Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court dismissing Plaintiff's professional negligence action against several healthcare providers, holding that the district court properly dismissed the complaint on the ground that Plaintiff failed to file the certificate of merit required by Iowa Code 147.140.Plaintiff filed this action alleging professional negligence, negligent hiring, retention, or supervision of professional staff and other claims. The district court dismissed the petition under section 147.140. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff exclusively alleged professional negligence claims that fell within the scope of section 147.140, and therefore, the district court correctly dismissed the complaint. View "Struck v. Mercy Health Services-Iowa Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court reversing the Iowa Board of Medicine declaratory order interpreting Iowa Code 272C.6(4)(a) as allowing the Board to publish statements of charges and press releases containing investigative information, holding that the district court did not err.The Board filed a statement of charges against Dr. Domenico Calcaterra accusing him of a "pattern of disruptive behavior and/or unethical or unprofessional conduct" and published the statement of charges against Dr. Calcaterra, along with a press release, on the Board's website. Several years after the parties reached a settlement, information about the allegations against Dr. Calcaterra remained available on the Board's website. Dr. Calcaterra filed a petition for declaratory order with the Board challenging that Board's ongoing dissemination of investigative information. The Board denied the challenge. The district court set aside the Board's order, holding that section 272.6(4)(a) prohibited the disclosure of the investigative information. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Board incorrectly interpreted section 272C.6(4)(a) and that investigative information cannot be released to the public in a statement of charges or a press release when there has been no underlying final decision in the disciplinary proceeding. View "Calcaterra v. Iowa Board of Medicine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting partial summary judgment on Donald Clark's legal malpractice claim, holding that Clark may not use his prior successful ineffective assistance of counsel claims to establish preclusively the breach elements of his malpractice claims.Clark, who was represented at his criminal trial by a state public defender, was convicted of second-degree sexual abuse. Clark filed a postconviction relief (PCR) action seeking a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel. The PCR court concluded that Clark was entitled to a new trial, and the charges against Clark were eventually dismissed. Clark then brought this malpractice action against the State. In his motion for partial summary judgment, Clark asserted that the breach-of-duty element of his malpractice claim was conclusively established by the ruling of the PCR court under the doctrine of issue preclusion. The district court agreed and granted partial summary judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the State as a defendant in the malpractice action was not the same party or in privity with a party in the PCR action; and (2) therefore, the elements of issue preclusion were not met. View "Clark v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that judgment creditors cannot levy on their judgment debtor, obtain the judgment debtor's chose in action for legal malpractice against the attorney representing the judgment debtor in the litigation giving rise to the judgment, and prosecute the claim for legal malpractice against the attorney as successors in interest to their judgment debtor.Janice and Jeff Gray were awarded $127 million in a civil suit against James Lee Hohenshell. The court of appeals affirmed. While the appeal was pending, the Grays caused to be issued a writ of execution on the judgment against Hohenshell. Amongst the property levied on was any claims against Michael Oliver, Hohenshell's lawyer in the underlying suit. The Grays purchased this right for $5000 at the sheriff's sale. The Grays then filed this malpractice claim against Oliver as successors in interest to Hohenshell. The district court granted Oliver's motion for summary judgment, holding that public policy prohibits the assignment of a legal malpractice claim to an adversarial party in the underlying lawsuit. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that judgment creditors cannot prosecute a claim for legal malpractice as successors in interest to their former litigation adversary where the claim for legal malpractice arose out of the suit in which the parties were adverse. View "Gray v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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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