Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
by
In this case, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho upheld a lower court's summary judgment in favor of the defendants, George and Jesse’s Les Schwab Tire Store, Inc., and two of its owners, Bruce and Richard Byram. The plaintiff, Adam Davis, had been employed as an assistant manager at Les Schwab from April 2016 till June 2019. In March 2019, there was a shortage in the cash deposits and surveillance footage showed Davis bending down out of camera view in the area where the cash deposits were kept while he was alone in the store. This led to Davis being arrested and charged with grand theft, and his employment was terminated. Although the charges against Davis were later dropped, he sued the defendants for breach of his employment contract, false arrest, defamation per se, and for knowingly giving a false report to the police. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on all of Davis’s claims. The Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision, finding no genuine issue of material fact that could support Davis’s claims. The court found that Davis was an at-will employee who could be terminated without cause and that there was no evidence to show that the defendants had acted with malice. The court also found that the plaintiff's attorney had violated Rule 11.2 by submitting arguments that were not well grounded in fact, and awarded a portion of the defendants' attorney fees to be paid by the plaintiff's counsel. View "Davis v. George and Jesse's Les Schwab Tire Store, Inc." on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Colorado Supreme Court in this matter was a trial court’s order denying immunity to Defendant New Century Hospice, Inc. and its subsidiaries, Defendants Legacy Hospice, LLC, d/b/a New Century Hospice of Denver, LLC, and Legacy Hospice of Colorado Springs, LLC (collectively, “New Century”). New Century argued it was entitled to immunity under four different statutes. Tana Edwards filed suit against New Century (her former employer) and Kathleen Johnson, the Director of Operations for New Century Castle Rock (collectively, “Defendants”). As part of her employment with New Century, Edwards provided in-home care to an elderly patient. In December 2019, Johnson began to suspect that Edwards was diverting pain medications from the patient. Defendants reported the suspected drug diversion to the Castle Rock Police Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (“CDPHE”). Defendants also lodged a complaint against Edwards’s nursing license with the Colorado Board of Nursing (“the Board”). After investigations, no criminal charges were filed and no formal disciplinary actions were taken against Edwards. Edwards subsequently brought this action against Defendants, alleging claims for negligent supervision and negligent hiring against New Century, as well as claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against New Century and Johnson. Defendants moved for summary judgment. The trial court granted the motion as to Edwards’s claims for negligent hiring, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, finding that the claims were either time-barred or could not be proven. Three of the statutes New Century cited for its immunity claim, 12-20-402(1), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Professions Act”), 12-255-123(2), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Nurse Practice Act”), and 18-6.5-108(3), C.R.S. (2022) (“the Mandatory Reporter statute”), only authorized immunity for a “person.” Relying on the plain meaning of “person,” the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to immunity under these three statutes because it was a corporation, not a person. The fourth statute, 18-8-115, C.R.S. (2022) (“the Duty to Report statute”), explicitly entitled corporations to immunity, but only if certain conditions were met. Applying the plain language of the statute, the Supreme Court held that New Century was not entitled to summary judgment on the issue of immunity under this statute because it did not carry its burden of demonstrating that all such conditions were met. View "In re Edwards v. New Century Hospice" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff sued her employer, Defendant Montefiore Medical Center, and two of its employees, asserting claims of sexual harassment during and retaliatory discharge from her employment. Following the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in their favor, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s remaining claims and sought sanctions against Plaintiff and her counsel, Appellant Daniel Altaras and his firm, Appellant Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC (“DSLG”), contending that Plaintiff’s text message evidence was a forgery. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Plaintiff had fabricated the text messages, falsely testified about their production, and spoliated evidence in an attempt to conceal her wrongdoing. The district court also found that Altaras had facilitated Plaintiff’s misconduct. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s remaining claims with prejudice and imposed a monetary sanction of attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred by Defendants. On appeal, Appellants challenged various aspects of the district court’s conduct.   The court vacated the portion of the district court’s judgment imposing a sanction on Altaras and DSLG and remanded for further proceedings consistent. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all other respects. The court held that the district court erred by failing to expressly make the finding of bad faith required to support the sanction it imposed against Altaras and DSLG.  The court directed that on remand, the district court may assess in its discretion whether Altaras’s misconduct—including his insistence on defending a complaint founded on obviously fabricated evidence or other actions—amounted to bad faith. View "Rossbach et al. v. Montefiore Medical Center et al." on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court awarding attorneys' fees after a medical doctor sued and lost against a hospital following its revocation of the doctor's medical staff and surgical privileges, holding that the circuit court did not err or abuse its discretion.Doctor, a surgeon, sued Hospital after his termination stemming from allegations that Doctor provided care that fell short of standard surgical practice. After a remand, all of Doctor's claims were dismissed. Thereafter, the circuit court awarded Hospital attorneys' fees and costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the motion for attorneys' fees was timely filed; and (2) Doctor was not entitled to relief on his remaining allegations of error. View "Williams v. Baptist Health" on Justia Law

by
The Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and its Committee of Credentials (Committee) (collectively, defendants) appealed the grant of mandamus relief to petitioner Russell Earnest, setting aside the Committee’s disciplinary recommendation against him and enjoining the Commission from acting on that recommendation. Defendants argued the trial court erred in finding: (1) Earnest was excused from exhausting his administrative remedies; and (2) the Committee lacked jurisdiction to conduct a formal review pursuant to Education Code1 section 44242.5 (d). They further asserted the trial court should have denied the petition under the doctrine of judicial restraint. In the unpublished portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal concluded all three factors outlined in Coachella Valley Mosquito & Vector Control Dist. v. California Public Employment Relations Bd., 35 Cal.4th 1072 (2005) weighed in favor of excusing Earnest from exhausting his administrative remedies. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court found that although section 44242.5 (b)(3) generally provided a jurisdictional basis for the Committee to commence initial reviews, as discussed post, the provision was also incorporated in section 44242.5 (d)(3) to provide a jurisdictional basis for the Committee to commence formal reviews. It was this jurisdictional provision the Committee relied upon in commencing a formal review of Earnest’s fitness to hold a credential. The Court thus concluded the plain language of section 44242.5(b)(3) imposed the onus on the employer to determine whether to provide a notifying statement to the Committee, and thus only the employer may determine whether an enumerated action was the “result of an allegation of misconduct,” triggering the Committee’s jurisdiction. Applying that interpretation to the facts of this case, the Court concluded the Committee did not have jurisdiction to commence a formal review of Earnest’s fitness to hold a credential. The grant of mandamus relief was thus affirmed. View "Earnest v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Sean Kelly appealed the grant of summary judgment to the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) on employment discrimination and breach-of-contract claims arising from UVMMC’s decision not to extend his one-year medical fellowship. UVMMC selected plaintiff for the 2017-18 fellowship. UVMMC was aware that plaintiff suffered from an adrenal deficiency that had delayed the completion of his residency. In the first five months of the fellowship, plaintiff missed nineteen full days and parts of nine more days for various reasons. By February 2018, after missing several more days and expressing that he felt “frustrated with [his] absences” and “overall inadequate as a fellow,” program personnel became concerned that plaintiff was falling behind in his training. In a March 30 meeting, the program director told plaintiff his performance had “deficiencies and these need[ed] to be addressed.” At some point during this period, the director also told plaintiff he “should plan on extending [his] fellowship due to [his] time out and some minor deficits through August.” Plaintiff emailed other program personnel expressing frustration at the prospect of staying through August to complete his training. On April 14, 2018, plaintiff suffered a stroke, and on April 19th he attempted suicide. He was hospitalized from April 14 through May 3 and was not cleared to return to work until June 1, 2018. In all, plaintiff missed approximately six more weeks of the fellowship. On or about May 31, the director called plaintiff and told him that while UVMMC had determined he needed six more months of training to finish the fellowship, it could not accommodate additional training for that length of time. UVMMC paid plaintiff his remaining salary. Plaintiff filed a grievance under the Graduate Medical Education rules; the grievance committee affirmed UVMMC's decision. Because the decision not to extend his fellowship was an academic decision, there was no employment action and consequently no adverse employment action. The Vermont Supreme Court did not find plaintiff's arguments on appeal persuasive, and affirmed the grant of summary judgment in UVMMC's favor. View "Kelly v. University of Vermont Medical Center" on Justia Law

by
Dr. Dubnow, a board-certified physician with more than 40 years of experience, was Chief of the Emergency Department at Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC). In 2017, he diverted an ambulance transporting an infant to Lake Forest Hospital, located a few minutes away from the FHCC. Lake Forest has a Level-II trauma center and is staffed with pediatric specialists. The child was pronounced dead upon arriving at Lake Forest. The FHCC, a VA hospital, investigated Dubnow’s diversion decision. This investigation eventually resulted in his removal. A review board concluded that none of the grounds for his removal were supported but the final reviewing authority reversed the review board’s decision. The district court affirmed the VA’s removal decision.The Seventh Circuit vacated the removal. The VA failed to properly apply the deferential “clearly contrary to the evidence” standard when reviewing the board’s decision to overturn Dubnow’s removal; the decision was arbitrary. The relevant question was whether the diversion was appropriate; if so, Dubnow’s removal could not be sustained. To conclude that treating the patient at the FHCC was possible, or even appropriate, is not to conclude that diverting the ambulance to a better-equipped hospital was inappropriate. A “conclusion that there was ‘no need’ to divert the patient is two steps removed from the analysis” under 38 U.S.C. 7462(d). View "Dubnow v. McDonough" on Justia Law

by
Vestal was an IRS Agent and routinely had access to personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. She received annual “Privacy, Information Protection and Disclosure training.” In 2018, Vestal received a notice of proposed suspension for displaying discourteous and unprofessional conduct and for failing to follow managerial directives. In preparing her defense, she sent her attorney a record from a taxpayer’s file, which included personally identifiable and other taxpayer information. Vestal’s attorney was not authorized to receive such information. Vestal sent the record without obtaining authorization, without making redactions, and without relying on advice from legal counsel. Dubois, the deciding official, decided to remove Vestal from service, explaining in his removal letter “that a removal will promote the efficiency of the Service and that a lesser penalty would be inadequate.”The Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit affirmed an administrative judge in sustaining her removal. The disclosure was “very serious,” and intentional. The agency’s table of penalties recommends removal for any first offense of intentional disclosures of taxpayer information to unauthorized persons. While Vestal stated that she incorrectly believed that attorney-client privilege protected the disclosure, the administrative judge explained that Vestal nevertheless did “act[] intentionally.” Vestal’s prior suspension was aggravating; her job performance and her 10 years of service were mitigating though also supporting that she had ample notice of the seriousness of unauthorized disclosures of taxpayer information. View "Vestal v. Department of the Treasury" on Justia Law

by
D.C. was employed by Applied, 1996-2008, and claimed three industrial injuries: a specific injury to her neck and right upper extremity in 2001, a specific injury to her neck and both upper extremities in 2005, and a cumulative trauma injury to her neck, both upper extremities, and psyche ending on her last day working. D.C. claimed her injuries were due to the constant use of a computer keyboard. In 2006, she developed a pain disorder, anxiety, and depression, which she claimed were compensable consequences of her physical injuries. She later claimed that she was sexually exploited by Dr. Massey, the physician primarily responsible for the treatment of her industrial injuries. D.C. was diagnosed with PTSD. Applied's workers’ compensation carriers disputed liability for her psychiatric injuries.A workers’ compensation judge found that all of D.C.’s injury claims were industrial; awarded D.C. 100 percent permanent disability (PD) based on her PTSD alone; found no apportionment; and concluded that the insurers were jointly and severally liable for that award since Dr. Massey treated all three of her industrial injuries. The Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board generally affirmed.The court of appeal concluded there was substantial evidence of repeated exposure to injury-causing events and new injuries after 2005 that supported the finding of cumulative trauma ending in 2008. D.C. met her burden of proving that her PTSD was a compensable consequence injury that resulted from the treatment for her industrial injuries and that her employment was a contributing cause; as a matter of law, a patient cannot consent to sexual contact with her physician. The court rejected several challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence. The 100 percent PD award must be annulled as based on an incorrect legal theory, the alternative path theory. View "Applied Materials v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, a start‐up company and its founder (Marlowe), sued the company’s former chief legal officer, Fisher, to recover losses from an arbitration award that held them liable for years of unpaid wages owed to Fisher himself. The award comprised unpaid wages and statutory penalties totaling $864,976 and an additional $366,460 because Fisher did not receive written notice of his contract nonrenewal. Plaintiffs alleged that Fisher advised them to enter into what they now say was an illegal agreement to defer Fisher’s compensation until the company was able to secure more funding.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Even if Marlowe was Fisher’s client regarding her own compensation agreement and a decision not to purchase directors and officers insurance, the plaintiffs failed to plead any plausible malpractice claims arising from those matters. Plaintiffs did not allege that they would have opted against using the compensation agreements had Fisher fully advised them. The company violated the Illinois Wage Act by failing to pay Fisher as agreed. The agreement did not aggravate or add to those violations; it made sense as an interim measure to forestall litigation by acknowledging the obligation and committing the company to one way to satisfy it. View "UFT Commercial Finance, LLC v. Fisher" on Justia Law