Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Rights
Lassiter v. City of Philadelphia
On May 25, 2011, Lassiter filed a complaint alleging Fourth Amendment violations for excessive force and false arrest. The complaint stated that the incident giving rise to Lassiter’s cause of action took place on May 22, 2009. On August 2, 2011, defendants filed an answer asserting six affirmative defenses, but did not raise the two-year statute of limitations as a defense. During a pretrial conference on September 20, 2011, without being prompted by either party, the district court observed that the statute of limitations appeared to have expired but that defendants failed to raise the issue in their answer. Defendants’ counsel acknowledged that they had missed this issue. The court suggested that defendants could amend their answer. On February 23, 2012, over Lassiter’s opposition, the court granted leave to amend the answer. On May 29, the court dismissed the complaint as time-barred. The Third Circuit affirmed, holding that the court had authority to raise the statute of limitations issue during the Rule 16 conference. View "Lassiter v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law
Michalowski v. Bd. of Licensure in Med.
The Board of Licensure in Medicine revoked Petitioner's medical license. The superior court dismissed Petitioner's complaint seeking judicial review, concluding (1) it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to review the Board's decision because the district court had exclusive jurisdiction to review nonconsensual license-revocation orders pursuant to Me. Rev. Stat. 10, 8003(5); and (2) Petitioner's 42 U.S.C.S. 1983 claim should be dismissed because the Board members had authority to revoke her license and were immune from suit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the superior court properly dismissed Petitioner's petition for review of the Board order revoking her license because the district court had exclusive jurisdiction in such matters; and (2) because the Board acted within its authority in revoking Petitioner's license and, on appeal, Petitioner did not otherwise assert a denial of her constitutional rights, Petitioner's section 1983 claim was properly dismissed. View "Michalowski v. Bd. of Licensure in Med." on Justia Law
Goldberg v. Maloney
Goldberg, a medical malpractice attorney, appeared before Judge Maloney in several cases. Following complaints that Goldberg concealed assets and retained unearned fees, Maloney ordered Goldberg to pay the estates involved. Goldberg failed to do so. Maloney directed him to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Following a hearing, Maloney found Goldberg to be in criminal contempt and cited Goldberg for attempting to suborn witnesses, charges that did not appear on the hearing notice. Goldberg received a sentence of 18 months. An Ohio appellate court affirmed. Before the Ohio Supreme Court, Goldberg argued for the first time that he had not received sufficient notice of the charges and ineffective assistance because his attorney failed to raise this notice claim. The Ohio Supreme Court declined further review. In 2004, the district court granted habeas relief on the basis that Goldberg received constitutionally inadequate notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that Goldberg had procedurally defaulted on his lack-of-notice claim by failing to raise it in the state court of appeals. On remand, the district court determined that Goldberg had not demonstrated sufficient cause or prejudice to overcome the procedural default, and denied his petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Goldberg v. Maloney" on Justia Law
Gardner v. United States
Officers, responding to an assault in progress, saw defendant, who voluntarily submitted to a pat down. A pistol was found in his coat pocket. Charged possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), defendant insisted that the police had planted the gun. His lawyer believed that he could not argue that the firearm was the fruit of an unreasonable search. Following his conviction, defendant brought a collateral proceeding under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming ineffective assistance in that his attorney did not move to suppress the firearm as the product of an unreasonable and did not explain to defendant that his testimony at a suppression hearing could not be used at trial as evidence of his guilt. The district court rejected the petition. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Defendant’s insistence that the police planted the gun neither justified nor compelled counsel to refrain from challenging the search that produced the weapon. The court remanded for determination of whether defendant was prejudiced by that failure. View "Gardner v. United States" on Justia Law
Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep’t
Plaintiff, a police department employee, made claims of sexual harassment and emotional abuse. The district court issued a scheduling order, closing discovery as of November 18, 2010. When defense counsel encountered an emergency, the court reset the date to January 28, 2011. In November, defendants served plaintiffs with interrogatories and requests for production of documents. The court extended discovery closure date to February 28, 2011. On February 24, plaintiffs moved to extend this deadline by 30 days, claiming that their lawyer had no time to devote to their case. The court extended the discovery closure date to March 25, but stated that plaintiffs must provide answers to outstanding interrogatories and requests for production of documents no later than February 28 and that failure to answer by that date would result in dismissal, with prejudice. On March 1, defendants informed the court that plaintiffs had not complied. The court extended the deadline by 10 days. On March 16, defendants informed the court that the interrogatories remained unanswered and that the documents had not been produced. The next day the court dismissed the action with prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed. View "Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep't" on Justia Law
Brown v. Oil States Skagit Smatco, et al.
Plaintiff sued defendants under Title VII, alleging claims of racial harassment and constructive discharge. Plaintiff subsequently appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint based on a finding that plaintiff committed perjury and the district court's grant of defendants' motion for sanctions. Plaintiff argued that a less severe sanction was more appropriate and that the district court should have held an evidentiary hearing to allow plaintiff to explain his conflicting testimony. Plaintiff's counsel, who was separately sanctioned, also appealed the denial of his motion for recusal of the magistrate judge. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to dismiss plaintiff's complaint with prejudice where plaintiff plainly committed perjury; plaintiff's argument that the district court failed to hold a hearing was meritless where he made no effort to explain why he and his attorney failed to show at the hearing held by the district court to address objections to the magistrate judge's report; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying counsel's motion for recusal where a reasonable person would not question the magistrate judge's impartiality in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Brown v. Oil States Skagit Smatco, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Nextel Communications, Inc.
Appellants appealed the dismissal of their class action complaint against Nextel, the law firm of Leeds, Morelli & Brown, P.C. (LMB), and seven of LMB's lawyers (also LMB). Appellants were former clients of LMB who retained the firm to bring discrimination claims against Nextel. The complaint asserted that, inter alia, LMB breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty to appellants and the class by entering into an agreement with Nextel in which Nextel agreed to pay: (i) $2 million to LMB to persuade en masse its approximately 587 clients to, inter alia, abandon ongoing legal and administrative proceedings against Nextel, waive their rights to a jury trial and punitive damages, and accept an expedited mediation/arbitration procedure; (ii) another $3.5 million to LMB on a sliding scale as the clients' claims were resolved through that procedure; and (iii) another $2 million to LMB to work directly for Nextel as a consultant for two years beginning when the clients' claims had been resolved. The court held that appellants have alleged facts sufficient to state a claim against LMB for, inter alia, breach of fiduciary duty and against Nextel for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Johnson v. Nextel Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Williams v. Adams
Plaintiff filed suit, pro se, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging arrest without probably cause and assault. The judge allowed him to proceed in forma pauperis. After plaintiff delayed in responding to a draft pretrial order, the judge imposed a sanction of $9,055 against the plaintiff and an attorney who had agreed to represent him. Plaintiff was unable to pay and the judge rejected his offer of $25 per month. When plaintiff did not pay within the 30 day period set by the court, it dismissed his suit. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the fine was actually paid by the attorney after plaintiff complained to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The attorney admitted being unfamiliar with the federal rules and that he had never before filed a pretrial order. View "Williams v. Adams" on Justia Law
Stanard v. Nygren
The owner of an outdoor amphitheater in a rural area claimed that the sheriff forced him to hire off-duty deputies as a private security force for events and threatened to close the road leading to his property if he did not comply. After giving plaintiff's attorney three tries at producing a complaint that complied with Rules 8 and 10(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the district court dismissed the case with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that each iteration of the complaint was generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors, making it impossible for the defendants to know what wrongs they were accused of committing. The Seventh Circuit ordered plaintiff's attorney to show cause why he should not be suspended from the bar of the court or otherwise disciplined under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and directed that a copy be sent to the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission.View "Stanard v. Nygren" on Justia Law
United States v. Shaygan
The United States appealed an award of attorney's fees and costs under the Hyde Amendment, Pub. L. No. 105-119, section 617, 111 Stat. 2440, 2519, and two attorneys, Sean Cronin and Andrea Hoffman, appeal public reprimands entered against them based on their work as Assistant United States Attorneys in an underlying criminal action marked by hard adversarial tactics. The court held that the district court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions against the United States for a prosecution that was objectively reasonable, and the district court violated the constitutional right to due process of the two lead prosecutors, when it denied them notice of any charges of misconduct and an opportunity to be heard. Therefore, the court vacated the award of attorney's fees and costs against the United States and the public reprimand of Cronin and Hoffman, but the court denied the request of Cronin and Hoffman that the court reassign the case to a different district judge at this stage. View "United States v. Shaygan" on Justia Law