Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
by
In consolidated cases, Michael Mitchell, Chief Indigent Defender for the Office of Public Defender for East Baton Rouge Parish, filed a “Motion to Withdraw from Current Appointments and to Decline Future Appointments” in 2018 in each of these Nineteenth Judicial District Court (“19th JDC”), Section VI cases. Mitchell alleged that long term chronic underfunding of the public defender’s office had necessitated the implementation of “service restriction protocols,” pursuant to La. Administrative Code, Title 22, Section 1701 et seq., and led to the elimination of a number of attorney and support staff positions. Mitchell asserted that the consequent increase in the workloads of the remaining attorneys could potentially create conflicts of interest, as counsel might have to allot more time to one case over another, and could potentially cause ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. In response (which were confined to 19th JDC, Section VI cases), the State filed motions for dismissal of the motions for withdrawal and Daubert objections to expert testimony relative to the La. Project since it was based on the “Delphi Method,” contending, inter alia, that the Delphi Method produced unreliable generalized conclusions about the Louisiana public defender system and, further, that Louisiana v. Peart, 621 So.2d 780 (La. 1993), required individualized findings as to whether there has been ineffective assistance of counsel in each specific case. The district court ruled in favor of the State, implicitly finding that any remedy related to chronic underfunding of the public defender system was within the exclusive purview of the Louisiana Legislature and was outside the parameters of what the court had the authority to fashion; however, the court stated that it would consider any individual motions to withdraw from, or to decline, representation on a case-by-case basis. Thereafter, the appellate court granted the district public defender’s writ application, in part, to reverse the district court’s denial of the motions to withdraw, to vacate the district court orders appointing the public defender in the remaining ongoing consolidated cases, and to grant the request to allow the named public defenders to withdraw from future representation of indigent defendants “until the caseloads are no greater than 100% of his or her annual capacity.” The Louisiana Supreme Court found the appellate court's conclusion was reached without evidence of the specific factual details surrounding the work performance of the individual assistant public defenders: "the question of whether assistance of counsel has been constitutionally ineffective cannot be answered without a detailed examination of the specific facts and circumstances of the representation provided by counsel to the individual defendant. Therefore, the appellate court erred in reversing the district court and ruling in favor of Mr. Mitchell." The district court's rulings were reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Covington" on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted this writ application to determine whether “collectibility” was a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice action. Specifically, the issue presented was whether plaintiff’s damages in this legal malpractice action were limited to the amount she could have actually collected on a judgment against the tortfeasor in the underlying lawsuit. Elaine Ewing was injured in an automobile accident in 2015, when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Marc Melancon. Her counsel failed to forward the original petition for damages within seven days as required by La. R.S. 13:850. The original petition was filed on April 22, 2016, after the one-year prescriptive period had passed. Ms. Ewing’s suit was dismissed on an exception of prescription. Ms. Ewing subsequently filed a legal malpractice action against her attorney and Westport Insurance Corporation, counsel's malpractice insurer. Defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment asserting the court should apply the “collectibility rule.” Defendants alleged Ms. Ewing’s recovery could be no greater than her potential recovery in the underlying personal injury lawsuit, and recovery in this case should have been capped at Mr. Melancon’s insurance policy limits. The Supreme Court held that proof of collectibility of an underlying judgment was not an element necessary for a plaintiff to establish a claim for legal malpractice, nor could collectibility be asserted by an attorney as an affirmative defense in a legal malpractice action. View "Ewing v. Westport Ins. Co., et al." on Justia Law

by
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana filed a disciplinary proceeding against respondent, Justice of the Peace Cody King on one count that alleged respondent violated Canons 1, 2, 2A, 3A(1), 3A(7), and 3B(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (1996) and La. Const. Art. V, section 25(C). In 2018, the Attorney General's Office filed the first of three complaints against Respondent with the Office of Special Counsel of the Commission, asserting that Respondent failed to respond to constituents in his district, and likewise failed to respond to letters or calls from the Attorney General's office. In 2019, Hannah Zaunbrecher filed a complaint, asserting: (1) Respondent was difficult to reach; (2) he overcharged Ms. Zaunbrecher for an eviction she filed; (3) he did not set a court date in the eviction matter despite repeated requests from Ms. Zaunbrecher after the eviction was filed; and (4) Respondent failed to refund the unearned filing fee. The OSC sent letters to Respondent notifying him of each complaint. Respondent did not reply despite later acknowledging that he received them. After a hearing on these charges, the Commission filed a recommendation with the Louisiana Supreme Court concluding that the above violations had been proven. To this, the Supreme Court agreed with the Commission’s recommendation, and ordered the removal of Respondent from office, that he reimburse the Commission the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of the case, and further, that he pay restitution for an unearned filing fee he failed to return to Parish Leasing Company, LLC. View "In re: Justice of the Peace Cody King, Ward 6, Morehouse Parish" on Justia Law

by
Mariah Charles was born prematurely in October 2014 at Lafayette General Medical Center (LGMC) and hospitalized there until transferred to Women’s and Children’s Hospital of Lafayette (W&C). She was released in April 2015 release. Dr. Geeta Dalal, a pediatric cardiologist with clinical privileges at both hospitals, contributed to Mariah’s care during and after Mariah’s hospitalization. While Mariah remained at LGMC, Dr. Dalal ordered and interpreted eight echocardiograms that, according to the petition, revealed abnormal findings that could cause pulmonary artery hypertension. The petition alleged Dr. Dalal took no action other than ordering additional echocardiograms. After Mariah’s transfer to W&C, Dr. Dalal interpreted three more echocardiograms, again noted abnormalities, and allegedly failed to properly diagnose or treat Mariah. On May 8, Mariah was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit at W&C and examined by another pediatric cardiologist who diagnosed pulmonary artery hypertension. Mariah was transferred by helicopter to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans where medical staff confirmed the diagnosis and performed a heart catheterization procedure. Mariah’s mother, Megan Thomas (Thomas), initiated Medical Review Panel proceedings with the Patient’s Compensation Fund against Dr. Dalal and the hospital defendants, alleging medical malpractice and seeking damages for their alleged failure to properly diagnose and treat Mariah. In addition to the Medical Review Panel proceedings, Thomas filed suit against the hospitals: The Regional Health System of Acadiana, LLC, Women’s & Children’s Hospital, Inc., HCA Holdings, Inc. W&C, and LGMC. The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on allegations of negligent credentialing against Dr. Dalal, and whether those allegations fell within the scope of the Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act, or alternatively, sounded in general negligence. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, and reinstated the trial court's judgment sustaining the hospital defendants' exceptions of prematurity. View "Thomas v. Regional Health System of Acadiana, LLC." on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this case to determine whether the Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance was bound by an arbitration clause in an agreement between a health insurance cooperative and a third-party contractor. The Louisiana Health Cooperative, Inc. (“LAHC”), a health insurance cooperative created in 2011 pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, entered an agreement with Milliman, Inc. for actuarial and other services. By July 2015, the LAHC was out of business and allegedly insolvent. The Insurance Commissioner sought a permanent order of rehabilitation relative to LAHC. The district court entered an order confirming the Commissioner as rehabilitator and vesting him with authority to enforce contract performance by any party who had contracted with the LAHC. The Commissioner then sued multiple defendants in district court, asserting claims against Milliman for professional negligence, breach of contract, and negligent misrepresentation. According to that suit, the acts or omissions of Milliman caused or contributed to the LAHC’s insolvency. Milliman responded by filing a declinatory exception of lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the Commissioner must arbitrate his claims pursuant to an arbitration clause in the agreement between the LAHC and Milliman. The Supreme Court concluded, however, the Commissioner was not bound by the arbitration agreement and accordingly could not be compelled to arbitrate its claims against Millman. The Court reversed the appellate court's judgment holding to the contrary, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Donelon v. Shilling" on Justia Law

by
The Louisiana Physical Therapy Board (“Board”) was established under the provisions of La. R.S. 37:2403, requiring that the Board shall consist of seven members appointed by the governor and further provided at least one member shall be a licensed physician. The underlying litigation arose when the Board filed an administrative complaint against physical therapist Kevin Bias after he was arrested for an alleged aggravated assault while driving. The matter proceeded to a hearing. At the hearing, the Board was composed of five members. The acting chairperson introduced the board members and asked for objections to the makeup of the panel. Counsel for Bias responded there were none. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board suspended Bias’s physical therapy license with conditions for reinstatement. Bias appealed the Board’s decision to the district court, and when unsuccessful there, appealed to the court of appeals. The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on whether the Board had authority to conduct disciplinary proceedings when there was a vacancy in its statutorily-mandated composition. The Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in finding the board’s actions were invalid because it was not lawfully constituted at the time of its actions in this case. View "Bias v. Louisiana Physical Therapy Board" on Justia Law

by
The Board of Ethics (“Board”) filed formal charges against respondents, Walter Monsour and Jordan Monsour. Respondents filed separate motions for summary judgment with the Ethics Adjudicatory Board (“EAB”), seeking dismissal of the charges and attaching exhibits in support of their motions for summary judgment. The Board opposed the motions and attached exhibits in support of its opposition. Respondents filed a reply memorandum, arguing the exhibits attached to the Board’s opposition did not constitute competent evidence because they were unsworn, unverified, and not self-proving. The EAB denied respondents’ objections to the Board’s exhibits and admitted them into evidence. At the end of the hearing, the EAB took the motion for summary judgment under advisement. Respondents sought supervisory review of the ruling admitting the exhibits into evidence. The court of appeal found the EAB erred in admitting the Board's exhibits, because these exhibits did not meet the requirements of La. Code Civ. P. arts. 966 and 967. Accordingly, the court reversed the EAB’s ruling and remanded for further proceedings. Two judges dissented in part, and would have allowed the Board, on remand, to submit competent evidence prior to a ruling on the motion for summary judgment. The Louisiana Supreme Court concluded the evidence produced in connection with motions for summary judgment in these administrative proceedings had to conform to the same requirements applicable to civil proceedings. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeal and remanded the case to the EAB for further proceedings. View "Board of Ethics in the Matter of Jordan Monsour & Walter Monsour" on Justia Law

by
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana (“Commission”) brought a formal charge against Judge J. Robin Free of the 18th Judicial District Court for the Parishes of Iberville, Pointe Coupee and West Baton Rouge. The charge alleged Judge Free violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Louisiana Constitution, Article V, sec. 25(C), in that he interrupted a private meeting between the family members of the victims and members of the District Attorney’s Office, following a hearing in a criminal case before him, and made an inappropriate comment; abused his contempt authority and failed to follow the proper procedures for the punishment of contempt in two cases; and made inappropriate comments in seven criminal cases and exhibited a lack of proper decorum, demeanor, and temperament. After reviewing the recommendation of the Commission and the record, the Louisiana Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of the Commission that Judge Free be suspended without pay for one year and ordered to reimburse the Commission for the costs associated with these proceedings. View "In re Judge J. Robin Free, Eighteenth Judicial Dist. Ct., Parishes of West Baton Rouge, Iberville & Pointe Coupee" on Justia Law

by
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana recommended that James J. Best, a judge for the Eighteenth Judicial District, Parishes of Iberville, Pointe Coupee, and West Baton Rouge, be disciplined. The Commission alleged Judge Best committed misconduct and should be suspended for thirty days and ordered to reimburse the costs incurred in the Commission’s investigation and prosecution of this case. Judge Best did not contest the recommendation and, along with the Commission, filed a joint motion urging the Supreme Court to accept and implement the recommendation as a consent discipline. The Supreme Court rejected the joint motion and docketed the case for a full evaluation of the record. After a thorough review of the facts and law in this matter, the Supreme Court found that a fifteen-day suspension, without pay, and reimbursement of costs to be an appropriate sanction. View "In re: Judge James Best, Eighteenth Jud. Dist. Court of Iberville, Pointe Coupee & West Baton Rouge Parishes" on Justia Law

by
The Judiciary Commission of Louisiana recommended that respondent, Justice of the Peace J. Roosevelt Gremillion, District Seven, Parish of Pointe Coupee, be removed from office and ordered to reimburse to the Judiciary Commission and the Office of Special Counsel the costs incurred in the investigation and prosecution of this case. After conducting an investigation, the Commission filed a formal charge against Justice of the Peace Gremillion alleging that he violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3A(1), 3A(4), and 3A(7) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and engaged in willful misconduct relating to his official duty and persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute. Specifically, the charge alleged that Justice of the Peace Gremillion rendered a judgment without giving the defendants a meaningful opportunity to be heard, without requiring the plaintiff to present any evidence or sworn testimony, and without giving the defendants written notice of the judgment against them; displayed bias or prejudice throughout the proceedings in favor of the creditor and/or against the defendants’ efforts to defend the claim against them; notarized power of attorney forms when the purported affiants did not appear before him, swear out an oath, or sign the forms in his presence; and used a notary stamp that gave the incorrect impression he was an attorney. After a thorough review of the facts and law in this matter, including the stipulations of material facts and conclusions of law entered into by the respondent and the Office of Special Counsel, the Louisiana Supreme Court found clear and convincing evidence sufficient to support the charge. The Court agreed with the Judiciary Commission's recommendation of discipline that Justice of the Peace Gremillion be removed from office and ordered to reimburse and pay to the Commission the amount of $1,547.43. View "In re: Justice of the Peace J. Roosevelt Gremillion, Dist. Seven, Parish of Pointe Coupee" on Justia Law