare Ed. & Res. v. Internat. Cong. Joint Reconst." on Justia Law
Moore v. Superior Court
While representing a client at a mandatory settlement conference (MSC) before a temporary judge, petitioner Kevin Moore was rude and unprofessional. Among other things, Moore: (1) persistently yelled at and interrupted other participants; (2) accused opposing counsel of lying while providing no evidence to support his accusation; (3) refused to engage in settlement discussions; and (4) effectively prevented the settlement officer from invoking the aid and authority of the supervising judge by asserting this would unlawfully divulge settlement information. To make matters worse, Moore later acknowledged that his contemptuous behavior was the result of a tactical decision he had made to act in such a manner in advance of the MSC. After a hearing, respondent court convicted Moore of four counts of civil contempt, imposed a $900 fine for each count ($3,600 total), and ordered the payment of attorney fees and costs to the opposing party. Moore challenged all four contempt convictions and the associated sanctions. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the record and applicable law required that three of Moore’s convictions be overturned; the Court affirmed one conviction and the punishment required for that offense. The clerk of the appeallate court was ordered to make the required notification to the State Bar for whatever additional action the Bar may consider appropriate. The award of attorney fees and costs here was precluded by statute. View "Moore v. Superior Court" on Justia Law
Yazdi v. Dental Board of California
The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of appellant's petition for writ of administrative mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. The trial court affirmed the Dental Board's decision to revoke appellant's dental license but stay the revocation and place him on probation for five years.The court held that Conservatorship of O.B. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 989, does not overturn the standard to be applied by the trial court in reviewing an administrative proceeding pursuant to a petition for writ of administrative mandate under section 1094.5. The court also held that substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding concerning the failure to use study models, appellant's failure to obtain informed written consent prior to treatment of four young patients, issues with professional fees, issues with patient record requests, issues with the treatment of a certain patient, and the discipline imposed. View "Yazdi v. Dental Board of California" on Justia Law