Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
BrunoBuilt, Inc. v. Erstad Architects, PA
The issue this case presented for the Idaho Supreme Court's review centered on a residence in the Boise foothills that was damaged by a landslide, which ultimately prevented the builder from obtaining a certificate of occupancy. BrunoBuilt, Inc., the general contractor of the project, sued multiple parties, including Erstad Architects, PA, the architectural firm for the project, Andrew Erstad, the principal architect, and Cheryl Pearse, the project manager from Erstad Architects, PA (collectively, Defendants), for professional negligence in connection with work completed for construction of the residence. Defendants successfully moved for summary judgment on the basis that the two-year statute of limitations in Idaho Code section 5-219(4) barred BrunoBuilt’s claim. Two years after the district court issued its memorandum decision and order granting summary judgment, BrunoBuilt moved the district court for reconsideration, citing new evidence and arguments. The district court denied the motion for reconsideration, concluding it was “untimely, lacking in diligence, and improper.” BrunoBuilt then appealed, challenging the decision of the district court on summary judgment and additionally asserting that the court erred in an earlier order deconsolidating the cases with other defendants. Prior to oral argument, Defendants moved the Supreme Court to sanction counsel for BrunoBuilt pursuant to Idaho Appellate Rule 11.2 for non-disclosure of material procedural facts in its opening brief. After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision granting summary judgment against BrunoBuilt, and agreed that the conduct of BrunoBuilt’s attorney on appeal ran afoul of Rule 11.2, and imposed sanctions. View "BrunoBuilt, Inc. v. Erstad Architects, PA" on Justia Law
Kirchmeyer v. Helios Psychiatry Inc.
A patient filed a complaint concerning Dr. Dore, a Board-certified psychiatrist. The Board discovered suspected irregularities in Dore's prescription of controlled substances. Dore declined to answer questions. The Board served her with an investigative subpoena seeking medical records supporting the prescription of the controlled substances to a family member and with investigative interrogatories requesting information about the family member's treatment and employment with Dore. Dore refused to produce the records and objected to the interrogatories. Her family member objected to the subpoena.The Board sought an order compelling compliance and provided reports from the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database. A Board-certified psychiatrist opined it was necessary to obtain the family member’s medical records to evaluate whether Dore complied with the standard of care, noting an AMA ethics opinion counseling physicians against treating family members except in emergencies. Dore's expert, a psychiatrist and licensed California attorney, disagreed with the assertion that prescribing controlled substances to family members presumptively violates the standard of care. The family member explained his reason for seeking treatment from Dore, identifying the medications she prescribed, and describing the treatment she provided.The court of appeal affirmed the trial court, which ordered compliance, impliedly concluding the Board established good cause to justify the production of the family member’s private medical information. The Board had a compelling interest in investigating Dore’s allegedly improper conduct. View "Kirchmeyer v. Helios Psychiatry Inc." on Justia Law
Fox v. Hughston, et al.
Erica Fox appealed a circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of her former criminal-defense attorneys, Harold Hughston, III and Sheila Morgan. In 2016, Ronnie Credille murdered Fox's husband, Jason Fox. Credille shot Jason in the head as he entered the doorway of the residence that he shared with Fox and their children. Fox and Credille were alleged to have been involved in an adulterous relationship. A grand jury indicted Fox for capital murder on January 12, 2017. The trial court presiding over the criminal action declared Fox indigent and appointed Hughston and Morgan to represent her. Fox was convicted for capital murder, for which she received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Fox contended that, at the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, she made it clear to her defense attorneys that she wanted to appeal her conviction and sentence and that they represented to her that a notice of appeal had been perfected. Despite that representation, there was no oral notice of appeal contained in the transcript of the sentencing hearing. The attorneys moved for a new trial on Fox's behalf; that motion was denied by operation of law approximately one month later. The trial court nevertheless held a hearing on the motion, in which the motion was formally denied. This denial ended up being void for the trial court's want of jurisdiction. Because the deadline by which Fox was required to file a written notice of appeal of her conviction and sentence was calculated from the date on which her motion for a new trial was denied by operation of law, her written notice of appeal was due to be filed on or before March 11, 2019. After the trial court denied Fox's motion for a new trial, the attorneys moved to withdraw from representing Fox. Fox received an appointed appellate counsel, Charlie Bottoms, who attempted to get the appeals court to reinstate the appeal or order a new sentencing hearing. Fox ultimately sued her trial attorneys for legal malpractice for not lodging the appeal at trial. The Alabama Supreme Court concluded Fox failed to demonstrate any statutory tolling provision applied in her case, therefore it granted the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the defense attorneys. View "Fox v. Hughston, et al." on Justia Law
In Re: Ali M. Shamsiddeen
Attorney Ali Muhammad Shamsiddeen appealed a trial court’s Order of Contempt and Order Denying Motion for Recusal. Michael Sorrell was convicted of one count of first degree murder and one count of felon in possession of a firearm. The Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed Sorrell’s conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. After numerous continuances, Sorrell’s new trial was scheduled for April 5, 2021. On the morning of trial, Sorrell’s then-counsel, Kevin Camp, failed to appear. Camp was terminated as defense counsel. On April 13, Shamsiddeen entered an appearance as counsel for Sorrell. By agreement of all parties, the trial was rescheduled for September 27. The trial court advised that no further continuances would be granted and that the case would proceed to trial on the 27th. On August 18, Shamsiddeen moved ore tenus for a continuance, which was denied. On August 31, Shamsiddeen filed a motion to continue trial. At the pretrial motion hearing on September 1, Shamsiddeen reasserted his motion to continue. The trial court denied the motion. On September 21, Shamsiddeen contacted the court administrator and advised that he had the coronavirus and would not be able to appear at the pretrial conference scheduled for September 22. Shamsiddeen was instructed to provide to the trial court documentation “from a healthcare provider that counsel [wa]s infected with the coronavirus and that he [wa]s symptomatic not asymptomatic.” On the morning of September 22, Shamsiddeen did not appear in person or virtually at the pretrial conference. Later that morning, Shamsiddeen emailed the court administrator a statement from a medical provider dated September 21. The statement not include a diagnosis or confirm any medical condition, only that the nature of the illness or injury was “medical” and that Shamsiddeen would “be able to return to work/school on 10-11-21.” On the day before trial, Shamsiddeen sent an email to the trial court noting that he was quarantining; he did not appear in court for trial. Before the jury panels were released, Shamsiddeen had someone from the City of Jackson’s legal department hand deliver a medical statement, dated September 27, identical to the September 21 medical statement with the exception of the word “quarantine” added to the nature of the illness or injury. The trial court thereafter entered the orders of contempt at issue here. The Mississippi Supreme Court found no reversible error in the orders and affirmed them. View "In Re: Ali M. Shamsiddeen" on Justia Law
Vaughan v. Lewisville Indep Sch Dist
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Lewisville Independent School District (“LISD”) and seven school board members, alleging that the district’s at-large election system violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”) and seeking injunctive relief. The district court determined that Plaintiff lacked standing to bring his Section 2 claim because he is white. The district court then granted Defendants’ motion for sanctions against Plaintiff, his attorneys, and their law firm based on the findings that Plaintiff’s lawsuit was frivolous under 52 U.S.C. Section 10310(e) and his attorneys multiplied proceedings unreasonably and vexatiously under 28 U.S.C. Section 1927. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s sanctions order and remanded to determine the extent to which the order is footed upon specific contemptuous conduct in the attorneys’ prosecution of the case. The court held that Plaintiff’s lawsuit did not merit sanctions. The court concluded that sanctions against Plaintiff were unwarranted because precedent in the circuit did not squarely foreclose his legal argument and because he sought to extend existing law. Critically, LISD points to no precedent in the circuit considering whether a voter in his position has standing under the VRA, let alone “squarely controlling precedent.” Further, as Plaintiff’s s lawsuit was not frivolous and relied on an “unsettled legal theory,” his attorneys cannot be sanctioned under Section 1927 simply for filing the action. View "Vaughan v. Lewisville Indep Sch Dist" on Justia Law
Peraica v. Layng
Peraica represented Dordevic in her Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding and submitted a Statement of Financial Affairs (Rule 2016 disclosure) in which he reported that Dordevic had paid him $5,000. As the Trustee learned during discovery, Dordevic had actually paid Peraica $21,500. The Trustee informed Peraica that he needed to file an updated Rule 2016 fee disclosure. Peraica instead sent the Trustee an informal accounting document listing $21,500 in fees. The Trustee responded: “The Rule 2016 disclosures actually need to be filed with the Court” by submitting “an official form.” Peraica repeatedly ignored the Trustee’s reminders. The Trustee filed a motion, 11 U.S.C. 329, to examine the fees. Peraica failed to respond; the Trustee then requested that all fees be forfeited. The bankruptcy court granted the motion.The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. Beyond Peraica’s brazen disregard of the Trustee’s advice, Peraica’s proffered explanation for not updating his fee disclosure lacking, if not false. Peraica had been involved in more than 350 bankruptcy cases in the Northern District of Illinois alone. The bankruptcy court ordered Peraica to disgorge all past fees as a penalty for his blatant lack of compliance with his obligations. There is no leeway for partial or incomplete disclosure. View "Peraica v. Layng" on Justia Law
Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Briggs Engineering, Inc.
BrunoBuilt, Inc., was constructing a custom home on a vacant lot in 2016 when a landslide occurred beneath the Terra Nativa subdivision in the Boise foothills. Following damage to the lot, BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence suit against numerous engineers and engineering firms involved in the construction of the subdivision, arguing that they failed to identify preexisting landslide conditions and other geological circumstances that made residential development unsafe at this site. In the fall of 2018, BrunoBuilt discovered additional damage to the finished custom home itself. It then brought suit against additional defendants, including Briggs Engineering, Inc., and Erstad Architects. Briggs Engineering moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. The court concluded that BrunoBuilt’s action was time barred by the two-year statute of limitations under Idaho Code section 5-219(4). BrunoBuilt appealed this decision, arguing that the malpractice claim did not begin to accrue until there was damage to the custom home, rather than just the land. To this the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed with BrunoBuilt’s analysis and affirmed the district court that BrunoBuilt’s claim was time barred. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Briggs Engineering, Inc." on Justia Law
In re Jonathan Andry
This case concerns attorney misconduct in the Court-Supervised Settlement Program established in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Appellant, a Louisiana attorney representing oil spill claimants in the settlement program, was accused of funneling money to a settlement program staff attorney through improper referral payments. In a disciplinary proceeding, the en banc Eastern District of Louisiana found that Appellant’s actions violated the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and suspended him from practicing law before the Eastern District of Louisiana for one year. Appellant appealed, arguing that the en banc court misapplied the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and abused its discretion by imposing an excessive sanction. The Fifth Circuit reversed the en banc court’s order suspending Appellant from the practice of law for one year each for violations of Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a). The court affirmed the en banc court’s holding that Appellant violated Rule 8.4(d). Finally, the court remanded to the en banc court for further proceedings, noting on remand, the court is free to impose on Appellant whatever sanction it sees fit for the 8.4(d) violation, including but not limited to its previous one-year suspension. The court explained that the en banc court misapplied Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a) but not Rule 8.4(d). Additionally, the en banc court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a one-year suspension on Appellant for his violation of 8.4(d). View "In re Jonathan Andry" on Justia Law
Central States Development v. Friedgut
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this complaint brought by Plaintiffs, Central States Development, LLC and Saint James Apartment Partners, against Defendants, Elizabeth Friedgut and the law firm of DLA Piper, LLP, holding that dismissal was proper.Friedgut, as DLA's employee, represented Plaintiffs in a dispute with the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. Plaintiffs later brought a negligence case against Defendants in connection with that representation. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that Defendants did not have the requisite minimum contacts with Nebraska to establish personal jurisdiction. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in dismissing the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Central States Development v. Friedgut" on Justia Law
Wisner v. Dignity Health
Pro se plaintiff Gary Wisner, M.D. filed a complaint alleging that defendants Dignity Health and the Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center (collectively, SJMC) falsely reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) that Wisner surrendered his clinical privileges while under criminal investigation for insurance fraud. The trial court granted a special motion to strike the complaint after concluding that Wisner’s claims arose from a protected activity and that Wisner failed to establish a probability of prevailing on the merits. Wisner contested both aspects of the trial court’s order, and he also argued the court erred by denying his motion to conduct limited discovery prior to the hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Wisner v. Dignity Health" on Justia Law