Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners
Dr. Jacob Schmitz appealed a district court judgment affirming the final order of the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners (“Board”) imposing discipline against him. He also appealed an order entered after a limited remand denying his motion for post-judgment relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b). Dr. Schmitz was a chiropractor licensed to practice in North Dakota. He owned and practiced at Freedom Chiropractic Health Center in Fargo, North Dakota. In March 2019 the Board issued an administrative complaint against Dr. Schmitz, alleging he failed to maintain the chiropractic standard of care for patient and clinical billing records in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(3), that Dr. Schmitz’s membership plans were in violation of N.D. Admin Code 17-03-01-05, and that Dr. Schmitz used Noridian Medicare Private Contract and Advanced Beneficiary Notice (ABN) forms to have patients opt out of Medicare in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 17-03-01-01(4). The Board requested the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”) to appoint an ALJ to conduct an evidentiary hearing and issue recommended findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order. Both Dr. Schmitz and the Board moved for summary judgment. The ALJ held a telephonic hearing on the competing motions, issued a recommended order granting the Board’s summary judgment motion on each of the claims, and cancelled the previously scheduled evidentiary hearing. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Board’s final order, adopting an administrative law judge’s (“ALJ”) recommended order for summary judgment, erred in granting summary judgment on the Board’s claims against Dr. Schmitz. The judgment and the Board’s final order were reversed, and the matter remanded to the Board to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to supplement the administrative record. View "Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law
Matter of Rose Henderson Peterson Mineral Trust
Dennis Henderson and James Henderson, individually and as co-trustees of the Rose Henderson Peterson Mineral Trust, appealed a district court judgment in which the court determined they paid themselves an unreasonable amount of compensation from the Trust for their duties as trustees. The court ordered the Trustees return a portion of the compensation and that all parties’ attorney fees be paid with Trust funds. On appeal, the North Dakota Supreme Court found the questions presented in this case were not barred by the law of the case doctrine or res judicata. Furthermore, the Court determined that additional findings were required concerning application of an exculpatory provision in the Trust as well as the issue of whether the doctrine of laches applies. The Court retained jurisdiction but remanded for additional findings. View "Matter of Rose Henderson Peterson Mineral Trust" on Justia Law
Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners
Dr. Jacob Schmitz appealed a district court judgment ordering: (1) the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners to disclose a limited portion of a recording from an April 2020 executive session of the Board; (2) denying the disclosure of any portion of a May 2020 executive session; and (3) the denial of his motion for attorney’s fees. In June 2020, Dr. Schmitz commenced this lawsuit, alleging that the Board violated the law regarding access to public records and meetings. The North Dakota Supreme Court declined to address Dr. Schmitz’s allegation that his right to due process was violated by the in-camera review because it was not properly preserved; reversed the denial of attorney’s fees; and remanded for additional portions of the executive sessions to be disclosed to Dr. Schmitz and for a determination of an appropriate award of attorney’s fees. View "Schmitz v. State Board of Chiropractic Examiners" on Justia Law
Thompson-Widmer v. Larson, et al.
Carrie Thompson-Widmer appealed the dismissal of her claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship against Kimberly Larson, Wells County, Eddy County, and Foster County. In January 2017, Larson filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Social Work Examiners against Thompson-Widmer on the basis of Thompson-Widmer’s actions in two child protection services cases. Larson alleged Thompson-Widmer misrepresented information about a child’s home environment in one case, and altered a report about methamphetamine in an infant’s meconium in the other case. Larson also met with a state’s attorney about Thompson-Widmer’s actions. The attorney referred the matter to a special prosecutor for consideration of potential criminal charges. Because the complaint to the State Board was filed while Thompson-Widmer was a Tri-County employee, Larson placed the complaint and the supporting documents in Thompson-Widmer’s employee personnel file. After the criminal investigation into Thompson-Widmer’s action was suspended, she became employed with Catholic Charities in April 2017. Tri-County worked with Catholic Charities on adoption placement cases. Larson’s staff informed her they did not feel comfortable working with Thompson- Widmer. Larson notified Catholic Charities that Tri-County would rather work with someone other than Thompson-Widmer. Catholic Charities submitted an open records request for Thompson-Widmer’s personnel file, and Larson fulfilled the request on Tri-County’s behalf. In May 2017, after receiving the personnel file, which included Larson’s complaint against Thompson-Widmer, Thompson-Widmer was terminated because she was not forthcoming about her issues while employed by Tri-County. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Larson’s communications were privileged and therefore not subject to liability for defamation. View "Thompson-Widmer v. Larson, et al." on Justia Law
Burr v. N.D. State Board of Dental Examiners
Rebecca Burr appealed a district court judgment dismissing her complaint against the North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners. In mid-2019, Burr filed a complaint with the North Dakota Board of Dental Examiners alleging a dentist previously licensed by the Board committed aggravated assault and permanently maimed her in 1989. Her original complaint to the Board stated she had reached out to the Board in 1996 by sending a letter outlining some of the same complaints that were in the 2019 formal complaint. The Board responded to Burr’s complaint with a formal letter stating that it had determined “there is not a reasonable basis to believe that a violation of NDCC 43-28-18 or the rules promulgated by the Board occurred” and that the matter was dismissed without any action having been taken. In January 2020, Burr served the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) a notice of claim in the amount of $250,000, alleging that the Board failed to satisfy its legal obligation to investigate her claim “and that the failure to do so caused Ms. Burr further harm, pain and suffering.” In February 2020, OMB notified Burr by letter that her claim had been denied. Burr did not pursue an administrative appeal of that decision. She then commenced this action by serving the Board and OMB with a summons and complaint in May 2020. The district court granted the Board’s motion to dismiss, finding it lacked jurisdiction, and concluding that the Board was entitled to both quasi-judicial immunity and discretionary immunity. On appeal, Burr argued the district court erred in concluding that the Board was entitled to discretionary immunity and in dismissing her complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Burr v. N.D. State Board of Dental Examiners" on Justia Law
Broten v. Carter, et al.
James Broten appealed the dismissal of his attorney malpractice claim. Broten was appointed to serve as the personal representative of his father’s estate. Broten was sued by his sisters who claimed Broten had breached his fiduciary duties as personal representative by transferring land held in the trust to himself. In 2011, Broten retained attorney Ralph Carter to defend him against his sisters’ claims. During Carter’s representation, Broten showed Carter approximately sixty boxes of records Broten believed documented payments to his parents and provided a defense to his sisters’ claims. Broten repeatedly inquired with Carter about his review of the records. The records were not disclosed to the opposing party during discovery but disclosed after Carter was replaced as Broten’s counsel in March of 2013. In August 2013, the district court entered an order finding Broten had breached his fiduciary duties as personal representative of his father’s estate, ultimately requiring Broten to pay damages to his sisters in an amount of $1,300,054. Broten alleged Carter’s failure to review and disclose the documents prevented all of the records from being introduced as evidence and resulted in the liability to his sisters. Carter moved for summary judgment, arguing the applicable two year statute of limitations barred Broten’s claim. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Carter and awarded to Carter the recovery of costs and fees, including the costs expended for expert witnesses who were unnecessary for resolution of the statute of limitations issue. Broten argued the district court erred in granting summary judgment after finding his claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. He also challenged the inclusion of expert witness fees within the expenses awarded by the district court for experts who were unnecessary for resolution of the statute of limitations issue. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. View "Broten v. Carter, et al." on Justia Law
Ayling v. Sens, et al.
Robin Ayling appealed a judgment dismissing her claims against Mary Ann Sens, M.D., UND School of Medicine employees, and the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney and Board of Commissioners relating to her son’s death. Ayling’s son, Blake, was a student at UND. He was last seen alive at an on-campus party at approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012. He was found dead in the rail yard south of UND’s campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012. Dr. Sens performed the autopsy on the same day. She determined Blake was intoxicated, he had a 0.278 blood-alcohol concentration at the time of death, he died from blood loss, and his death was accidental. After learning of the autopsy results, Ayling questioned the blood-alcohol concentration because Blake reportedly did not show signs of intoxication at the party or before the party. Ayling met with Dr. Sens in April 2013, and Sens explained the autopsy report and defended her conclusions. On December 27, 2013, Ayling spoke with a forensic toxicologist who questioned Dr. Sens’ methods in performing the autopsy. The toxicologist believed Blake's urine and vitreous humor should have been tested for alcohol to corroborate the blood test. Ayling sued Dr. Sens, UND School of Medicine employees, and Grand Forks County employees in February 2017, alleging Sens failed to competently perform a medical autopsy as a part of the investigation of Blake's death. Ayling alleged the other Defendants failed to properly supervise Dr. Sens. The district court concluded Ayling’s claims against the Defendants were untimely. After reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Ayling’s voluminous discovery requests did not relate to the statute of limitations issue and would not have created an issue of material fact supporting denial of the summary judgment motion. The court’s discovery decisions were not an abuse of discretion. View "Ayling v. Sens, et al." on Justia Law
Berg, et al. v. North Dakota State Board of Registration
The North Dakota State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors ("Board") appealed district court judgments affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding to the Board its disciplinary decisions against Michael Berg, Apex Engineering Group, Inc., Scott Olson, Dain Miller, Thomas Welle, and Timothy Paustian. Respondents Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian were former employees of Ulteig Engineers, Inc. Olson was terminated from Ulteig in 2009. In 2010, Berg, Miller, Welle, and Paustian resigned from Ulteig and, along with Olson, started a competing business, Apex. Following the Respondents' departure, Ulteig sued Apex and filed an ethics complaint with the Board, alleging Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle and Paustian violated the Professional Engineers' Code of Ethics by disclosing Ulteig's confidential information and failing to disclose a potential conflict of interest by not informing Ulteig of their decision to form Apex. Ulteig also alleged the Respondents knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects that Ulteig had been contracted to perform before the Respondents' departure from Ulteig. The Board found that each of the Respondents had violated one or more of the provisions of the code of ethics. Respondents appealed the Board's disciplinary decisions to the district court. The court affirmed the Board's decision that Welle, Berg, and Miller failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest. The court reversed the determination that Miller, Welle, and Paustian had improperly disclosed confidential information. The court also reversed the decision that Berg, Olson, and Welle knowingly participated in a plan to seek employment for Apex on projects Ulteig had been contracted to perform before their departure from Ulteig. The court remanded to the Board for reconsideration the discipline imposed on Berg, Olson, Miller, Welle, and Paustian in light of the court's reversal of the disciplinary decisions. The court also awarded attorney fees to Berg, Welle, Apex, Olson, Miller, and Paustian. On appeal to the North Dakota Supreme Court, the Board argued the district court wrongfully reversed the Board's disciplinary decisions because the decisions were supported by a preponderance of the evidence. The Supreme Court concluded a preponderance of the evidence supported the Board's factual findings regarding the improper solicitation by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. Those findings supported a conclusion that Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex knowingly sought or accepted employment for professional services for an assignment for which Ulteig was previously employed or contracted to perform in violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6). The Supreme Court therefore reversed those parts of the district court's judgments relating to the violation of N.D. Admin. Code 28-03.1-01-12(6) by Welle, Olson, Berg, and Apex. View "Berg, et al. v. North Dakota State Board of Registration" on Justia Law
Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd. v. Johnson
Bradley and Karol Johnson appealed a judgment granting the law firm Barna, Guzy, & Steffen, Ltd. ("BGS") foreclosure of a real estate mortgage for payment of a $258,769.97 debt, and an order denying their N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion for relief from judgment. In 2013 the Johnsons retained BGS to represent them in a lawsuit in connection with the probate of the estate of Bradley Johnson's father in Minnesota. The Johnsons resided in, and BGS was located in, the Minneapolis, Minnesota area. BGS extended credit to the Johnsons for costs, fees, and expenses that would be incurred in representing them in the lawsuit through a revolving line of credit agreement and a revolving promissory note. To secure payment, the Johnsons executed a mortgage on land they owned in North Dakota. The mortgage required the Johnsons to pay all of the principal and interest on the indebtedness when due to BGS. The Johnsons failed to make the payments to BGS as required under the loan agreements. In 2015 BGS brought this action against the Johnsons and others in North Dakota to foreclose the mortgage. The Johnsons counterclaimed, alleging its attorneys committed legal malpractice and other torts during the Minnesota legal proceedings. The district court ultimately dismissed the Johnsons' counterclaim without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under N.D.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). The court granted summary judgment for foreclosure on the North Dakota property in favor of BGS, concluding the Johnsons were indebted to BGS in the amount of $258,769.97 under the loan agreements with interest continuing to accrue. Because the Johnsons did not establish the district court erred in any of its rulings, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the judgment, and the order denying the motion for relief from judgment. View "Barna, Guzy & Steffen, Ltd. v. Johnson" on Justia Law
Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar
Judge Richard Hagar of the North Central Judicial District filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him and by failing to work with the presiding judge. He also objected to the Commission's recommended sanction. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence Judge Hagar violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Rules 2.5 and 2.7. The Court ordered that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district court judge for three months without pay and that he be assessed $10,118.67 for the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law