Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Scholz v. Epstein
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the appellate court affirming the trial court's dismissal of the statutory theft claim Plaintiff brought against Defendant for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground of absolute immunity, holding that there was no error.Defendant, an attorney, represented Benchmark Municipal Tax Services, Ltd., in the foreclosure proceeding underlying this appeal. The appellate court determined that Defendant was entitled to absolute immunity from Plaintiff's claim of statutory theft by concluding that public policy considerations were served by granting Defendant this immunity and that the entirety of Defendant's alleged misconduct occurred within the scope of the foreclosure proceeding. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's arguments on appeal failed. View "Scholz v. Epstein" on Justia Law
Stone Land & Livestock Co. v. HBE, LLP
The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court dismissing this lawsuit on the grounds that Defendants were not timely served, holding that a defendant's filing of an "Appearance of Counsel" does not constitute a voluntary appearance that relieves a plaintiff of the ordinary obligation to serve the defendant with the lawsuit.Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants alleging that Defendants provided Plaintiff with incorrect information regarding the income tax consequences of a sale of land. Attorneys for Defendants filed a document entitled "Appearance of Counsel," after which there was no activity in the case for nearly a year. The district court dismissed the case on the grounds that Plaintiff had not timely served Defendants. Plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate the case, asserting that the Appearance of Counsel was equivalent to service under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-516.01(1). The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Appearance of Counsel was not a voluntary appearance and that Defendants were not timely served. View "Stone Land & Livestock Co. v. HBE, LLP" on Justia Law
Frantz v. Osborn
Jonathon Frantz appealed a district court’s award of attorney fees entered against him and his clients, jointly and severally, as a sanction for frivolous conduct. This appeal arose from an easement dispute among family members. The land at issue was split into multiple parcels: the Tracy Parcel, the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and the Osborn Parcel. Plaintiffs Brook Tracy and Travis Mathis owned the Tracy Parcel; Plaintiffs Gailord “Cowboy” Mathis, Brook Tracy, Laura Roll, and Rebecca Stafford owned the Mathis/Roll Parcel; and David and Naomi Osborn owned the Osborn Parcel. In 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Osborns. Frantz was Plaintiffs’ attorney. Plaintiffs claimed that more than thirty years ago they “constructed/placed a home” on the Tracy Parcel, “constructed/placed a cabin” on the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and “created a driveway” through the Osborn Parcel to access their respective properties. Plaintiffs also claimed that for more than thirty years they had openly and continuously used the driveway over the Osborn Parcel for access to the nearest public right-of-way, Highland Drive, which was the only reasonable way to reach their respective properties. Based on this use, Plaintiffs claimed that they had an easement by necessity, an easement by implication, or a prescriptive easement across the Osborn Parcel along the existing driveway. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought a judgment from the district court declaring their rights in the driveway. The trial court denied a preliminary injunction for two reasons: (1) “the allegations in the complaint and the motion contain[ed] gross exaggerations, if not falsehoods” and “the credibility of all of the plaintiffs” was questionable; and (2) Plaintiffs could not establish entitlement to the relief demanded because they came to the hearing unprepared to support the easement theories they advanced with any competent evidence. The Osborns moved for attorney fees, leaving it to the trial court's discretion to award Rule 11 sanctions "if the [c]ourt determines that this motion was pursued frivolously." On appeal, Frantz contended the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees against him personally because it: (1) failed to follow the procedural requirements set out in Idaho Code section 12-123; and (2) erroneously found that he engaged in frivolous conduct. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded this matter did not present a justiciable controversy because the judgment was satisfied and Frantz did not preserve his right to appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 10-1115. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Frantz’s appeal because the issues before the Court were moot. View "Frantz v. Osborn" on Justia Law
Emer’s Camper Corral, LLC v. Western Heritage Insurance Co.
The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court directing a verdict in favor of Defendant, an insurance agent, on Plaintiff's claim that Defendant was negligent because he procured an insurance policy that did not conform to Plaintiff's requirements, holding that Plaintiff must prove that it would have qualified for an insurance policy with better terms than the policy it actually obtained.Plaintiff sold new and used camper trailers. Plaintiff asked Defendant, an insurance agent, to acquire a policy to cover its camper inventory. Plaintiff thought Defendant had acquired a policy with a deductible for $1,000 per camper in the event of hail damage with a $5,000 aggregate deductible limit, but the policy actually required a $5,000 deductible per camper, with no aggregate limit. After a hailstorm damaged many of the campers on its lot, Plaintiff sued Defendant. The circuit court directed a verdict due to Plaintiff's failure to introduce evidence that an insurer would have insured Plaintiff with the deductible limits it thought it had. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff must not only prove that an insurance policy with the requested deductibles was commercially available but that Plaintiff would actually have qualified for that policy. View "Emer's Camper Corral, LLC v. Western Heritage Insurance Co." on Justia Law
Ladd et al v. Real Estate Commission, et al.
Appellant Sara Ladd, a New Jersey resident, owned two vacation properties on Arrowhead Lake in the Pocono Mountains. Ladd started renting one of these properties in 2009 and the other in 2013 to supplement her income after being laid off from her job as a digital marketer. Eventually, some of her Arrowhead Lake neighbors learned of her success and asked her to manage rental of their own properties. Ladd considered “short-term” vacation rentals to be rentals for fewer than thirty days, and limited her services to such transactions only. Ladd acted as an “independent contractor” for her “clients” and entered into written agreements with them related to her services. In January 2017, the Commonwealth’s Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs (the Bureau), charged with overseeing the Commission’s enforcement of Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act (RELRA), called Ladd to inform her she had been reported for the “unlicensed practice of real estate.” Ladd reviewed RELRA and concluded her short-term vacation property management services were covered by the statute, and she would have to obtain a real estate broker license to continue operating her business. As Ladd was sixty-one years old and unwilling to meet RELRA’s licensing requirements, she shuttered PMVP to avoid the civil and criminal sanctions described in the statute. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court considered the Commonwealth Court's holding that the RELA's broker licensing requirements satisfied the heightened rational basis test articulated in Gambone v. Commonwealth, 101 A.2d 634 (Pa. 1954), and thus do not violate Article I, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution when applied to a self-described “short-term vacation property manager.” The Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court erred in so holding, and therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ladd et al v. Real Estate Commission, et al." on Justia Law
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp
The district court held defendant in contempt after finding him in violation of a consent order limiting his participation in the mortgage industry. The district court ordered the disgorgement of over half-a-million dollars of defendant's contemptuous earnings.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's contempt decision, holding that the district court cited several proper reasons for holding defendant in contempt. However, the district court based its disgorgement sanction on an erroneous legal interpretation of the terms of the underlying consent order. Accordingly, the court vacated the disgorgement order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp" on Justia Law
Leftwich v. Brewster
Jimmy Leftwich, Jr., appealed a circuit court's denial of his motion for a new trial in his negligence action against Steven Brewster. Leftwich alleged that Brewster breached a duty to competently inspect a house that Leftwich purchased. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Brewster. On appeal, Leftwich contended the trial court erred in failing to disqualify two jurors for cause and that the trial court erroneously excluded vital evidence that provided estimated costs to repair the home. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Leftwich v. Brewster" on Justia Law
Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C.
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that Tex. R. Civ. P. 91a permits dismissal based on an affirmative defense and that the alleged destruction of evidence is an action "taken in connection with representing a client in litigation," thus entitling the defendant attorneys to attorney immunity.Plaintiff hired Defendants to represent her in a lawsuit. Plaintiff later sued Defendants for, inter alia, fraud, trespass to chattel, and conversion, alleging that Defendants intentionally destroyed key evidence in the case. Defendants moved to dismiss the case under Rule 91a, claiming that it was entitled to attorney immunity on all of Plaintiff's claims. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that affirmative defenses such as attorney immunity cannot be the basis of a Rule 91a dismissal and that Defendants were not entitled to attorney immunity. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Rule 91a permits motions to dismiss based on affirmative defenses "if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them, do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought"; and (2) because Defendants' allegedly wrongful conduct involved the provision of legal services that conduct was protected by attorney immunity. View "Bethel v. Quilling, Selander, Lownds, Winslett & Moser, P.C." on Justia Law
Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc.
BrunoBuilt, Inc. appealed a district court’s dismissal of its claims against Strata, Inc., Chris Comstock, H. Robert Howard, and Michael Woodworth (collectively, “the Strata Defendants”). BrunoBuilt filed a professional negligence action against the Strata Defendants alleging that when the Strata Defendants rendered engineering services for the Terra Nativa Subdivision they failed to identify a pre-existing landslide and negligently failed to recommend construction of infrastructure that would stabilize and prevent further landslides within the Subdivision. A home BrunoBuilt had contracted to build and the lot on which the dwelling was located were allegedly damaged as a result. The district court dismissed BrunoBuilt’s claims after holding that the parties had entered into an enforceable settlement agreement, or alternatively, that summary judgment was warranted in favor of the Strata Defendants based on the economic loss rule. After review of the situation, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court judgment because the parties entered into an enforceable settlement agreement. View "Brunobuilt, Inc. v. Strata, Inc." on Justia Law
Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman
Ahmed co‐owned an LLC that owned a condominium building. Ahmed recruited individuals to pose as buyers for the building's units and to submit fraudulent loan applications to lenders, including Fifth Third. The participants split the loan proceeds; no payments were made on the loans. Kaufman was the seller's attorney for every closing. The closings were conducted by Traditional Title at Kaufman’s law office. Traditional received closing instructions from Fifth Third to notify it immediately of any misrepresentations and to suspend the transaction if “the closing agent has knowledge that the borrower does not intend to occupy the property.” Kaufman concealed the buyers’ misrepresentations and instructed closing agents to complete closings even when buyers were purchasing multiple properties. Ahmed and Kaufman extended the scheme to other buildings. Although Kaufman testified that he was not aware of the fraud, Ahmed testified that Kaufman knew the buyers were part of the scheme. Two closing agents testified that they informed Kaufman about misrepresentations in loan applications. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a fraud judgment for Fifth Third. Kaufman participated individually in each closing as counsel and personally directed Traditional’s employees to conceal the fraud from Fifth Third, for his personal gain. The judgment against Kaufman was not derived solely from Traditional’s liability, based on his membership in the LLC, so the Illinois LLC Act does not bar his liability. Kaufman is not shielded by being the attorney for the seller in the fraudulent transactions. View "Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman" on Justia Law