Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Arteaga v. United States
During her birth in 2004, the 11-pound baby became lodged in the mother’s pelvis, so that nerves in her shoulder were injured (brachial plexus injury), resulting in a limited range of movement in her right arm A few months later her mother consulted a lawyer, who recommended against suing. Fifteen months later the mother consulted another lawyer; he agreed to represent her, but 16 months later, he withdrew. Finally, in 2010, the mother filed a malpractice suit against the Erie Family Health Center and the Center’s nurse-midwives who had provided her prenatal care. Erie is a private enterprise, but it receives grant money from the U.S. Public Health Service, so that its employees are deemed federal employees, 42 U.S.C. 233(g)(1)(A),(g)(4) and tort suits against it or its employees can be maintained only under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 42 U.S.C. 233(a),(g)(1)(A). The district court found the claim time-barred. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the limitations period for a tort suit under Illinois law would be eight years for a minor, 735 ILCS 5/13-212(b), the extension of the statute of limitations for a child victim does not apply to claims governed by the Federal Tort Claims Act. View "Arteaga v. United States" on Justia Law
City of Livonia Emps’ Ret. Sys. v. Boeing Co.
Plaintiffs filed a class action on behalf of stock purchasers, alleging that Boeing committed securities fraud under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b), and SEC Rule 10b-5. The suit related to statements concerning the new 787-8 Dreamliner, which had not yet flown, and did not specify a damages figure. At argument the plaintiffs’ lawyer indicated that the class was seeking hundreds of millions of dollars. The district court dismissed the suit under Rule 12(b)(6) before deciding whether to certify a class. Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal; Boeing cross-appealed denial of sanctions on the plaintiffs’ lawyers for violating Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal with prejudice, but remanded for consideration under 15 U.S.C. 78u-4(c)(1), (2), of Rule 11 sanctions on the plaintiffs’ lawyers. No one who made optimistic public statements about the timing of the first flight knew that their optimism was unfounded; there is no securities fraud by hindsight. Plaintiffs’ lawyers had made confident assurances in their complaints about a confidential source, their only barrier to dismissal of their suit, even though none of them had spoken to the source and their investigator had acknowledged that she could not verify what he had told her. View "City of Livonia Emps' Ret. Sys. v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law
Menasha Corp. v. U.S. Dept. of Justice
In 2010 the U.S. and Wisconsin sued, alleging that defendants polluted the Lower Fox River and Green Bay with PCBs, and had liability under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601, for response costs and destruction of natural resources, estimated at $1.5 billion. The Justice Department submitted a proposed consent decree, negotiated among the state, defendants (Brown County and the City of Green Bay), and Indian tribes. The U.S. offered $4.5 million because federal agencies might have contributed to the pollution. Menasha opposed the decree and counterclaimed against the U.S. for costs that Menasha would incur if found liable. Ordinarily a non-party to a consent decree is not bound by it, but approval of the consent decree would otherwise extinguish Menasha’s claims. Menasha sought information under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming that U.S. attorneys, being from defense and prosecution teams, actually have adverse interests, and that their communication concerning the case resulted in forfeiture of attorney work product privilege. The district court held that Menasha was entitled to the documents. The Seventh Circuit reversed, reasoning that Menasha’s claim actually amounted to assertion that the federal attorneys “ganged up” to reduce federal liability and that the documents are privileged. View "Menasha Corp. v. U.S. Dept. of Justice" on Justia Law
Todd v. Franklin Collection Serv., Inc.
Todd attempted to purchase claims against a collection agency (Franklin) from Fletcher. He then sued Franklin. The district court dismissed the complaint, ruling that the assignment was void because Todd was using it merely to attempt to practice law without a license and that Todd failed to state a claim for relief. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The assignment was void as against public policy. Illinois public policy forbids the assignment of legal claims to non-attorneys in order to litigate without a license. Undisputed evidence showed that Todd created a business providing legal advice and repeatedly agreed to purchase claims in order to litigate. Even if the assignment was not void, Todd failed to state a claim. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act preempts state-law claims, 15 U.S.C. 1681t(b)(1)(F). Todd did not attempt could not bring a claim directly under the FCRA because the section Franklin allegedly violated does not create a private right of action. View "Todd v. Franklin Collection Serv., Inc." on Justia Law
El-Gazawy v. Holder
El-Gazawy a citizen of Jordan, entered the U.S. in 1990 as a non-immigrant, overstayed, and failed to appear for special registration in 2003, required by the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System program. In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security served notice that he was removable under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(1)(B); 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(3)(A) and 1305. At his hearing, El-Gazawy admitted the charges and stated that he would seek cancellation of removal (8 U.S.C. 1229b(b)) or voluntary departure (8 U.S.C. 1229c). The IJ allowed 90 days for the necessary paperwork and advised that failing to timely file fingerprints could result in denial of relief. With an additional schedule change, El-Gazawy had about 14 months to file the necessary paperwork. The IJ concluded that no good cause had been demonstrated for delay, deemed the cancellation claim abandoned, and granted voluntary departure. The BIA dismissed an appeal. El-Gazawy had been represented by attorney Abuzir throughout, but obtained new counsel for filing a motion to reopen, seven months later, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel. El-Gazawy claimed that he had given notice to Abuzir and had filed a claim with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The BIA denied his motions. The Seventh Circuit denied a petition for review. View "El-Gazawy v. Holder" on Justia Law
Rosenbaum v. White
In 2005, attorneys White and Beaman, assisted securities broker-turned-real estate investor Seybold with a plan to buy, rehabilitate, and then sell, or refinance and rent, residential and commercial properties in Marion, Indiana. That plan involved the creation of two business entities, one partially owned by a group of private investors who contributed more than $1 million. When the plan failed, the investors sued. The district court entered summary judgment on all of the claims against the attorneys: state and federal RICO violations, conversion, federal and state securities fraud, common-law fraud (both actual and constructive), civil conspiracy, and legal malpractice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The plaintiffs failed to establish either that an attorney-client relationship existed or that the attorneys owed them some other legal duty for purposes of the malpractice, constructive fraud, and securities-fraud claims. Plaintiffs relied solely on representations that concerned only future conduct, or on representations of existing intent that were not yet executed, so claims of actual fraud failed, Plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that the lawyers acted in concert with Seybold to commit an unlawful act or to accomplish a lawful purpose through unlawful means. View "Rosenbaum v. White" on Justia Law
Gardner v. United States
Officers, responding to an assault in progress, saw defendant, who voluntarily submitted to a pat down. A pistol was found in his coat pocket. Charged possession of a firearm by a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1), defendant insisted that the police had planted the gun. His lawyer believed that he could not argue that the firearm was the fruit of an unreasonable search. Following his conviction, defendant brought a collateral proceeding under 28 U.S.C. 2255, claiming ineffective assistance in that his attorney did not move to suppress the firearm as the product of an unreasonable and did not explain to defendant that his testimony at a suppression hearing could not be used at trial as evidence of his guilt. The district court rejected the petition. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Defendant’s insistence that the police planted the gun neither justified nor compelled counsel to refrain from challenging the search that produced the weapon. The court remanded for determination of whether defendant was prejudiced by that failure. View "Gardner v. United States" on Justia Law
MB Financial, N.A. v. Novoselsky
The attorney, purporting to represent the guardian of Cristina’s financial interests, filed suit in state court, alleging that Cristina, a minor, had been abused by six defendants. Her general guardian had discharged the attorney. The attorney dismissed the suit. The defendants sought sanctions. The attorney filed a notice of removal to federal court. Within a month, and following a "deluge of motions" from the attorney, the federal court remanded the proceeding to state court. The defendants requested an award of attorneys' fees for wrongful removal, 28 U.S.C. 1447(c). The district judge concluded that the attorney had vexatiously multiplied the proceedings, 28 U.S.C. 1927 and ordered him to pay $10,155 to one defendant and $2,432 to another. The Seventh Circuit affirmed under 1447(c). The removal "was worse than unreasonable; it was preposterous."View "MB Financial, N.A. v. Novoselsky" on Justia Law
Ennenga v. Starns
In 2000, husband and wife, with an estate valued at $3 to $4 million, revised their estate plan with the assistance of their Illinois lawyer, a Minnesota lawyer, and a law partner of their son-in-law. The plan included a trust that treated their son and his daughter, India, less favorably than their two daughters and other grandchildren. When they died within a month of each other in 2004, their son and India sued the three lawyers, alleging malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court rejected a conflict-of-interest argument and dismissed most of the claims as untimely or barred. India's minor status tolled the limitations period, but the court dismissed her claim as premature. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and held that India's claim should have been dismissed with prejudice. The district court properly chose Illinois's statute of limitations over Minnesota's; and properly rejected waiver and equitable-tolling arguments. The court properly dismissed the fiduciary-duty claims as barred by res judicata; there had been state court litigation concerning sale of the family home. There was no evidence to support India’s contention that her grandparents intended her to receive more than the documents provide. View "Ennenga v. Starns" on Justia Law
Brennan v. Global Brass & Copper, Inc.
Lawyers, who represented the plaintiff in an employment discrimination case, were sanctioned for improperly joining a defendant that had never employed the plaintiff and were ordered to pay attorneys' fees of $1,475. The judge also dismissed the entire suit with prejudice. The lawyers filed notice of appeal from the sanctions after expiration of the 30-day deadline, 28 U.S.C. 2107(a); Fed. R. App. P. 4(a)(1)(A). The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, rejecting an argument that since the award of fees was based in part on Rule 11, the award was outside the scope of Rules 54 and 58(a)(3), required a separate document, and did not become final until that document was filed. A post-judgment sanctions order, made while the judgment is already on appeal, does not fit the ordinary understanding of "judgment," and if it is not a judgment, no separate judgment document was required. View "Brennan v. Global Brass & Copper, Inc." on Justia Law