Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Consumer Law
Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc.
David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law
Jones v. Westbrook
A client personally financed the sale of his business corporation. His attorney drafted documents that secured the buyer’s debt with corporate stock and an interest in the buyer’s home. Over seven years later the government imposed tax liens on the corporation’s assets; according to the client, it was only then he learned for the first time that his attorney had not provided for a recorded security interest in the physical assets. The client sued the attorney for malpractice and violation of the Alaska Unfair Trade Practice and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). The superior court held that the statute of limitations barred the client’s claims and granted summary judgment to the attorney. But after review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that it was not until the tax liens were filed that the client suffered the actual damage necessary for his cause of action to be complete. Therefore, the Court reversed the superior court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jones v. Westbrook" on Justia Law
Maybank v. BB&T
This appeal arose out of a $17 million verdict rendered in favor of Francis Maybank for claims sounding in contract, tort, and the South Carolina Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA). Maybank brought this action alleging he received faulty investment advice from Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T - the Bank) through BB&T Wealth Management (Wealth Management) and BB&T Asset Management (Asset Management), all operating under the corporate umbrella of BB&T Corporation (collectively, Appellants). Appellants appealed on numerous grounds, and Maybank appealed the trial court's denial of prejudgment interest. After review, the Supreme Court reversed as to an award of punitive damages based on a limitation of liability clause. The Court affirmed on all other grounds. View "Maybank v. BB&T" on Justia Law
Glassford v. Dufresne & Associates, P.C.
Plaintiffs Heidi and James Glassford appealed a superior court decision denying their motion for summary judgment and granting it to defendant Dufresne & Associates, P.C. on plaintiffs' claims of negligent misrepresentation and violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act (CPA). Plaintiffs were homeowners who purchased their home direct from the builder, D&L Homes by Design, LLC (D&L). D&L hired defendant to certify that the on-site mound sewage disposal system constructed for the home satisfied state permitting requirements. On April 19, 2005, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources issued a Wastewater System and Potable Water Supply Permit for construction of the sewage disposal system on the property, subject to receiving a certification pursuant to 10 V.S.A 1973(e). On October 20, 2005, defendant's employee sent the certification required by the statute. On December 20, 2005, plaintiffs signed a purchase-and-sale agreement to purchase the home from D&L. Although the seller represented that the home and property had received all the necessary permits, plaintiffs never saw the certificate or the letter from the Agency stating that the certification requirement was satisfied. Sometime thereafter, plaintiffs hired an attorney in connection with the closing. On January 13, just prior, plaintiffs' attorney prepared a certificate of title that noted the wastewater and water supply permit. In February 2006, the sewage disposal system failed. In November 2008, plaintiffs hired defendant to investigate the system's failure because they knew defendant had inspected the system prior to their purchase. Defendant prepared a report stating that he had "completed the original" inspection in 2005 and found the system had been installed according to the permitted design. Plaintiffs received other opinions about the disposal system's failure both before and after hiring defendant to inspect the system. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in superior court alleging pecuniary losses from defendant's failure to properly inspect the sewage disposal system and subsequent misrepresentation about the construction of the system in the certification to the Agency. Upon review of the superior court decision, the Supreme Court found that the completion and filing of defendant's certificate was a prerequisite to D&L's ability to sell the home, the certificate was unrelated to the sale. The law required that it be sent only to the government agency that issued the permit. Furthermore, there was no allegation that D&L used the certificate as part of its sales pitch, and no allegation that defendant had any part in the sales. The standard for CPA liability required that a person be directly involved in the transaction that gave rise to the claimed liability. That standard was not met here. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the superior court's decision. View "Glassford v. Dufresne & Associates, P.C." on Justia Law
Haddad v. Alexander, Zelmanski, Danner & Fioritto, PLLC
Haddad bought his condominium in 1991 and lived in the unit until 2005, when he began renting it out. In 2008, a law firm, representing the association, sent Haddad a notice of delinquency, stating that Haddad owed $803 in unpaid condominium assessments, $40 in late charges, and $55 in legal fees and costs. Haddad notified the firm that he disputed the amount demanded, that he had never missed a monthly dues payment, but that he had been “singled out and charged with various violations” by the management company. Correspondence continued for several months, with the amount owed increasing each month and Haddad contesting the charges. The law firm ultimately recorded a Notice of Lien, which was discharged about six months later. Haddad sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, and the Michigan Collection Practices Act, alleging use of a false, deceptive or misleading representation in the collection of a debt, and continuing collection of a disputed debt before verification of the debt. The district court rejected the claims on the ground that the debt was commercial because the unit was rented when collection began. The Sixth Circuit court reversed, holding that an obligation to pay assessments arose from the original purchase and constituted a “debt” under the FDCPA. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment, finding that the firm had properly verified the debt and that the collection efforts were not deceptive or misleading. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, based on failure to properly verify the debt. View "Haddad v. Alexander, Zelmanski, Danner & Fioritto, PLLC" on Justia Law
Heffner v. Murphy
Plaintiffs involved in, or wishing to be involved in the “death care industry” challenged Pennsylvania’s Funeral Director Law, 63 Pa. Stat. 479.1 provisions that: permit warrantless inspections of funeral establishments by the state Board of Funeral Directors; limit the number of establishments in which a funeral director may have an ownership interest or practice the provision; restrict the capacity of unlicensed individuals and certain entities to hold ownership interests in a funeral establishment; require every funeral establishment to have a licensed full-time supervisor; require funeral establishments to have a “preparation room”; prohibit service of food in a funeral establishment; prohibit use of trade names by funeral homes; govern the trusting of monies advanced under pre-need contracts for merchandise; and prohibit payment of commissions. The district court found several provisions unconstitutional. The Third Circuit reversed: invalidation of the warrantless inspection scheme; holdings on dormant Commerce Clause challenges to certain provisions; conclusions that disputed provisions violate substantive due process; a ruling that the Board’s actions unconstitutionally impair private contractual relations with third parties; and invalidation of the ban on payment of commissions to unlicensed salespeople. The court affirmed that the ban on the use of trade names in the funeral industry violates First Amendment protections. The court noted that antiquated provisions are not necessarily unconstitutional. View "Heffner v. Murphy" on Justia Law
Gladden v. Palmetto Home Inspections
Appellants Thomas and Vera Gladden appealed the trial court's order granting summary judgment to Respondent Palmetto Home Inspection Services, alleging the limit of liability provision in a home inspection contract was unenforceable as violative of public policy and as unconscionable under the facts of this case. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that contractual limitation of a home inspector's liability did not violate South Carolina public policy as expressed by the General Assembly and, as a matter of law, was not so oppressive that no reasonable person would make it and no fair and honest person would accept it. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's order granting summary judgment to the inspector. View "Gladden v. Palmetto Home Inspections" on Justia Law
Todd v. Franklin Collection Serv., Inc.
Todd attempted to purchase claims against a collection agency (Franklin) from Fletcher. He then sued Franklin. The district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the assignment was void because Todd was using it merely to attempt to practice law without a license and that Todd failed to state a claim for relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The assignment was void as against public policy. Illinois public policy forbids the assignment of legal claims to non-attorneys in order to litigate without a license. Undisputed evidence showed that Todd created a business providing legal advice and repeatedly agreed to purchase claims in order to litigate. Even if the assignment was not void, Todd failed to state a claim. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act preempts state-law claims, 15 U.S.C. 1681t(b)(1)(F). Todd did not attempt could not bring a claim directly under the FCRA because the section Franklin allegedly violated does not create a private right of action. View "Todd v. Franklin Collection Serv., Inc." on Justia Law
Mercantile Adjustment Bureau v. Flood
After losing on her Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act claim at the county court, Elizabeth Flood's trial counsel, Gary Merenstein, paid the fees of several appellate attorneys who represented Flood in an appeal to the district court and later to the Supreme Court because they were not willing to work on a contingency basis. Flood ultimately prevailed in her appeal, and the Supreme Court awarded attorneys' fees. On remand to the county court to determine Flood's entitlement to and the amount of the attorneys' fees, the opposing party, debt collector Mercantile Adjustment Bureau(MAB), argued that Flood was not entitled to receive attorneys' fees for her appellate counsel's work. MAB argued that the arrangement between Merenstein and Flood, wherein he agreed to pay her appellate attorneys' fees and expected to be reimbursed for these fees from any court award of attorneys' fees received by Flood, constituted unethical financial assistance of a client in violation of Rule 1.8(e) of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct. The county court rejected MAB's argument and awarded Flood the requested attorneys' fees. MAB appealed to the district court, which affirmed the county court. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Merenstein did not violate Rule 1.8(e) by paying the fees of Flood's appellate counsel and therefore affirmed the district court's decision in part. However, the Court concluded that the district court erred in applying the Colorado Appellate Rules, which require an appellee to make her request for attorneys' fees in her answer brief, to an appeal to the district court from the county court. The Court reversed that part of the district court's ruling applying the Colorado Appellate Rules to deny Flood's request for attorneys' fees incurred in the current appeal. The case was remanded to the district court to return it to the county court for proceedings to determine whether Flood was entitled to appellate fees as the prevailing party in this appeal and, if so, the amount of Flood's reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with this appeal—including the proceedings before the Supreme Court. View "Mercantile Adjustment Bureau v. Flood" on Justia Law
Hargis v. Access Capital Funding, LLC, et al.
Plaintiff sued defendants in Missouri state court, on behalf of a putative class of similarly situated borrowers, alleging that defendants engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of Mo. Rev. State 484.020 when they charged certain fees in the course of refinancing plaintiff's mortgage. Defendants moved the suit to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), 28 U.S.C. 1332(d) and plaintiff subsequently appealed the district court's judgment. The court held that plaintiff failed to show that she was charged any fees, directly or indirectly, for legal work performed by non-lawyers. Therefore, plaintiff had not shown injury and did not have standing to bring her claim. In light of plaintiff's lack of standing, the district court should have dismissed for lack of jurisdiction rather than reaching the merits of the summary judgment motion. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with instructions that the action be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. View "Hargis v. Access Capital Funding, LLC, et al." on Justia Law