Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
Greenwald v. Western Surety
At the summary judgment stage, the district court found that an employee of Greenwald Neurosurgical, P.C. caused over $100,000 in losses to the P.C., while he was acting in the ordinary course of the P.C.’s business. The district court then issued a judgment to the P.C. for the policy amount of $100,000 pursuant to a Dishonesty Bond issued by Western Surety Company. Western appealed the district court’s determinations that the employee caused the loss while acting in the ordinary course of business and that the P.C. actually suffered the loss. The P.C. cross-appealed the district court’s findings that it was the only entity insured under the bond and argued it was awarded too little by way of attorney’s fees. The Idaho Supreme Court determined: (1) the district court correctly concluded that only the P.C. was an insured and the only entity that could recover under the bond; (2) whether the employee was acting the “ordinary course of [the P.C.’s] business” was a jury question; (3) a genuine issue of fact existed regarding the amount of losses the P.C. sustained; and (4) the district court erred in awarding attorney’s fees to the P.C. The Supreme Court therefore vacated summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Greenwald v. Western Surety" on Justia Law
Lanham v. Fleenor
Thomas Lanham appealed the dismissal of his legal malpractice action against his former attorney, Douglas Fleenor. Fleenor represented Thomas in a will contest regarding Thomas’s father. After the magistrate court ruled against Lanham at the summary judgment stage, Fleenor filed an untimely appeal, which was rejected on that basis. Because the appeal brought by Fleenor was untimely, Lanham brought a legal malpractice action against Fleenor in district court, alleging that the failure to timely appeal the magistrate’s ruling proximately caused him financial loss because he had a meritorious appeal that he never got to pursue due to Fleenor’s negligence. The district court dismissed Lanham’s legal malpractice claim, reasoning that a timely appeal by Fleenor would have been unsuccessful on the merits; hence, Lanham did not suffer any injury as a result of Fleenor’s alleged malpractice. Lanham argued on appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court that the interpretation of the will, in which the deceased attempted to disinherit Lanham, did not properly dispose of all of the estate because it did not contain a residuary clause. Lanham argued these failures should have resulted in various assets passing to him through intestate succession. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Lanham’s malpractice case. View "Lanham v. Fleenor" on Justia Law
Clark v. Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley
In March 2016, Eric Clark and Clark and Associates, PLLC (collectively, Clark) sued the law firm of Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley, P.A., and two individuals associated with that firm, William Fuhrman and Christopher Graham (collectively, Jones Gledhill). The genesis of this appeal started with Forbush v. Sagecrest Multi Family Property Owners’ Association, Inc., 396 P.3d 1199 (2017), a tort case in which a water heater emitted hazardous levels of carbon monoxide, killing one and seriously injuring another. In "Forbush," Clark initially represented the plaintiffs (Forbush), and Jones Gledhill represented two of the defendants, Anfinson Plumbing and Daniel Bakken. As his co-counsel, Clark enlisted the Spence Law Firm (Spence), but after approximately three years, irreconcilable differences plagued Clark and Spence’s relationship, and Clark withdrew. After withdrawing, in September 2015, Clark sent a letter to Jones Gledhill, which stated that he was “asserting an attorney lien according to I.C. 3-205, which attaches to any settlement or verdict. Please include [Clark’s] name on any settlement checks payable to the [Forbush] plaintiffs or any other payments related to a verdict or judgment.” A settlement between the Forbush defendants and plaintiffs was reached in January 2016, at which time the Forbush defendants wrote a settlement check to the Forbush plaintiffs. Without informing Clark of the settlement, Jones Gledhill forwarded the settlement check to Spence. When Clark learned of the settlement and contacted Jones Gledhill, the enforceability of Clark’s claimed lien became disputed. Clark alleged that Jones Gledhill was liable for failing to protect his attorney lien. Jones Gledhill moved to dismiss Clark’s amended complaint under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and the district court granted the motion. In addition to dismissing Clark’s complaint, the district court sealed several documents containing correspondence with and information about Clark’s former clients, denied Clark’s motion to amend, and awarded attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121 to Jones Gledhill. Clark appealed. But finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Clark v. Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley" on Justia Law
Greenfield v. Smith
This was a legal malpractice case that addressed the statute of limitations applicable to professional malpractice claims, how a statute of limitations is calculated when the last day for filing a complaint falls on a Sunday, and whether expert testimony is necessary to establish the prima facie elements of legal malpractice. Plaintiff-appellant Christina Greenfield hired defendant-respondent Ian Smith to represent her in a civil suit against her neighbors. While the suit was pending, Greenfield was charged criminally with malicious injury to the Wurmlingers’ property. Greenfield retained Smith to represent her in the criminal matter. Greenfield was acquitted of the criminal charges. In the civil case, Smith successfully moved to withdraw from representing Greenfield because the attorney-client relationship had broken down to the point where he was no longer able to represent her. Greenfield represented herself at trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the neighbors. Greenfield sued Smith for malpractice, alleging, among other things, that he failed to complete discovery, failed to file a motion for summary judgment on the Wurmlingers’ counterclaim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, failed to amend the complaint to include additional causes of action for abuse of process, slander and libel, failed to file a timely motion for protective order to safeguard the privacy of her medical records, missed several important deadlines, and made no attempt to get the criminal charges dismissed for lack of evidence. Smith filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Greenfield’s claims were time barred and that she could not prove the prima facie elements of legal malpractice because she failed to designate any expert witnesses. Greenfield opposed the motion by filing a responsive brief and her own affidavit setting forth the allegations she claimed supported her malpractice claim, but did not file any expert affidavits. Greenfield argued that her complaint was timely and that no expert witness was required to prove her case. The district court granted Smith’s motion. Greenfield appealed. Though the Idaho Supreme Court found that the district court miscalculated the filing deadline for Greenfield’s civil matter claims (for determining whether her claims were time barred), Greenfield was unable to meet her burdens of proof to support her claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed judgment in favor of Smith. View "Greenfield v. Smith" on Justia Law
Frantz v. Troxell
Counsel for appellant Martin Frantz hired attorney Merlyn Clark as an expert witness in an unrelated matter in 2009. Clark was a partner with respondent law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP (“Hawley Troxell”). In 2010, Frantz’ creditor, Idaho Independent Bank, hired Hawley Troxell to represent it in a contract action against Frantz. In 2011, while that matter was pending, Frantz filed for bankruptcy. Hawley Troxell continued to represent the Bank as a creditor in the bankruptcy, including in an adversary proceeding the Bank filed against Frantz in 2013. Frantz alleged in the adversary proceeding that Clark’s interactions with Frantz in the 2009 matter created an attorney-client relationship and that it was therefore a conflict of interest for Clark’s firm to represent the Bank against Frantz. Frantz also alleged that Hawley Troxell improperly used confidential information Clark acquired in the 2009 matter. The bankruptcy court concluded that there was no attorney-client relationship between Clark (or Hawley Troxell) and Frantz. The adversary proceeding was later dismissed as moot. Frantz subsequently sued Hawley Troxell in Idaho district court, alleging legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court denied pro hac vice admission to attorney Jeffrey Katz, Frantz’ chosen counsel. The district court also dismissed the complaint on the grounds of judicial estoppel, lack of standing, and abatement. Finally, it awarded Hawley Troxell attorney fees under Idaho Code sections 12-120(3) and 12-121. Frantz appealed the denial of pro hac vice admission, the dismissal of his complaint, and the award of attorney fees. Finding no reversible error after review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Frantz v. Troxell" on Justia Law
McKay v. Walker
Plaintiff-appellant Patricia McKay appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Thomas Walker and Cosho Humphrey, LLP, in a legal malpractice action. McKay contended that Walker negligently drafted a property settlement agreement by failing to include provisions that would have resulted in a judgment lien against payments owed to her husband which were secured by a mortgage. The district court concluded that because a mortgage was personal property and not real property, the failure to include a description of the real property subject to the mortgage and the mortgage’s instrument number would not have resulted in the creation of a security interest. Based upon this legal conclusion, the district court held that Walker had not breached a duty to McKay and the alleged breach was not the proximate cause of any damages. McKay argued the district court erred in its conclusion. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McKay v. Walker" on Justia Law
Mena v. Idaho Bd. of Medicine
Robert Mena was licensed to practice medicine and surgery in Idaho in 2003. In 2007, staff members at the hospital in Jerome where he had privileges reported behaviors that suggested to them that Dr. Mena might have been abusing drugs or alcohol. Dr. Mena was evaluated and tested negative for chemical dependency. But staff, still concerned about Dr. Mena's psychological status, opined that he was not then currently fit to practice medicine. After further evaluation, it was recommended that Dr. Mena curtail his work-weeks to 40 to 50 hours. The Idaho State Board of Medicine ("Board") also had begun an investigation regarding Dr. Mena's training and ability to perform certain medical procedures. The Board and Dr. Mena entered into a Stipulation and Order in 2009, in which he admitted that he had violated the Medical Practice Act by failing to provide health care that met the required standard and in which he agreed to specific conditions of probation and restrictions on his license to practice medicine. On September 26, 2011, the Board issued an order terminating the Stipulation and Order. That same day, the hospital in Jerome gave Dr. Mena written notification that it had granted him limited medical privileges on the condition that he obtain additional training, that he had failed to do so, and that his privileges were forfeited. A month later, the Board sent Dr. Mena a letter asking him to respond to the hospital's action. He eventually submitted a thirteen-page written response that was rambling with many obscure references, grammatical and syntax errors, and vague sentences. More evaluations were ordered. The Board issued its Final Order in early 2014, finding that Dr. Mena suffered from "some level of impairment," and it stated that "sanctions were necessary upon [Dr. Mena's] license." Dr. Mena filed a petition for judicial review to the district court, arguing: (1) the Board initiated proceedings pursuant to the Disabled Physician Act and then imposed sanctions that were not permitted by that Act; (2) the Board's order was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the hearing officer erred in holding that certain evidence was inadmissible. The district court upheld the Board's action, and Dr. Mena then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that Board's own evaluation of the evidence showed that there was insufficient evidence to support the Board's order. View "Mena v. Idaho Bd. of Medicine" on Justia Law
Reynolds v. Trout, Jones, Gledhill, Fuhrman, P.A.
Justin S. Reynolds, Kristine Reynolds, and their construction company, Sunrise Development, LLC (Reynolds) brought a malpractice action against their law firm, Trout Jones Gledhill Fuhrman, P.A., and its attorney-employee, David T. Krueck. Reynolds alleged professional negligence in both the drafting of a real estate agreement between Reynolds and Quasar Development, LLC, and in the subsequent handling of the litigation regarding that agreement. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Trout Jones, holding that the two-year statute of limitations found in Idaho Code section 5-219(4) applied to bar the action and Reynolds timely appealed. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Reynolds v. Trout, Jones, Gledhill, Fuhrman, P.A." on Justia Law
In re: St. Lukes Magic Valley RMC v. Luciani, et al.
The United States District Court for the District of Idaho certified a question of law to the State Supreme Court: whether a legal malpractice claim that is transferred to an assignee in a commercial transaction (along with other business assets and liabilities) is assignable under law. The issue stemmed from St. Luke's Magic Valley Regional Medical Center's purchase of Magic Valley Medical Center. Thomas Luciani and his law firm Stamper, Rubens, Stocker & Smith, P.S. represented Magic Valley in defending a wrongful termination and False Claims Act action brought by former hospital employees. After the sale of the medical center closed, Magic Valley no longer existed. The operation and management of the center was taken over by St. Luke's. St. Luke's then sued its former lawyer and law firm. The District Court noted that the assignability of a legal malpractice claim in the factual context presented had not yet been squarely addressed by the Idaho Supreme Court. Upon review, the Idaho Supreme Court answered the district court's question in the affirmative: although legal malpractice claims are generally not assignable in Idaho, where the legal malpractice claim is transferred to an assignee in a commercial transaction, along with other business assets and liabilities, such a claim is assignable. View "In re: St. Lukes Magic Valley RMC v. Luciani, et al." on Justia Law
RE: Order Certifying Question – St. Lukes Magic Valley RMC v. Luciani, et al.
The Idaho Supreme Court was asked in a certified question of law from the United States District Court for the District of Idaho whether a legal malpractice claim that is transferred to an assignee in a commercial transaction, along with other business assets and liabilities, is assignable. The question arose from a a wrongful termination and False Claims Act action brought by former hospital employees against their employer. Magic Valley Medical Center was the entity being sued. Twin Falls County owned Magic Valley. Twin Falls County (on behalf of itself and Magic Valley), Twin Falls Health Initiatives Trust, Ltd. (TFHIT), and St. Luke’s Health System, Ltd., St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, Ltd., and St. Luke’s Magic Valley Regional Medical Center (St. Luke's) entered into a Sale and Lease Agreement for the Creation of a New Health System (Agreement). The sale closed, and St. Luke's carried the burden of the employee litigation, ultimately settling with the plaintiffs. After the transaction closed, Magic Valley no longer existed. Though technically not a merger, the operation and management of the center was taken over by St. Luke's. St. Luke's then sued Magic Valley's former legal counsel for legal malpractice in connection with the employee litigation. The firm moved for summary judgment, arguing that St. Luke's could not pursue a malpractice claim because the purported assignment of such a claim was invalid in Idaho as a matter of law. Upon review, the Idaho Supreme Court answered the district court's certified question in the affirmative: although legal malpractice claims are generally not assignable in Idaho, where the legal malpractice claim is transferred to an assignee in a commercial transaction, along with other business assets and liabilities, such a claim is assignable. View "RE: Order Certifying Question - St. Lukes Magic Valley RMC v. Luciani, et al." on Justia Law