Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
by
At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was a trial court’s order denying immunity to Defendant New Century Hospice, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Defendants Legacy Hospice, LLC, d/b/a New Century Hospice of Denver, LLC, and Legacy Hospice of Colorado Springs, LLC (collectively, “New Century”). New Century argued it was entitled to immunity under four different statutes. Tana Edwards filed suit against New Century (her former employer) and Kathleen Johnson, the Director of Operations for New Century Castle Rock (collectively, “Defendants”). As part of her employment with New Century, Edwards provided in-home care to an elderly patient. In December 2019, Johnson began to suspect that Edwards was diverting pain medications from the patient. Defendants reported the suspected drug diversion to the Castle Rock Police Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“CDPHE”). Defendants also lodged a complaint against Edwards’s nursing license with the Colorado Board of Nursing (“the Board”). After investigations, no criminal charges were filed and no formal disciplinary actions were taken against Edwards. Edwards subsequently brought this action against Defendants, alleging claims for negligent supervision and negligent hiring against New Century, as well as claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against New Century and Johnson. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion as to Edwards’s claims for negligent hiring, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, finding that the claims were either time-barred or could not be proven. Three of the statutes New Century cited for its immunity claim, 12-20-402(1), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Professions Act”), 12-255-123(2), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Nurse Practice Act”), and 18-6.5-108(3), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Mandatory Reporter statute”), only authorized immunity for a “person.” Relying on the plain meaning of “person,” the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to immunity under these three statutes because it was a corporation, not a person. The fourth statute, 18-8-115, C.R.S. (2022) (“the Duty to Report statute”), explicitly entitled corporations to immunity, but only if certain conditions were met. Applying the plain language of the statute, the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to summary judgment on the issue of immunity under this statute because it did not carry its burden of demonstrating that all such conditions were met. View "In re Edwards v. New Century Hospice" on Justia Law

by
Holly Rich brought a legal malpractice action against her attorneys, Hepworth Holzer, LLP, and E. Craig Daue and Daue Buxbaum, PLLC (“Daue Buxbaum”) (collectively, “Respondents”), regarding their legal representation of Rich in an underlying medical malpractice action against Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (“EIRMC”), Dr. John Lassetter (a cardiologist), and Dr. Charles Phillips (an intensivist) (collectively, “EIRMC providers”). In that action, Rich's claims against the EIRMC providers failed because they were filed after the statute of limitations expired. Rich alleged in this action that those claims were not filed on time because of Respondents’ legal malpractice. Both sides filed substantive motions for summary judgment and the district court found that Rich could not prevail because she had “not disclosed any expert [medical] testimony which complies with the requirements of Idaho law for admissibility.” The district court concluded that, lacking evidence to “set out a prima facie case of medical malpractice,” in the underlying case, Rich’s claim against Respondents for legal malpractice failed. Rich appealed. The Idaho Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed. View "Rich v. Hepworth Holzer" on Justia Law

by
Appellant, an attorney, represented debtor in proceedings before the United States Bankruptcy Court. After Appellant failed to comply with a series of discovery orders, the bankruptcy court imposed sanctions of $55,000 for 55 days of non-compliance and $36,600 in attorneys' fees. The orders were affirmed by the district court. Appellant appealed, arguing that, first, the bankruptcy court lacked inherent authority to issue civil contempt sanctions, and second, as a matter of due process, he was not provided with sufficient notice of the basis for the sanctions imposed against him.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the civil contempt sanctions imposed against Appellant were within the scope of the bankruptcy court's discretion and that he had ample notice of the basis and reasons for the imposition of sanctions. The court explained that it appears that Appellant could not have been sanctioned under any express authority; the bankruptcy court was right to consider its inherent contempt authority. Nor was the bankruptcy court's exercise of its inherent contempt authority contrary to any provision of the Bankruptcy Code, including Section 105(a). Further, the court reasoned that the bankruptcy court found all the necessary elements -- that is, a finding of bad faith and satisfaction of the King factors -- to order contempt sanctions in the circumstances here, where Appellant was acting as an advocate. View "In re: Larisa Ivanovna Markus" on Justia Law

by
Appellant Attorney Kezhaya represented The Satanic Temple, Inc., in its lawsuits against the City of Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The Temple sued the City, claiming that the City opened a limited public forum for a Christian monument, but closed the forum to exclude a Satanic monument. The City sought $33,886.80 in attorney’s fees incurred by responding to the complaint in the second lawsuit and preparing the motion for sanctions. The court determined that the rates charged by the City’s counsel were reasonable but observed that a portion of the work was duplicative of the first lawsuit and that the issues unique to the second lawsuit were not complex, novel, or difficult. The court thus reduced the requested amount by fifty percent and ordered the Temple’s counsel to pay the City $16,943.40 under Rule 11(c). Kezhaya appealed the sanctions order. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by (i) imposing sanctions, (ii) failing to consider non-monetary sanctions, and (iii) granting an arbitrary amount of sanctions.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the circumstances, it disagreed with Kezhaya’s contention about the righteousness of a second lawsuit. For the claims dismissed “without prejudice” in the first lawsuit, Kezhaya and the Temple made a strategic choice to seek leave to amend the complaint to correct the deficiencies identified in the dismissal order. Further, the court found that even if the City’s insurance carrier ultimately paid the fees, the fees were “incurred” for the motion and could be awarded under Rule 11(c)(2). View "Matthew Kezhaya v. City of Belle Plaine" on Justia Law

by
The Center for Scientific Integrity (CSI) was an organization that reported on academic retractions and accountability. CSI wrote an article about plaintiff-respondent Constance Iloh, a professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), after several academic journals retracted articles Iloh had written due to concerns about possible plagiarism or inaccurate citation references. In a follow-up to that article, CSI sent UCI a records request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) requesting Iloh’s postpublication communications with the journals and UCI. Iloh petitioned for a writ of mandate, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief against UCI to prevent disclosure of her communications, and later added CSI as a real party in interest. She then filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent disclosure. Meanwhile, CSI filed a motion to strike Iloh’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute. The Court of Appeal’s first opinion in this case concerned Iloh’s motion for preliminary injunction. The trial court denied that motion on the grounds that Iloh had not established a likelihood of prevailing on the merits, and the Court affirmed that order. In this case, the Court considered CSI’s anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court denied the motion, finding that although protected activity may have led to the petition, it was not the “basis” for the petition. To this, the Court disagreed: in issuing the CPRA request, CSI was engaging in newsgathering so it could report on matters of public interest, such as how a public university funded largely by taxpayer dollars resolved quality or integrity problems in its professors’ publications. CSI was therefore engaged in protected activity when it issued the CPRA request. Iloh filed her petition for mandamus relief to prevent UCI from complying with the CPRA request. “This is the type of lawsuit the anti-SLAPP statute is designed to address, and it should be stricken if Iloh cannot demonstrate a probability of prevailing on her petition.” The Court of Appeal found the trial court had not performed the second prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis. Therefore, the Court reversed the order denying CSI’s anti-SLAPP motion and remanded this case with directions that the trial court consider prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Iloh v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

by
Pretrial detainee Wilson complained to Philadelphia Federal Detention Center medical staff about a lump on his testicle in November 2017. They allegedly stated that such a lump was probably cancerous. Wilson subsequently complained that his condition worsened but received no further treatment. Wilson was transferred to Bureau of Prisons custody, where a urologist determined in February 2018 that the lump was cancerous. Wilson's right testicle was surgically removed. Wilson believed that if his cancer had been addressed earlier, treatment would not have involved chemotherapy and surgery.Wilson alleged medical negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA). The court granted extensions for Wilson (pro se) to act on Pennsylvania Rule 1042.3, which requires medical malpractice plaintiffs to certify either that they have expert support for their claims or will proceed without an expert. Wilson explained that he wanted an expert but conceded the impossibility of obtaining one during the pandemic prison lockdowns. He stated that his medical records would demonstrate that his injury “was not inevitable" and specifically identified documents as discoverable material to substantiate his allegations, The court granted the government summary judgment stating that, while a factfinder could find without expert testimony that the delay in treatment was unreasonable, the issue of whether the delay caused the need to remove Wilson’s testicle required expert testimony.The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the FTCA does not incorporate Rule 1042.3. Wilson did not otherwise have an adequate opportunity to seek out an expert or conduct discovery due to his unique position as a pro se inmate during the pandemic. View "Wilson v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs appealed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant on their legal-malpractice and Vermont Consumer Protection Act (VCPA) claims. Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC (MBP) owned property abutting Lake Champlain in Colchester, Vermont, and leased the property to Malletts Bay Homeowner’s Association, Inc. Under the lease, the Association had the obligation to keep the property in good condition. In 2011, following major erosion damage on a portion of the embankment on the lakefront, MBP’s manager notified the Association it was in default for failing to maintain the property and gave the Association forty-five days to make specified, substantial repairs. After the Association failed to make the repairs, MBP filed a complaint against the Association seeking damages and to void the lease for the Association’s violation of its terms. The Association retained defendant Heilmann, Ekman, Cooley & Gagnon, Inc. In the following months, the Association took steps to address MBP’s complaints. However, following a bench trial, the trial court concluded that the Association breached the lease and was in default but declined to grant MBP’s request for lease forfeiture. Instead, it awarded MBP damages for remediation and attorney’s fees and costs. Both parties appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision, concluding that the Association breached the lease and that MBP was entitled to termination of the lease. Ultimately, the lease was terminated, and the Association’s members were evicted. Members then sued the Association, alleging that it was negligent in its administration of the provisions of the lease requiring it to keep the property in good condition. Members and the Association settled in 2018. As part of the settlement, the Association assigned members its right to sue defendant for legal malpractice. The Association and members filed a complaint against defendant in the instant case in December 2019, alleging legal malpractice and a violation of the VCPA. The crux of their legal-malpractice claim is a lost opportunity to settle. They proposed that, had defendant tried to settle, the Association and MBP would have likely agreed to terms involving repairs and payment of MBP’s attorney’s fees thus avoiding lease termination and eviction of the Association’s members. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded summary judgment was appropriate on the legal-malpractice claim but not on the VCPA claim, and thus reversed and remanded. View "Mansfield, et al. v. Heilmann, Ekman, Cooley & Gagnon, Inc." on Justia Law

by
Relator John Hendrix and five public-agency exemplar plaintiffs claim that J-M Manufacturing Co. (“J-M”) violated the federal and various state False Claims Acts (“FCAs”) by representing that its polyvinyl chloride (“PVC”) pipes were compliant with industry standards. In Phase One of a bifurcated trial, a jury found that J-M knowingly made false claims that were material to the public agencies’ decisions to purchase J-M pipe. After the jury was unable to reach a verdict in Phase Two, the district court granted J-M judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”) on actual damages and awarded one statutory penalty for each project involved in plaintiffs’ claims.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that sufficient evidence of falsity, materiality, and scienter supported the Phase One verdict. A reasonable jury could conclude that plaintiffs received some pipe not meeting industry standards. Further, the jury reasonably found that plaintiffs would not have purchased or installed J-M pipe had they been told the truth that J-M knew it had stopped producing pipes through processes materially similar to those used at the time of compliance testing and also knew that a significant amount of the pipe later produced did not meet industry standards. Plaintiffs’ failure to prove that any individual stick of pipe that they received was non-compliant did not mean that they failed to establish scienter. The panel held that the district court properly awarded JM judgment as a matter of law on actual damages under the federal False Claims Act. Plaintiffs did not establish actual damages by showing that they would not have bought the pipe had they known the truth. View "JOHN HENDRIX, ET AL V. J-M MANUFACTURING CO., INC., ET AL" on Justia Law

by
Mac Naughton, a New Jersey attorney, represented Harmelech in a lawsuit filed by RMG until Harmelech failed to pay his legal fees. Mac Naughton later purchased from RMG the rights to the unpaid portion of a settlement judgment and filed multiple actions against Harmelech, seeking to collect the Judgment. He sought to set aside Harmelech’s conveyance of his Highland Park home to his son. Harmelech moved to disqualify Mac Naughton under New Jersey Rule of Professional Conduct 1.9(a): A lawyer who has represented a client “shall not thereafter represent another client in … a substantially related matter in which that client’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client.” Judge Holderman barred Mac Naughton from acting as counsel in efforts to collect the RMG Judgment. Mac Naughton continued prosecuting the matter and filed similar actions before different judges. The Highland Park action was dismissed as a sanction for Mac Naughton’s defiance of the Order. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissals of four other cases.Mac Naughton then sued Harmelech, seeking to set aside a purportedly fraudulent stock transfer to collect the RMG Judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the suit's dismissal. This lawsuit was another attempt to circumvent the Holderman Order. Mac Naughton again argued that he did not violate Rule 1.9(a); he expects a New Jersey proceeding to vindicate him. But this dismissal was based on the Holderman Order, not Rule 1.9(a). Whether or not Mac Naughton violated his ethical duties as a New Jersey lawyer, he has a duty to comply with orders issued by Seventh Circuit courts. The appeal was frivolous; sanctions are warranted. View "Mac Naughton v. Asher Ventures, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court quashed the decision of the superior court granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the former codefendants who settled Plaintiffs' claims, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion.In granting Defendant's motion to compel production, the trial justice concluded that the amount paid in accordance with the settlement agreement was not discoverable "pursuant to Rhode Island and federal law." When Plaintiffs failed to comply with the order the superior court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court quashed the decision below and remanded the case, holding that the trial justice abused her discretion in granting Defendant's motion to compel production of a complete, unreacted copy of the settlement agreement. View "Noonan v. Sambandam" on Justia Law