Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Iowa Supreme Court
Estate of Michael G. Cox II v. Dunakey & Klatt, P.C.
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
Posted in: Contracts, Iowa Supreme Court, Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Segura v. State
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
In the matter of Honorable Mary E. Howes
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
Barker v. Capotosto
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
Whitley v. C.R. Pharmacy Serv., Inc.
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
Posted in: Iowa Supreme Court, Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Rowedder v. Anderson
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
Quad City Bank & Trust v. Jim Kircher & Assocs., P.C.
A bank attempted to prove an accounting negligence claim by using an expert witness to testify regarding the accountant's audit of a lumber company. The district court refused to allow the expert to testify as to generally accepted CPA auditing standards, whether the accountant breached those standards, and causation. The district court left open the question of whether the expert could testify as to the accountant's work papers. At trial, the bank made an offer of proof as to the work papers but did not move to introduce them, and so the court never ruled on their admissibility. The jury returned a verdict finding the accountant did not negligently perform the audit. The court of appeals reversed the district court and remanded for a new trial. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding (1) the bank failed to preserve error on the work-paper issue, and (2) the expert was not qualified to testify on the ultimate issue of whether the accountant violated generally accepted accounting standards because the expert lacked the knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education to provide an adequate basis for this testimony. View "Quad City Bank & Trust v. Jim Kircher & Assocs., P.C." on Justia Law