Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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Janet Heath appealed a district court order and judgment that granted Angela Palmer and Taylor Real Estate’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing her claims for negligence and breach of contract. The events that brought about this case began in the fall of 2017 when Heath began looking to buy a house in Bingham County, Idaho. Heath and Palmer communicated back and forth via emails and text messages, arranging financing through a lender, and discussing property listings. They met to view several listings together, including a property owned by Donald and Shirley Ciccone. With Palmer's help, Heath made a written offer on the Ciccione property. The offer, titled "RE-21 Real Estate Purchase and Sale Agreement," indicated Palmer and Taylor Real Estate were acting as “nonagents” for Heath. Heath also signed an Agency Disclosure Brochure indicating that she was a “customer” of Palmer and Taylor Real Estate. The offer form further stated that Heath would remain a “customer” unless she entered into a written representation agreement. Heath and Palmer never signed such an agreement. The Ciccones made a counter-offer which Heath accepted. The Ciccones gave Palmer a property condition disclosure, which revealed the existence of a shared driveway agreement with a neighboring property owned by Walter and Wilma Wallace. At some point before the closing date, the title company contacted Palmer and informed her that the Driveway Agreement needed to be modified to “run with the land” before it would insure the title. Palmer contacted Mr. Wallace and informed him that Heath was trying to buy the Ciccone property but could not do so without a driveway agreement. The Wallaces and the Ciccones signed a 2018 Driveway Agreement, which was essentially the same as the 1998 Driveway Agreement except that it was “a covenant running with the land” and redefined the shared portion of the driveway. Heath and the Ciccones closed on the property, and the warranty deed and the 2018 Driveway Agreement were recorded with the Bingham County Recorder that afternoon. Heath stated in her declaration that she would not have gone through with the sale if she had known that the driveway easement had been shortened by approximately two-thirds of its original length, effectively cutting off access to the garages on her property and significantly reducing the property’s value. The proceedings in this case began in June 2018 when the Wallaces filed a petition to quiet title against Heath and another individual living in her home. The Wallaces filed their petition after a dispute with Heath regarding the dimensions and use of the shared driveway. Finding that the district court erred in concluding that there was no genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether Palmer and Taylor Real Estate violated the statutory duties owed to Heath as a “customer” under Idaho Code section 54-2086, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Palmer and Taylor Real Estate. View "Wallace v. Heath" on Justia Law

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Kirby Vickers filed a grievance letter with Idaho Board of Veterinary Medicine (the Board”) against a veterinarian requesting that they take various disciplinary actions. After an investigation, the Board declined to take any action against the veterinarian. Vickers then filed suit in district court, seeking to compel the Board to hold a hearing. The district court dismissed his suit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. On appeal, Vickers argued his letter to the Board initiated a contested action for which he was entitled to judicial review. To this, the Idaho Supreme Court disagreed, finding that a private citizen could not initiate a "contested case" with a grievance letter. Vickers points to the language in caselaw: “[t]he filing of a complaint initiates a contested case,”to argue that any public citizen could file a complaint pursuant to Idaho Rule of Administrative Procedure of the Attorney General (“IDAPA”) 04.11.01.240.02 and begin a contested case. However, the Supreme Court found both the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and the corresponding IDAPA rules, addressed only agency actions. "Vickers cannot apply these rules to his grievance letter, even if it was referred to as a “complaint” in correspondence from the Board, because it is not an agency action under the APA or IDAPA." The Court affirmed the district court's order dismissed this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. View "Vickers v. Idaho Bd of Veterinary Medicine" on Justia Law

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Jonathon Frantz appealed a district court’s award of attorney fees entered against him and his clients, jointly and severally, as a sanction for frivolous conduct. This appeal arose from an easement dispute among family members. The land at issue was split into multiple parcels: the Tracy Parcel, the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and the Osborn Parcel. Plaintiffs Brook Tracy and Travis Mathis owned the Tracy Parcel; Plaintiffs Gailord “Cowboy” Mathis, Brook Tracy, Laura Roll, and Rebecca Stafford owned the Mathis/Roll Parcel; and David and Naomi Osborn owned the Osborn Parcel. In 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Osborns. Frantz was Plaintiffs’ attorney. Plaintiffs claimed that more than thirty years ago they “constructed/placed a home” on the Tracy Parcel, “constructed/placed a cabin” on the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and “created a driveway” through the Osborn Parcel to access their respective properties. Plaintiffs also claimed that for more than thirty years they had openly and continuously used the driveway over the Osborn Parcel for access to the nearest public right-of-way, Highland Drive, which was the only reasonable way to reach their respective properties. Based on this use, Plaintiffs claimed that they had an easement by necessity, an easement by implication, or a prescriptive easement across the Osborn Parcel along the existing driveway. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought a judgment from the district court declaring their rights in the driveway. The trial court denied a preliminary injunction for two reasons: (1) “the allegations in the complaint and the motion contain[ed] gross exaggerations, if not falsehoods” and “the credibility of all of the plaintiffs” was questionable; and (2) Plaintiffs could not establish entitlement to the relief demanded because they came to the hearing unprepared to support the easement theories they advanced with any competent evidence. The Osborns moved for attorney fees, leaving it to the trial court's discretion to award Rule 11 sanctions "if the [c]ourt determines that this motion was pursued frivolously." On appeal, Frantz contended the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees against him personally because it: (1) failed to follow the procedural requirements set out in Idaho Code section 12-123; and (2) erroneously found that he engaged in frivolous conduct. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded this matter did not present a justiciable controversy because the judgment was satisfied and Frantz did not preserve his right to appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 10-1115. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Frantz’s appeal because the issues before the Court were moot. View "Frantz v. Osborn" on Justia Law

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Sharon Walsh retained Swapp Law, PLLC, d/b/a Craig Swapp & Associates ("CS&A") after she was involved in two car accidents in 2013. In the negligence action stemming from the first accident, Walsh followed firm employee Stephen Redd’s advice and settled the case. Walsh then changed representation and, with her new counsel, settled the second case. On March 2, 2017, Walsh filed this action alleging, among other things, that CS&A was negligent in advising her to settle the first case while the second case was still pending and by failing to advise her of an underlying subrogation responsibility in the first case. CS&A moved for summary judgment. It argued that Walsh’s claim was time-barred under Idaho Code section 5-219(4)’s two-year statute of limitations because her malpractice claim began to accrue when she released the first claim. The district court agreed and granted the motion. Walsh timely appeals. Based on its review of the record, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in awarding summary judgment to CS&A. The district court properly determined that Walsh’s claim was time barred under Idaho Code section 5-219 because her cause of action accrued when she signed the release of claims for the First Collision case more than two years prior to her filing the action at hand. Further, the district court properly determined that the fraudulent-concealment provision of Idaho Code section 5-219(4) did not apply because Walsh was put on inquiry of CS&A’s alleged malpractice in June 2015, more than one year prior to filing this action. The district court’s decision granting CS&A’s motion for summary judgment and its final judgment were thus affirmed. View "Walsh v. Swapp Law" on Justia Law

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Natalie Shubert filed a negligence claim against her former public defender, Michael Lojek, former Ada County chief public defender Alan Trimming, and Ada County (collectively, “Ada County Defendants”). In 2008, Shubert was charged with two felonies and pleaded guilty to both charges. Her sentences were suspended in each case, and she was placed on probation. After a probation violation in 2011, the Ada County district court entered an order extending Shubert’s probation beyond the time period allowed by law, and the mistake was not caught. After Shubert’s probation should have ended in both cases, she was charged and incarcerated for a subsequent probation violation in 2014. Thereafter, in 2016, Shubert was charged with a new probation violation. Shubert was assigned a new public defender, who discovered the error that unlawfully kept Shubert on probation. Shubert’s new public defender filed a motion to correct the illegal sentence, raising the error that had improperly extended her probation. The district court granted Shubert’s motion to correct the illegal sentence and released Shubert from custody. Shubert then sued her original public defender, the Ada County Public Defender’s Officer, and other unknown Ada County employees alleging false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, negligence, and state and federal constitutional violations. The district court dismissed all of Shubert’s claims except for negligence. In denying the Ada County Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Shubert’s negligence claim, the district court held that public defenders were not entitled to common law quasi-judicial immunity from civil malpractice liability, and two provisions of the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) did not exempt public defenders from civil malpractice liability. The Ada County Defendants petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court affirmed, finding the district court did not err in its finding that the public defenders and the County were not entitled to immunity. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Shubert v. Ada County" on Justia Law

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BrunoBuilt, Inc. appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claims against Strata, Inc., Chris Comstock, H. Robert Howard, and Michael Woodworth (collectively, “the Strata Defendants”). BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence action against the Strata Defendants alleging that when the Strata Defendants rendered engineering services for the Terra Nativa Subdivision they failed to identify a pre-existing landslide and negligently failed to recommend construction of infrastructure that would stabilize and prevent further landslides within the Subdivision. A home BrunoBuilt had contracted to build and the lot on which the dwelling was located were allegedly damaged as a result. The district court dismissed BrunoBuilt’s claims after holding that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement, or alternatively, that summary judgment was warranted in favor of the Strata Defendants based on the economic loss rule. After review of the situation, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court judgment because the parties entered into an enforceable settlement agreement. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors (the Board), through its executive director, Keith Simila, brought disciplinary proceedings against Chad Erickson for allegedly violating certain statutes and rules governing the surveying profession. Following an administrative hearing, the Board found that Erickson violated a number of the statutes and rules alleged and revoked his license as a professional land surveyor. Erickson sought judicial review by the district court. On review, the district court upheld the Board’s finding that Erickson had committed certain violations; however, the district court reversed the portion of the Board’s Order revoking Erickson’s license and remanded the matter for further consideration of the appropriate sanction. Erickson appeals from the district court’s decision, arguing that the evidence does not support the Board’s finding of any violations. In addition, Erickson asserts that numerous procedural errors made by the Board necessitate reversal. After its review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court's order, finding the Board's order against Erickson was time-barred. View "Erickson v. Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers & Professional Land Surveyors" on Justia Law

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Rebecca Parkinson appealed a district court’s dismissal of her claim for breach of fiduciary duty against her attorney, James Bevis. Parkinson filed a complaint alleging Bevis breached his fiduciary duty when he disclosed a confidential email to the opposing attorney after reaching a settlement in Parkinson’s divorce action. Bevis moved to dismiss under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Parkinson’s complaint failed to state a claim for relief. The district court agreed and dismissed Parkinson’s claim after determining that it was, in essence, a legal malpractice claim, on which Parkinson could not prevail because she admitted that she suffered no damages from Bevis’ disclosure. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in dismissing Parkinson's complaint: whether an attorney must forfeit any or all fees for a breach of fiduciary duty to a client must be determined by applying the rule as stated in section 37 of the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers and the factors the Supreme Court identified to the individual circumstances of each case. In light of this conclusion, the district court’s determination that Parkinson could not pursue her claim on an equitable basis as a matter of law was incorrect. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Parkinson v. Bevis" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors (the Board), through its executive director, Keith Simila, brought disciplinary proceedings against Chad Erickson for allegedly violating certain statutes and rules governing the surveying profession. Following an administrative hearing, the Board found that Erickson violated a number of the statutes and rules alleged and revoked his license as a professional land surveyor. Erickson appealed the revocation of his license to the district court. The district court upheld the Board’s finding that Erickson had committed certain violations; however, the district court reversed the portion of the Board’s Order revoking Erickson’s license and remanded the matter for further consideration of the appropriate sanction. Erickson appealed the district court’s decision, arguing that the evidence did not support the Board’s finding of any violations. In addition, Erickson argued numerous procedural errors made by the Board mandated reversal. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed, finding the Board's October 28, 2015 complaint against Erickson was time barred by IDAPA 10.01.02.011.01 and Idaho Code section 54-1220(2); the Board was aware of the allegations against him beginning in 2011, more than four years prior to the submission of the Executive Director’s complaint against him. "The failure to comply with a statute of limitations is jurisdictional and, therefore, this issue is dispositive." Accordingly, the district court’s Substituted Judicial Review Opinion was reversed and the Board’s Order was vacated because it was made upon unlawful procedure. View "Erickson v. Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers & Professional Land Surveyors" on Justia Law

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David Kosmann appealed a district court judgment relating to a dispute that arose from the sale of real property. He claimed the district court erred in enforcing an oral settlement agreement reached in mediation between Kosmann, Kevin Dinius, and Dinius & Associates, PLLC (collectively “Dinius”). Kosmann also argued the trial court erred in: (1) awarding attorney fees to Dinius as a sanction against Kosmann and his attorney; (2) declining to impose sanctions against Dinius and his attorney; and (3) striking an untimely memorandum and declaration in support of his motion to reconsider. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in enforcing the settlement agreement; the court also did not err in declining to impose sanctions against Dinius on ethics violations. However, the Supreme Court determined the district court abused its discretion in imposing I.R.C.P. 11 sanctions against Kossman and his counsel: the district court did not act consistently with the applicable legal standard for imposing sanctions pursuant to I.R.C.P. 11(b). The Supreme Court declined to address all other issues Kossman raised, and determined he was not entitled to attorney fees on appeal. "The record in this case is so tarnished with questionable conduct that it has presented this Court with a vexing ethical and legal dilemma. While we are gravely concerned over the potential ethical lapses which allegedly occurred during the mediation of this matter, there are no findings in the record concerning these matters. Therefore, as the trial court determined, we will leave to the Idaho State Bar, if properly called upon, the responsibility to investigate this matter further and make the necessary findings and conclusions as to the ethical issues presented." View "Kosmann v. Dinius" on Justia Law