Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Rhode Island Supreme Court
Begg v. Alexander-Scott
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court denying Appellant's administrative appeal from a decision of the Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH) in favor of the DOH director, Board of Examiners in Dentistry of the DOH, and the DOH, holding that the trial justice did not err.The Board imposed sanctions upon Appellant John F. Begg, D.D.S. for violations of R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-10(19), (23), and (24) and sections 25.1.1, 27.1(s), 27.1(x), and 27.1(w) of DOH's rules and regulations pertaining to dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants. The trial justice affirmed the Board's decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DOH had subject matter jurisdiction over the administrative proceedings; (2) the Board did not utilize the subpoena power provided to it by R.I. Gen. Laws 5-31.1-4 and 5-31.1-14 in its request for patient healthcare information, nor was it required to do so; and (3) legally competent evidence existed to support the sanctions imposed by the Board. View "Begg v. Alexander-Scott" on Justia Law
Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. v. Restivo Monacelli LLP
The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court in favor of Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (Resource Recovery) in the amount of $5,733,648.18, inclusive of interest, on Resource Recovery’s claims of professional malpractice and breach of contract, holding that the trial justice erred in failing to grant Restivo Monacelli LLP’s (Restivo) motion for judgment as a matter of law.Although Restivo raised numerous contentions as to alleged error by the trial justice, the Supreme Judicial Court on appeal focused its inquiry only on Restivo’s contention that the trial justice erred in denying its motion for judgment as a matter of law because expert testimony with respect to proximate cause was required but was not presented by Resource Recovery. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with Restivo, holding that expert testimony on the issue of proximate cause was required in this case, and Resource Recovery did not provide the required expert testimony as to proximate cause. View "Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp. v. Restivo Monacelli LLP" on Justia Law
Faber v. McVay
Plaintiffs, Charles Faber and Karen Faber, filed suit against insurance agencies and related individuals, claiming insurance malpractice. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiffs responded that the limitation period was tolled because Charles could not reasonably have discovered the alleged insurance malpractice until a date within the limitations period because a reasonable person does not read his or her insurance policies. Summary judgment was entered for Defendants on grounds that Plaintiffs’ claims were time-barred under the three-year limitation period for insurance malpractice claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants were untimely. View "Faber v. McVay" on Justia Law
DeCurtis v. Visconti, Boren & Campbell, Ltd.
In 2000, Husband retained Attorney to draft an antenuptial agreement in anticipation of his marriage to Wife. In 2005, Wife filed for divorce. The petition was dismissed in a settlement that required the parties to execute a postnuptial agreement. Attorney drafted the agreement. In 2010, Wife again filed for divorce. Husband and Wife settled. In 2012, Husband filed suit against Attorney and his Law Firm (collectively, Defendants), alleging that Attorney negligently drafted the antenuptial and postnuptial agreements and negligently advised him. At issue in this appeal was a discovery order compelling production of any antenuptial or postnuptial agreements drafted or prepared by Attorney while he was employed at Law Firm. Defendants argued before the Supreme Court that the documents exceeded the scope of permissible discovery and were protected by the attorney-client privilege. The Supreme Court affirmed the discovery order, holding (1) the documents at issue were discoverable; and (2) Defendants did not have standing to assert the attorney-client privilege on behalf of their clients in this case, and the superior court protected the confidential interests contained in the documents by requiring redaction. View "DeCurtis v. Visconti, Boren & Campbell, Ltd." on Justia Law
Rose v. Brusini
Plaintiffs Michael Rose and RC&D, Inc. filed suit against Defendants Stephen Brusini and the law firm Orson & Brusini Ltd. alleging professional negligence and breach of contract. The hearing justice granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that there was no evidence of proximate cause linking Defendants’ alleged negligence and any damages Plaintiffs may have suffered. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the superior court, holding that Rose submitted sufficient competent evidence to preclude the entry of summary judgment for defendants on a question of fact relating to Defendants’ liability. Remanded. View "Rose v. Brusini" on Justia Law
Behroozi v. Kirshenbaum
Defendant, an attorney, represented Plaintiff in post-final judgment divorce proceedings. Defendant later withdrew as counsel with the family court’s approval. Three years later, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant, alleging legal malpractice, negligence, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty. The superior court entered summary judgment in favor of Defendant on each of Plaintiff’s claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff’s legal malpractice and fraud claims were barred by the statute of limitations, and the trial justice did not err in concluding that the discovery rule did not toll the statute of limitations; (2) Plaintiff’s malpractice claims necessarily failed because she did not retain an expert witness to testify in support of her case; and (3) Plaintiff’s remaining claims on appeal were wholly without merit. View "Behroozi v. Kirshenbaum" on Justia Law
State v. Howard
After a violation report was filed against defendant Ramondo Howard alleging defendant had violated the terms and conditions of his probation, defendant filed a pro se motion indicating that he wished to release his attorney and wanted new counsel to be appointed, confirming on the record he had filed a complaint against his attorney with the court's disciplinary board. The hearing justice excused defendant's attorney. Defendant then filed motions to recuse and change venues, both of which the hearing justice denied. At the violation hearing, the hearing justice found defendant to be a violator of the terms and conditions of his probation. Before the hearing began, however, the hearing justice expressed his belief that defendant needed to be "warehoused" and was "beyond rehabilitation." Defendant appealed, arguing the hearing justice erred by failing to recuse himself from the case because the justice lacked the objectivity and impartiality to fairly hear and render judgment. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that because the hearing justice chose to express his opinions prior to the commencement of the violation hearing, the justice displayed a clear inability to render fair judgment and erred by declining to recuse under the circumstances. Remanded.
Sharkey v. Prescott
Plaintiff Virginia Sharkey appealed the dismissal of her legal malpractice claim against Defendant Attorney George Prescott. Plaintiff and her husband retained Attorney Prescott to prepare an estate plan. Mr. Prescott established a trust indenture that the Sharkeys executed in 1999. Subsequently, the Sharkeys signed a quitclaim deed, also prepared by Mr. Prescott, which conveyed two lots of land they owned to the trust. Plaintiff asserted that the trust was set up to care for the surviving spouse. Mr. Prescott sent Plaintiff a letter shortly thereafter, memorializing the actions he took on their behalf. Mr. Sharkey died in 2002. In 2003, Plaintiff wanted to sell one of the two lots conveyed to the trust. The local authority told Plaintiff that because both lots were conveyed to the trust, they effectively merged together, and could not be sold as she intended. In 2006, Plaintiff sought access to trust funds. The bank informed Plaintiff that she was not able to get access as she had intended. These two instances lead Plaintiff to believe that Mr. Prescott was negligent in the performance of his duties as her attorney. In 2009, Plaintiff brought suit against Mr. Prescott. Mr. Prescott moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Plaintiffâs claims against him were time-barred. The trial court dismissed Plaintiff's case as time barred. After a review of the case, the Supreme Court found that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment with regard to the letter Mr. Prescott sent memorializing the trust set-up. The Court reasoned that because Plaintiff claims she did not receive the letter, this created a "genuine issue of fact" that could not withstand a grant of summary judgment. For this, the Court reversed the trial courtâs decision, but affirmed it on all other respects. The case therefore, was remanded for further proceedings.