Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Education Law
by
Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

by
Ramsey, a medical student. unsuccessfully sought testing accommodations for dyslexia and ADHD from the National Board of Medical Examiners. Ramsey sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the award of a preliminary injunction, requiring the Board to provide her accommodations. Ramsay established irreparable harm because she would likely be forced to withdraw from medical school if she could not take the initial test with accommodations and pass. The balance of equities tipped in her favor because granting her accommodations would not undermine the Board’s interests in fair and accurate testing and it was in the public interest for the ADA to be followed, to increase the number of physicians. Evidence that Ramsay’s reading, processing, and writing skills were abnormally low by multiple measures provided a sufficient comparison of her abilities to those of the general population to support the finding of disability. While the district court viewed Ramsay’s experts more favorably and found the Board’s experts unpersuasive, there is no indication that the court believed that it was compelled to defer to Ramsay’s experts; the court discounted the Board’s experts because they never met with Ramsay, engaged in too demanding an analysis of whether Ramsay had a disability, and overly focused on Ramsay’s academic achievements. View "Ramsay v. National Board of Medical Examiners" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court reversing the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices' summary decision of complaint without informal contested case hearing against Montana Board of Regents of Higher Education member Martha Sheehy, holding that Sheehy did not violate the Montana Code of Ethics, that the Commissioner lacks enforcement authority over regents, and that regents are public employees subject to the Ethics Code.The Commissioner concluded that Regents are public employees subject to the Commissioner's Ethics Code enforcement authority and that Sheehy violated the Ethics Code by soliciting support for a ballot issue while suing public time, facilities, and equipment. The district court overruled the Commissioner's summary decision, concluding that the Ethics Code does not apply to regents, that the Commissioner lacked enforcement authority over regents, and that Sheehy's statements did not violate the Ethics Code. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the Ethics Code applies to the Board of Regents of the Montana University System; (2) Sheehy did not violate the Ethics Code; and (3) the Commissioner does not have authority to enforce the Ethics Code against members of a state administrative board, like the Board of Regents. View "Sheehy v. Commissioner of Political Practices" on Justia Law

by
Robin Ayling appealed a judgment dismissing her claims against Mary Ann Sens, M.D., UND School of Medicine employees, and the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney and Board of Commissioners relating to her son’s death. Ayling’s son, Blake, was a student at UND. He was last seen alive at an on-campus party at approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012. He was found dead in the rail yard south of UND’s campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012. Dr. Sens performed the autopsy on the same day. She determined Blake was intoxicated, he had a 0.278 blood-alcohol concentration at the time of death, he died from blood loss, and his death was accidental. After learning of the autopsy results, Ayling questioned the blood-alcohol concentration because Blake reportedly did not show signs of intoxication at the party or before the party. Ayling met with Dr. Sens in April 2013, and Sens explained the autopsy report and defended her conclusions. On December 27, 2013, Ayling spoke with a forensic toxicologist who questioned Dr. Sens’ methods in performing the autopsy. The toxicologist believed Blake's urine and vitreous humor should have been tested for alcohol to corroborate the blood test. Ayling sued Dr. Sens, UND School of Medicine employees, and Grand Forks County employees in February 2017, alleging Sens failed to competently perform a medical autopsy as a part of the investigation of Blake's death. Ayling alleged the other Defendants failed to properly supervise Dr. Sens. The district court concluded Ayling’s claims against the Defendants were untimely. After reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Ayling’s voluminous discovery requests did not relate to the statute of limitations issue and would not have created an issue of material fact supporting denial of the summary judgment motion. The court’s discovery decisions were not an abuse of discretion. View "Ayling v. Sens, et al." on Justia Law

by
Southwestern Community College District (District) and its governing board (Board) (together Southwestern) demoted Arlie Ricasa from an academic administrator position to a faculty position on the grounds of moral turpitude, immoral conduct, and unfitness to serve in her then-current role. While employed by Southwestern as the director of Student Development and Health Services (DSD), Ricasa also served as an elected board member of a separate entity, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD). The largest number of incoming District students were from SUHSD, and the community viewed the school districts as having significant ties. As a SUHSD board member, Ricasa voted on million-dollar vendor contracts to construction companies, such as Seville Group, Inc. (SGI) and Gilbane Construction Company, who ultimately co-managed a bond project for the SUHSD. Before and after SGI received this contract, Ricasa went to dinners with SGI members that she did not disclose on her Form 700. Ricasa's daughter also received a scholarship from SGI to attend a student leadership conference that Ricasa did not report on her "Form 700." In December 2013, Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the Political Reform Act, which prohibited board members of local agencies from receiving gifts from a single source in excess of $420. Ricasa filed two petitions for writs of administrative mandamus in the trial court seeking, among other things, to set aside the demotion and reinstate her as an academic administrator. Ricasa appealed the denial of her petitions, arguing the demotion occurred in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (the Brown Act) because Southwestern failed to provide her with 24 hours' notice of the hearing at which it heard charges against her, as required by Government Code section 54957. Alternatively, she argued the demotion was unconstitutional because no nexus existed between her alleged misconduct and her fitness to serve as academic administrator. Southwestern also appealed, arguing that the trial court made two legal errors when it: (1) held that Southwestern was required to give 24-hour notice under the Brown Act prior to conducting a closed session at which it voted to initiate disciplinary proceedings, and (2) enjoined Southwestern from committing future Brown Act violations. The Court of Appeal concluded Southwestern did not violate the Brown Act, and that substantial evidence supported Ricasa's demotion. However, the Court reversed that part of the judgment enjoining Southwestern from future Brown Act violations. View "Ricasa v. Office of Admin. Hearings" on Justia Law

by
Defendant Glenn Ciripompa was a tenured high school math teacher in the Bound Brook School District. Defendant's behavior came under the scrutiny of the Bound Brook Board of Education (Board) after the Board received copies of student Twitter posts alleging "Mr. C" was electronically transmitting nude photographs. An investigation uncovered defendant's pervasive misuse of his District-issued laptop and iPad, as well as evidence of inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, often in the presence of students. The results of the investigation spurred the Board to seek defendant's termination from his tenured position and served as the substantive allegations of the two-count tenure complaint against defendant. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority by applying the standard for proving a hostile-work-environment, sexual-harassment claim in a law against discrimination (LAD) case to a claim of unbecoming conduct in the teacher disciplinary hearing. After review, the Supreme Court found that the arbitrator impermissibly converted the second charge of unbecoming conduct into one of sexual harassment. The arbitrator's review was not consonant with the matter submitted; rather, he imperfectly executed his powers as well as exceeded his authority by failing to decide whether Count II stated a successful claim of unbecoming conduct in support of termination. The arbitrator's award was therefore ruled invalid. View "Bound Brook Bd. of Edu. v. Ciripompa" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff, a tenured teacher, was dismissed based on charges that he had physically and abusively disciplined his students. Plaintiff contended that the Board's failure to consider or formulate written charges before initiating his dismissal nullified all further proceedings. The trial court subsequently denied plaintiff's petition for writ of mandate, finding that the board's failure to consider or formulate charges before initiating plaintiff's dismissal was a nonsubstantive procedural error that was not prejudicial. The court concluded that plaintiff's informal notification of charges, eventual receipt of written charges, representation by counsel, involvement in the discovery process and participation in a four-day evidentiary hearing confirmed he was provided notice and a full opportunity to oppose the charges. Plaintiff has not shown the board's reliance on oral presentation of charges in initiating his dismissal undermined his preparation or otherwise prejudiced his defense. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by denying his mandate petition and the court affirmed the judgment. View "DeYoung v. Com. on Professional Competence" on Justia Law

by
This case arose when the superintendent of the school district preferred eight charges of misconduct and/or incompetence against petitioner, then the business manager for the school district. At issue was whether persons who have testified in a Civil Service 75 disciplinary hearing were required to disqualify themselves from subsequently acting upon any of the charges related to that hearing. The court held that, because the testimony of the testifying witnesses, concerning the charges levied pursuant to section 75, rendered them personally involved in the disciplinary process, disqualification was necessary. View "Matter of Baker v Poughkeepsie City School Dist." on Justia Law