Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
by
The HuffingtonPost.com, Inc. ("HuffPost"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct a circuit court to vacate its order denying HuffPost's motion for a summary judgment based on the immunity provided in the Communications Decency Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 230, and to enter a summary judgment in its favor pursuant to the immunity provided in 47 U.S.C. § 230. K.G.S. petitioned to adopt Baby Doe; the birth mother contested the adoption. The birth mother contacted Mirah Ruben, a contributor to HuffPost, and shared her version of events leading to her contesting the adoption. HuffPost published two online articles about Baby Doe’s adoption, including the full name of the birth mother, K.G.S. and included images of Baby Doe. After the articles were published, Claudia D’Arcy, a resident of New York, created a Facebook page dedicated to reuniting the birth mother and Baby Doe, which attached the HuffPost articles. The Facebook page also identified the birth mother and K.G.S. by name, and images of Baby Doe. After the creation of the Facebook page, K.G.S. stated she was “inundated with appallingly malicious and persistent cyber-bullying.” K.G.S.’ attorney compelled Facebook to take down the page because it violated Alabama’s Adoption Code. Then K.G.S. sued HuffPost, Mirah Riben, and a number of other defendants alleging that the defendants had made statements relating to the adoption that subjected them to civil liability and had unlawfully disclosed confidential information about the adoption "to create a sensationalized, salacious, and scandal-driven trial in the court of public opinion to pressure K.G.S. into relinquishing her custody of Baby Doe." After review of the circumstances of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded HuffPost demonstrated a clear legal right to mandamus relief, and its petition was granted. View "Ex parte The HuffingtonPost.com" on Justia Law

by
This matter arose from four Child in Need of Aid (CINA) cases. In each, the superior court appointed a guardian ad litem for the child through the Office of Public Advocacy (OPA), and in each case Brenda Finley, working under contract with OPA, appeared as the GAL. Pursuant to CINA Rule 11(e), Finley disclosed to the parties that she was a foster parent in another CINA case. She stated that she did not believe that her role as a foster parent “will affect her ability to be [impartial] in this specific case, or in other cases.” A parent in each case moved for an evidentiary hearing “regarding whether Ms. Finley should be disqualified as a guardian ad litem.” Arguing that Finley’s role as a foster parent might create a conflict of interest due to her relationship with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) as both a foster parent and a GAL, the parents sought additional details to determine whether a conflict existed, suggesting a hearing would allow them to elicit information regarding Finley’s past, present, and possible future tenure as a foster parent, the status of the cases in which she served as a foster parent, her financial arrangements with OCS, and her relationship with OCS workers. Both OCS and OPA filed qualified oppositions to the parents’ request for a hearing, arguing: that categorical disqualification of foster parents from serving as GALs was overbroad; the court should provide clarity on what framework should govern the potential conflict; and that a low bar for disqualification would fail to recognize “the difficulty of keeping positions in child welfare staffed by qualified individuals, ideally with ties to the community . . . .” The Alaska Supreme Court held that the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct applied to determine whether the GAL has a disqualifying conflict of interest and that the superior court must permit limited discovery to ascertain the underlying facts for determining whether a disqualifying conflict exists. View "C.L. v. Office of Public Advocacy" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the orders of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants, three professionals, on Plaintiff’s claims of malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and conversion arising out of conservatorship and divorce proceedings, holding that the district court did not err.Defendants were Plaintiff’s conservator and counsel during the divorce proceedings. After the divorce concluded, Defendant filed this lawsuit alleging conversion, professional malpractice, and breach of fiduciary duty. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) collateral estopped precluded Plaintiff from prevailing on his conversion claim; and (2) the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims. View "Tozzi v. Moffett" on Justia Law

by
In a previous decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment terminating Johneisha Kemper's parental rights to her daughter, rejecting Kemper's contention that she received ineffective assistance of her appointed juvenile dependency counsel. Kemper then brought a legal malpractice action against the same appointed juvenile dependency attorneys, their supervising attorney, and the County of San Diego.2 She alleged defendants' legal representation breached the applicable standard of care and caused the termination of her parental rights. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on the collateral estoppel doctrine. The court granted the motion and entered judgment in defendants' favor. Kemper appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed: "Causation is an essential element of a legal malpractice claim, and Kemper is barred by the collateral estoppel doctrine from relitigating the issue of whether her juvenile dependency attorneys caused the termination of her parental rights. We decline Kemper's request that we create a new exception to the collateral estoppel rule based on an analogy to the writ of habeas corpus procedure applicable in juvenile dependency cases." View "Kemper v. Co. of San Diego" on Justia Law

by
Mark Colafranceschi brought this action for defamation and professional malpractice against Shawn Briley and Ashley Robinson after a magistrate court appointed Robinson to perform child custody evaluations in two separate cases in which Colafranceschi was a party. Colafranceschi was the plaintiff in two actions against the mothers of his children. Robinson was a licensed masters social worker. Briley was a licensed clinical social worker and was Robinson’s supervisor. In both reports in the two cases, Robinson's evaluations (as Colafranceschi's claim suggested) "did not cast him in a positive light." The district court dismissed the action, finding that quasi-judicial immunity barred Colafranceschi’s claims. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Colafranceschi v. Briley" on Justia Law

by
This was a legal malpractice case. Defendant Michelle Myer-Bennett filed a peremptory exception of peremption asserting plaintiff Tracy Lomont filed her malpractice claim beyond the three-year peremptive period set forth in La. R.S. 9:5605. Lomont opposed the exception, arguing the peremptive period should not have applied because Myer-Bennett engaged in fraudulent behavior which prevented application of the peremptive period. Lomont hired Myer-Bennett to represent her in a divorce and related domestic matters, which included partitioning the community property. Citibank obtained a default judgment against John Lomont (the ex-husband) on a delinquent account. Citibank recorded the judgment in the mortgage records in Jefferson Parish as a lien against the home. Lomont attempted to refinance the mortgage on the home and learned from the bank that the settlement agreement, giving her full ownership of the home, was never recorded in the mortgage and conveyance records. Lomont contacted Myer-Bennett to advise her of the problem. According to Myer-Bennett, because it was her standard practice to record such documents, she initially believed Lomont was given inaccurate information by the bank. Upon investigation, Myer-Bennett discovered that she had not recorded the agreement. Myer-Bennett recorded the agreement the next day, September 30, 2010. In December 2010, Lomont was notified that her application to refinance the loan was denied because of Citibank’s lien on the property. According to Myer-Bennett, once she became aware of the Citibank lien she discussed with Lomont the fact she committed malpractice and gave Lomont several options to proceed, including hiring another lawyer to sue her, or allowing Myer-Bennett to file suit against John Lomont and/or Citibank to have the lien removed. Myer-Bennett stated. Lomont chose not to pursue a malpractice action, but wanted defendant to fix the problem. Lomont denied Myer-Bennett ever notified her she had committed malpractice. Lomont contended Myer-Bennett never mentioned malpractice in December 2010, but simply advised she would have the Citibank lien removed from the property by filing lawsuits against John Lomont and Citibank. The district court sustained the exception of peremption and the court of appeal affirmed. Based on the facts of this case, the Supreme Court found defendant committed fraud within the meaning of La. R.S. 9:5605(E). Thus, the peremptive periods contained in La. R.S. 9:5605 were not applicable and plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim was governed by the one-year prescriptive period in La. C.C. art. 3492. Further, the facts of this case supported an application of the doctrine of contra non valentem. Because the Court found plaintiff filed suit within one year of discovering defendant’s malpractice, the Court held the lower courts erred in sustaining defendant’s exception of peremption. View "Lomont v. Myer-Bennett" on Justia Law

by
The district court awarded attorneys fees to Lynn Urrutia against appellants Ty Harrison and Robert Schutte under Idaho Code section 12-120(3), 12-121, and 12-123, as well as sanctions against the appellants' attorney under Idaho Code section 12-123 and I.R.C.P. 11. These awards stemmed from the divorce of Lynn and Johnny Urrutia in 2007 and the divorce decree's division of the marital property. "'The most egregious conduct of defendants,' in the district court's opinion, was the filing of the Third Amended Counterclaim, which 'states two causes of action against Lynn: (1) that the second lien has priority over Lynn's claims and (2) that Lynn as the owner of the property was unjustly enriched.' The judge noted that the Second Lien, with a priority date of 2008, could not conceivably be higher in priority than Lynn's deed of trust, which was recorded in 2007. He observed that the Appellants knew the $220,000 claimed in the Second Lien, like the First Lien, contained numerous items that did not constitute improvements to the arena property and were not lienable under the mechanic's lien statutes. And, even though the Appellants knew that the owner of record of the arena property was Sundance Arena, LLC, they sought personal recovery against Lynn under an unjust enrichment theory for improvements made to the property, which she did not own." Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the award of fees and sanctions to Lynn Urrutia. View "Urrutia v. Harrison" on Justia Law

by
The Certified Professional Guardianship Board (Board) has petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend guardian Lori Petersen for actions stemming from her guardianship of D.S. and J.S. Petersen has been a certified professional guardian since 2001. She owned and operated Empire Care and Guardianship, a large agency serving over 60 wards. From December 2009 until April 2010, the Board received a number of grievances and complaints regarding Petersen's treatment of three wards who were all, at one point, housed at Peterson Place, an adult family home. Petersen contended that suspension was improper and suggested:(1) the Board ran afoul of separation of powers principles; (2) violated the appearance of fairness doctrine; (3) impermissibly lowered the evidentiary standard; and (4) failed to consider the proportionality of the sanction. The Supreme Court agreed with Petersen as to her last contention: "She has questioned, albeit obliquely, the proportionality of the sanction, and so the Board should have considered the sanction's magnitude relative to those imposed in other cases. Accordingly, we remand to the Board to conduct a consistency analysis pursuant to its internal regulations" and the Court's opinion. View "In re Disciplinary Proceeding Against Petersen" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs-Appellees Carl and Pamela Morton filed a petition for guardianship against Defendant-Appellant Terry Hanson. An in-house attorney who did not carry malpractice insurance was appointed by the Family Court to represent Defendant. The Family Court certified a question to the Supreme Court concerning in-house attorneys appointed to represent indigent parties. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that in-house counsel appointed by the Family Court had qualified immunity under the Delaware Tort Claims Act. Furthermore, lack of malpractice insurance is not "good cause" for an attorney to withdraw from court-appointed representation.View "Hanson v. Morton" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff appealed from the district court's judgment dismissing her claims against her ex-husband and his brother for failure to state a claim and untimeliness. Plaintiff alleged that, in representing a certain investment as worthless and concealing the $5.5 million received on its account, defendants conspired in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), committed common law fraud, and breached fiduciary duties, and that her ex-husband was unjustly enriched. The court held that the district court's reasons for dismissing the fraud-based claims were erroneous and that the district court erred in ruling on the existing record that the RICO, common law fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty claims were time-barred. The court sustained the dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim as untimely. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part. View "Cohen v. Cohen" on Justia Law