Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals' decision affirming the district court's dismissal of a physician's petition for judicial review of the Iowa Board of Medicine's decision to use a "confidential letter of warning" to impose conditions on the physician's return to the practice of medicine over his objection, without a finding of probable cause, and without judicial review, holding that the district court erred by ruling that the Board's letter was not judicially reviewable. Before the physician voluntarily ceased practicing medicine the Board had opened an investigation into the physician. The Board closed the investigation without a finding of probable cause that the physician had violated any rule or standard of practice. In its letter, the Board told the physician that if he returned to practicing medicine he must complete a comprehensive clinical competency evaluation. The physician sought judicial review, contending that the Board's letter constituted illegal agency action. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the letter was not a disciplinary sanction subject to judicial review. The Supreme Court vacated the decision, holding that the Board's letter was subject to judicial review because the physician was aggrieved by the Board's action where he was unable to resume practicing his profession without triggering the competency evaluation. View "Irland v. Iowa Board of Medicine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's medical malpractice claims against Defendants, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below. Plaintiff, through a conservator, sued Defendants for negligent acts or omissions that occurred during Plaintiff's birth. During the birth, Plaintiff's shoulder became stuck on his mother's pelvis, and while Defendants performed maneuvers to resolve the stuck shoulder, Plaintiff was born with a permanent injury preventing normal use and function of his left arm. Based upon the jury's verdict, the district court entered an order dismissing Plaintiff's claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not commit reversible error in the specifications of negligence it submitted to the jury; (2) Plaintiff was properly prevented from introducing continuing medical education (CME) records to show a breach in the standard of care; (3) the district court abused its discretion by prohibiting the use of CME records as impeachment evidence, but the error was harmless; (4) Defendants’ expert opinion testimony was properly disclosed and did not reflect an opinion in anticipation of litigation; and (5) the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the jury’s access to video evidence during deliberation. View "Eisenhauer v. Henry County Health Center" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals reversing the judgment of the district court that granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants - Plaintiff’s attorney and the attorney’s law firm - in Plaintiff’s legal negligence action, holding that the statute of limitations barred Plaintiff’s action. Specifically, the Court held (1) Iowa Code 614.1(4) barred Plaintiff’s action, and the discovery rule, the continuous-representation rule, and the doctrine of fraudulent concealment did not toll the limitations period or estop Defendants from raising the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense; and (2) no genuine issues of fact existed, and Defendants were entitled to judgment. View "Skadburg v. Gately" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought claims against her former attorney for legal malpractice. The district court submitted to the jury four claims (1) legal malpractice in Defendant’s representation of Plaintiff in her divorce, (2) legal malpractice in Defendant’s representation of Plaintiff in her potential claim for assault and battery against her ex-husband, (3) assault and battery by Defendant, and (4) punitive damages. The jury returned verdicts for Defendant on the legal malpractice claims and verdicts for Plaintiff on the assault and battery and punitive damages claims. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the district court rulings granting motions for directed verdict on certain claims; (2) the evidentiary rulings of the district court were not in error; and (3) while Defendant’s cross-appeal was untimely, on the merits, the award of actual damages and punitive damages did not exceed the range permitted by the evidence. View "Stender v. Blessum" on Justia Law

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This legal malpractice case arose from work performed by the Dunakey & Klatt law firm for Michael Cox II. Cox later died. Thereafter, Michael Cox’s parents (Plaintiffs) filed this action for legal malpractice against Dunakey & Klatt and two of the attorneys in the firm. The parties agreed to mediate their dispute. Following mediation, the parties agreed on what would be paid to settle the case. The parties exchanged versions of a confidentiality provision to be included in the settlement agreement, although they never settled on the same version at the same time. The district court nevertheless enforced the settlement agreement and dismissed the underlying malpractice case. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing, inter alia, that there was no “meeting of the minds” on settlement. The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court enforcing a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the law firm, holding that there was no binding settlement agreement because the parties never mutually assented to the same settlement agreement. View "Estate of Michael G. Cox II v. Dunakey & Klatt, P.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ attorney filed two board claim forms with a state appeals board on behalf of Plaintiffs, signing their names and his own. The attorney did not attach any document showing he had power of attorney. The board rejected Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs then filed their claim in district court. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that their attorney signed the forms on their behalf. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a claimant presents a claim when the board receives a writing that discloses the amount of damages claimed and generally describes the legal theories asserted against the State; and (2) the district court had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ claims. View "Segura v. State" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application for discipline of a judicial officer recommending the Supreme Court publicly reprimand district court judge Mary E. Howes, Seventh Judicial District. Judge Howes petitioned for dissolution of her marriage to her husband, Jack Henderkott, in June 2011. In 2013, Henderkott sent Judge Howes an email indicating the Internal Revenue Service had deducted $3192 from his 2012 income tax return because she did not claim income she received from liquidating an individual retirement account on the couple’s 2010 joint income tax return. Henderkott claimed he was entitled to reimbursement in the full amount of the deduction per the terms of the settlement agreement. Judge Howes retained a "Ms. Pauly" to assist with her dissolution of marriage, but different counsel for the lingering tax dispute with her ex-husband. Ms. Pauly represented a different client before Judge Howes on a family law matter. Ms. Pauly's client became "distraught" upon hearing that the lawyer representing the client's husband was representing the very judge who had signed an order granting a temporary injunction in the client's case. A complaint against Judge Howes was subsequently filed. Because the Supreme Court concluded the judge violated the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, it granted the application for judicial discipline. Rather than publicly reprimand the judge, however, the Court publicly admonished the judge. View "In the matter of Honorable Mary E. Howes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued his former criminal defense attorneys for legal malpractice, alleging that they allowed him to plead guilty to a crime that lacked a factual basis. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorneys on the basis that Plaintiff could not show he was actually innocent of any offense that formed the basis for the underlying criminal case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a criminal defendant’s showing of actual innocence is not a prerequisite to bringing a legal malpractice against his or her former criminal defense attorney. Instead, innocence or guilt should be taken into account when determining whether the traditional elements of a legal malpractice claim have been established. Remanded. View "Barker v. Capotosto" on Justia Law

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In this case the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the district court erred in admitting exhibits directed to the issue of fault in a pharmacy malpractice action that were not disclosed during the pretrial discovery. Plaintiff appealed the district court's adverse ruling. The court of appeals found the district court abused its discretion by not excluding the evidence as a sanction for violating both the pretrial order of the district court to disclose all exhibits prior to trial and the spirit and purpose of the discovery rules. The Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals and affirmed the district court, holding (1) the pharmacy had a duty to disclose the newly discovered evidence prior to trial by supplementing its answers to interrogatories; and (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied the request to exclude the evidence as a sanction, as the trial court pursued a reasonable course of action. View "Whitley v. C.R. Pharmacy Serv., Inc." on Justia Law

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In this real estate dispute, some of the defendants filed a motion for sanctions, alleging Defendant brought the action to harass, cause unnecessary delay, and needlessly increase the cost of litigation. The district court ordered sanctions against Plaintiff's counsel for $1,000. The court of appeals affirmed the sanctions, ordering them payable to the jury and witness fund. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part the court of appeals, holding (1) the district court did not abuse its discretion in fixing the amount of the sanction at $1,000; (2) the court abused its discretion by ordering the sanction be paid to the jury and witness fund; and (3) given Rule 1.413(1)'s preference of compensating victims, the district court should enter an order requiring Plaintiff's counsel to pay the sanction in equal sums to the defendants who sought the sanction as partial reimbursement of the legal fees they incurred in defending against the unfounded claims brought against them. Remanded. View "Rowedder v. Anderson" on Justia Law