Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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For tax reasons ISN Software Corporation wanted to convert from a C corporation to an S corporation. But four of its eight stockholders, representing about 25 percent of the outstanding stock, could not qualify as S Corporation stockholders. ISN sought advice from Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A. (RLF) about its options. RLF advised ISN that before a conversion ISN could use a merger to cash out some or all of the four stockholders. The cashed-out stockholders could then accept ISN’s cash-out offer or exercise appraisal rights under Delaware law. ISN did not proceed with the conversion, but decided to use a merger to cash out three of the four non-qualifying stockholders. After ISN completed the merger, RLF notified ISN that its advice might not have been correct. All four stockholders, including the remaining stockholder whom ISN wanted to exclude, were entitled to appraisal rights. ISN decided not to try and unwind the merger, instead proceeding with the merger and notified all four stockholders they were entitled to appraisal. ISN and RLF agreed that RLF would continue to represent ISN in any appraisal action. Three of the four stockholders, including the stockholder ISN wanted to exclude, eventually demanded appraisal. Years later, when things did not turn out as ISN had hoped (the appraised value of ISN stock ended up substantially higher than ISN had reserved for), ISN filed a legal malpractice claim against RLF. The Superior Court dismissed ISN’s August 1, 2018 complaint on statute of limitations grounds. The court found that the statute of limitations expired three years after RLF informed ISN of the erroneous advice, or, at the latest, three years after the stockholder ISN sought to exclude demanded appraisal. On appeal, ISN argued its legal malpractice claim did not accrue until after the appraisal action valued ISN’s stock because only then could ISN claim damages. Although it applied a different analysis, the Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the Superior Court that the statute of limitations began to run in January 2013. By the time ISN filed its malpractice claim on August 1, 2018, the statute of limitations had expired. Thus, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed. View "ISN Software Corporation v. Richards, Layton & Finger, P.A." on Justia Law

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The Delaware Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline (the “Board”) reprimanded Dr. Bruce Grossinger, for violating various regulations governing the use of controlled substances for the treatment of pain. Specifically, the Board adopted the detailed report and recommendation of a Division of Professional Regulation hearing officer, who had found that Dr. Grossinger, in his care of a heroin-addicted patient (“Michael”), had not complied with the Board’s rules and regulations. The Board found that Dr. Grossinger failed to, among other things, document Michael’s history of substance abuse, discuss with Michael the risks and benefits of treatment with controlled substances, order urine samples or require pill counts, and keep accurate and complete treatment records. After a hearing, the hearing officer recommended that the Board find Dr. Grossinger guilty of unprofessional conduct and discipline him by placing his medical license on probation for six months and requiring him to complete additional medical education and pay a fine. Board adopted the hearing officer’s findings but reduced Dr. Grossinger’s discipline from probation to a letter of reprimand. Dr. Grossinger appealed the Board’s decision to the Superior Court, which reversed on all but one of the five findings. The Superior Court’s reversal of the Board rested on several legal conclusions, including that some of the regulations that Dr. Grossinger was said to have violated were unconstitutionally vague as applied to him, that expert testimony was required to establish the standard of care under the regulations, and that Dr. Grossinger’s due process rights were violated because the Board relied on evidence - its own expertise - outside the record. The parties cross- appealed: the Board appealed the Superior Court’s reversal of all but one of the findings; and Dr. Bruce Grossinger appealed the Superior Court’s failure to reverse the final finding. The Delaware Supreme Court disagreed with the Superior Court’s reversal of the Board’s decision and, therefore, reversed. View "Delaware Bd. of Med. Licensure & Discipline v. Grossinger" on Justia Law

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Licensed nurses may be disciplined if they engage in “unprofessional conduct.” The applicable Delaware statute did not define “unprofessional conduct,” so the Board of Nursing adopted a rule to flesh the term out. Two nurses who held supervisory roles at a correctional facility were disciplined by the Board under that rule after they participated in the retrieval of medication from a medical waste container for eventual administration to an inmate. The nurses appealed to the Superior Court, and the court set their discipline aside. The court read the Board’s rule to require not just proof that the nurses breached a nursing standard, but also proof that in doing so, they put the inmate or the public at risk. And in the court’s view, the State had not made that showing. Because the Board applied the correct standard and its decision was supported by substantial evidence, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed its decision and reversed the Superior Court. View "Delaware Board of Nursing v. Francis" on Justia Law

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Family Court Judge Arlene Minus Coppadge was subject to disciplinary proceedings for failing to properly report matters held under advisement. Specifically, this matter arose from two instances of delay in the disposition of cases pending before the judge and her subsequent failure to include those cases on the "90 day report" required by Administrative Directive 175. Upon review of the complaint, the Supreme Court concluded that the judge violated Rule 2.5(C) of the Delaware Judges' Code of Judicial Conduct, and was accordingly sanctioned. View "In Re: The Honorable Arlene Minus Coppadge" on Justia Law

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DTC filed a complaint with the Court of Chancery against the Union and Harry Bruckner, a para-transit driver, in the nature of a declaratory judgment action (Complaint) pursuant to Title 1, Chapter 65. The Complaint sought an order vacating or modifying a labor arbitration award issued by a certain arbitrator pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between DTC and the Union. The award reinstated Bruckner, who was terminated by DTC, with back pay less interim earnings. The Court of Chancery granted the Union's motion for summary judgment. DTC's sole argument on appeal was that the arbitrator's decision should be vacated due to the appearance of bias or partiality on the part of the arbitrator. The court held that the alleged bias or partiality which DTC attributed to the arbitrator failed to meet the "evident partiality" standard where the mere fact that an arbitrator may share a personal life experience with a party or a party's agent was legally insufficient to constitute a substantial relationship that a reasonable person would conclude was powerfully suggestive of bias. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Delaware Transit Corp. v. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 842" on Justia Law

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A real estate agent served as the seller's agent for two sales of the same house. The initial purchaser submitted a bid for the house and, the same day, hired the initial seller's agent to serve as seller's agent for the second sale. A few days later, the agent convinced the initial seller to accept the initial purchaser's bid without disclosing his conflict of interest or the purchaser's interest in flipping the house. After one day of trial concerning the initial seller's complaint against the agent alleging, inter alia, breach of fiduciary duties, the trial judge granted defendant's motion for a directed verdict. The court held that because plaintiff raised issues of material fact concerning whether defendant breached his fiduciary duties to the seller, the court remanded the case for a new trial. View "Estate of Eller v. Bartron" on Justia Law

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Appellants in this derivative action, who are shareholders of Primedia, Inc., appealed the Court of Chancery's decision granting the Primedia Special Litigation Committee's ("SLC") Motion to Dismiss claims arising out of a series of alleged violations of fiduciary duty by defendants. As a preliminary matter, the court invoked the exception to mootness doctrine in this case because it was a matter of public importance that was capable of repetition yet could evade review where other litigants have raised the Brophy v. Cities Co. issue in actions now pending before the Court of Chancery. The court held that Brophy did not require an element of harm to the corporation before disgorgement was an available remedy and to the extent Pfeiffer v. Toll conflicted with this holding, it was wrong. In Brophy, the court relied on the principles of restitution and equity and as the Brophy court recognized, it was inequitable to permit the fiduciary to profit from using confidential corporate information. The court also held that the Vice Chancellor's analysis of the SLC's Motion to Dismiss under Zapata Corp. v. Maldonado's second prong could not be affirmed in the shadow of Pfeiffer's incorrect holding. Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Chancery was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings.