Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
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T.L. consulted Dr. Jack Goldberg for a blood condition. In October 2010, Dr. Goldberg told T.L. about a new medication, Pegasys. After taking Pegasys, T.L. experienced a number of symptoms, but Dr. Goldberg advised that T.L. should continue taking Pegasys. T.L. began experiencing severe pain in her neck and both arms, requiring hospitalization and rehabilitation. T.L. was diagnosed with inflammation of the spinal cord and experienced partial paralysis on her right side. T.L. brought suit against Dr. Goldberg and his employer, Penn Medicine Cherry Hill. T.L. claimed that Dr. Goldberg deviated from accepted standards of care by prescribing Pegasys to her because she was diagnosed with, and took medication for, chronic depression. During Dr. Goldberg’s deposition, when asked whether he was aware of any studies in the Journal of Clinical Oncology pertaining to the use of Pegasys to treat patients with T.L.’s condition, Dr. Goldberg answered “no.” On T.L.’s motion, the court barred Dr. Goldberg from using any medical literature at trial that was not produced during the course of discovery. At trial, Dr. Goldberg testified that he prescribed Pegasys to T.L. because he relied upon a clinical trial, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2009, that included patients with a history of depression. T.L.’s counsel did not object. The jury found that Dr. Goldberg did not deviate from the applicable standard of care. T.L. was granted a new trial on grounds that Dr. Goldberg’s discussion of the 2009 publication constituted reversible error. Dr. Goldberg appealed as of right based on a dissenting justice in the Appellate Division's reversal of the trial court. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding there was no demonstration that the changed testimony caused prejudice to T.L., and the plain error standard did not compel reversal, "especially because counsel’s failure to object was likely strategic." Under the circumstances, T.L. was not entitled to a new trial. View "T.L. v. Goldberg" on Justia Law

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The ethical mandate in N.J.S.A. 40A:9-22.5(d), prohibiting planning and zoning board members from hearing cases when cases of personal interest "might reasonably be expected to impair [their] objectivity or independence of judgment," was at the heart of this appeal. The Conte family filed an application to develop three lots in the City of Garfield. The issue raised was whether any members of the Garfield Zoning Board of Adjustment had a disqualifying conflict of interest because of the involvement of certain Conte family members in the Zoning Board proceedings. The Piscitellis objected to the development project and claimed that a conflict of interest barred Zoning Board members who were employed or had immediate family members employed by the Board of Education from hearing the application. The Piscitellis also contended that any members who were patients or who had immediate family members who were patients of the Contes also had a disqualifying conflict. No Zoning Board member disqualified himself or herself on conflict-of-interest grounds. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, namely for the trial court to make findings of whether any Zoning Board member had a disqualifying conflict of interest in hearing the application for site plan approval and variances in this case. View "Piscitelli v. City of Garfield Zoning Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Evangelos Dimitrakopoulos retained the law firm of Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman and Stahl, P.C. ("Borrus firm"), for help with a business dispute with Steven Eleftheriou. Represented by the Borrus firm, Dimitrakopoulos and his wife filed a complaint against Eleftheriou and his wife. For undisclosed reasons, the Borrus firm filed a motion to withdraw as counsel shortly after it was retained. Days later, the Borrus firm filed a complaint against Dimitrakopoulos, alleging that its former client owed it $93,811.95 in fees for legal services and that payment had been demanded and not made. Dimitrakopoulos, acting pro se, filed an answer to the collection complaint but filed no counterclaim or third-party claim. In a proceeding before an arbitrator six months after the collection action was filed, the Dimitrakopouloses and the Eleftherious settled their dispute. In light of the settlement, the arbitrator did not issue an award. Months later, the court in the collection matter granted the Borrus firm’s unopposed motion for a final judgment by default in the amount of $121,947.99 for legal services, interest, attorneys’ fees, and court costs. Dimitrakopoulos did not appeal. A total of sixteen months elapsed between the filing of the Borrus firm’s collection action and the entry of the default judgment in that action. After the resolution of the business dispute between the Dimitrakopouloses and the Eleftherious, the collection action remained pending for an additional ten months. On September 10, 2015, approximately three years after the entry of judgment in the collection action, the Dimitrakopouloses sued the Borrus firm and the principal attorneys who worked on their matter for legal malpractice. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on the "entire controversy" doctrine and the doctrine of waiver. The Dimitrakopouloses argued that the damages claimed in the malpractice action were known to them as of September 6, 2011, the day that they settled their dispute with the Eleftherious. The trial court concluded that the Dimitrakopouloses could have asserted their malpractice claim in the collection matter. An Appellate Division panel affirmed that judgment and stated that under Olds v. Donnelly, 150 N.J. 424 (1997), legal malpractice claims were exempt from the entire controversy doctrine to the extent that they need not be asserted in the underlying action. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded the collection action at issue in this matter was not an “underlying action” as that term was used in Olds, and that the entire controversy doctrine could bar the claim. The record of this appeal, however, was inadequate for an application of the equitable rules that governed here. The Court therefore reversed the Appellate Division, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Dimitrakopoulos v. Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman and Stahl, P.C." on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from plaintiff Lucia Serico’s motion for attorney’s fees and other litigation expenses pursuant to Rule 4:58 after a jury trial on medical malpractice claims against Robert Rothberg, M.D. At issue was whether Serico could collect attorney’s fees from Rothberg despite entering into a “high-low agreement” that limited the amount she could recover at trial to $1,000,000. Based on the expressed intent of the parties and the context of the agreement, the New Jersey Supreme Court found the agreement set $1,000,000 as the maximum recovery. Therefore, Serico could not seek additional litigation expenses allowed by Rule 4:58. View "Serico v. Rothberg" on Justia Law

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Defendant Glenn Ciripompa was a tenured high school math teacher in the Bound Brook School District. Defendant's behavior came under the scrutiny of the Bound Brook Board of Education (Board) after the Board received copies of student Twitter posts alleging "Mr. C" was electronically transmitting nude photographs. An investigation uncovered defendant's pervasive misuse of his District-issued laptop and iPad, as well as evidence of inappropriate behavior toward female colleagues, often in the presence of students. The results of the investigation spurred the Board to seek defendant's termination from his tenured position and served as the substantive allegations of the two-count tenure complaint against defendant. In this appeal, the issue presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether an arbitrator exceeded his authority by applying the standard for proving a hostile-work-environment, sexual-harassment claim in a law against discrimination (LAD) case to a claim of unbecoming conduct in the teacher disciplinary hearing. After review, the Supreme Court found that the arbitrator impermissibly converted the second charge of unbecoming conduct into one of sexual harassment. The arbitrator's review was not consonant with the matter submitted; rather, he imperfectly executed his powers as well as exceeded his authority by failing to decide whether Count II stated a successful claim of unbecoming conduct in support of termination. The arbitrator's award was therefore ruled invalid. View "Bound Brook Bd. of Edu. v. Ciripompa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sought treatment for sleep apnea from an orthodontist. Plaintiff used the appliance given to him for treatment but complained that it caused the dislocation of some teeth. Contending that the orthodontist did not inform him that the appliance may dislocate teeth, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that the treating orthodontist provided insufficient information to permit him to make an informed decision to proceed with the recommended treatment. Presented for the Supreme Court's review was the "vexing and recurring" issue of whether an affidavit of merit submitted by a plaintiff in an action alleging negligence by a licensed professional satisfied the requirements of the Affidavit of Merit statute (AOM statute). The trial court conducted a "Ferreira" conference and determined that plaintiff submitted a timely affidavit of merit; however, the court dismissed with prejudice plaintiff's complaint because plaintiff submitted the affidavit from a dentist who specialized in prosthodontics and the treatment of sleep apnea. The court stated that plaintiff knew that the dentist who treated him was an orthodontist and that the statute required submission of an affidavit of merit from a like-qualified dentist. In other words, the court determined that plaintiff was required to submit an affidavit of merit from an orthodontist rather than an affidavit from a board-certified prosthodontist who had specialized in the treatment of sleep apnea for twenty years. The Supreme Court concluded after review that the affidavit of merit submitted by plaintiff satisfied the credential requirements of the AOM statute. The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Meehan v. Antonellis" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review centered on whether a law firm practicing as a limited liability partnership (LLP) failed to maintain professional malpractice insurance to cover claims against it, and, if so, whether that failure should cause the revocation of the firm's LLP status, rendering innocent partners personally liable. In July 2009, Mortgage Grader hired Olivo of Ward & Olivo (W&O) to pursue claims of patent infringement against other entities. Mortgage Grader entered into settlement agreements in those matters. In exchange for one-time settlement payments, Mortgage Grader granted those defendant-entities licenses under the patents, including perpetual rights to any patents Mortgage Grader received or obtained through assignment, regardless of their relationship to the patents at issue in the litigation. It is those provisions of the settlement agreement that allegedly gave rise to legal malpractice. In 2011, W&O dissolved and entered into its windup period. W&O continued to exist as a partnership for the sole purpose of collecting outstanding legal fees and paying taxes. The next day, Ward formed a new LLP and began to practice with a new partner. Mortgage Grader filed a complaint against W&O, Olivo, and Ward in October 2012, alleging legal malpractice by Olivo, and claiming that the settlement agreements resulting from Olivo's representation harmed Mortgage Grader's patent rights. The motion court denied Ward's motion to dismiss, first determining that Mortgage Grader had failed to comply with the statutory requirement to serve an affidavit of merit (AOM) on each defendant named in the complaint, and rejected its substantial compliance argument. However, the court also determined that W&O failed to maintain the requisite insurance, which caused its liability shield to lapse and relegated W&O to a GP. Thus, the motion court concluded that Ward could be held vicariously liable for Olivo's alleged legal malpractice. The Appellate Division reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, finding that law firms organized as LLPs that malpractice insurance did not extend to the firm's windup period, and tail insurance coverage was not required. View "Mortgage Grader, Inc. v. Ward & Olivo, L.L.P." on Justia Law