Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
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The case involves a group of bond investors (plaintiffs) who bought and sold certain types of corporate bonds from and to a group of financial institutions and major dealers in the corporate bond market (defendants). The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants violated antitrust laws by engaging in a pattern of parallel conduct and anticompetitive collusion to restrict forms of competition that would have improved odd-lot pricing for bond investors. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the case.Several months after the district court's order, it was discovered that the district court judge had presided over part of the case while his wife owned stock in one of the defendants. Although she had divested that stock before the district court judge issued his decision, the plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the district court judge should have disqualified himself due to this prior financial interest of his wife.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was tasked with deciding whether, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 455, vacatur was warranted because the district court judge was required to disqualify himself before issuing his decision. The court concluded that while there was no outright conflict when the district court judge ruled on the merits of this action, § 455(a) and related precedents required pre-judgment disqualification, thus vacatur was warranted. As a result, the court vacated the judgment and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Litovich v. Bank of America Corp." on Justia Law

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Link Motion Inc., a Chinese company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, filed a legal malpractice action against the law firm DLA Piper LLP (US) and one of its attorneys in the New York State Supreme Court. The case was related to a previous lawsuit filed by a shareholder of Link Motion, Wayne Baliga, in which DLA Piper represented Link Motion. The law firm removed the case to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, which dismissed Link Motion's complaint as time-barred and denied its motion to remand the case back to state court.The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reviewed the case and concluded that the district court lacked federal jurisdiction. The court found that the federal law standing question identified by the district court as embedded in Link Motion's malpractice claim did not fall within the narrow category of "disputed and substantial" questions of federal law permitting the exercise of federal jurisdiction over a state law claim. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's decision and remanded the case back to the state court. View "Link Motion Inc. v. DLA Piper LLP" on Justia Law

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The defendant, Dwayne Barrett, was convicted on multiple counts of conspiratorial and substantive Hobbs Act robbery, the use of firearms during such robberies, and in one robbery, the murder of a robbery victim. On appeal, Barrett argued that his initial appellate counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to challenge the sufficiency of his convictions. He also argued that his 50-year prison sentence was procedurally unreasonable based on the district court’s application of U.S.S.G. § 2A1.1 in calculating his Sentencing Guidelines range. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected all of Barrett’s arguments except for his consecutive sentence challenge, where it identified error by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Lora v. United States. The court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for resentencing consistent with Lora and its opinion. View "United States v. Barrett" on Justia Law

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In this case handled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the plaintiff, Alexis Marquez, an attorney who represented herself, claimed that an Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice harassed her and subjected her to inappropriate behavior during her service as his court attorney. Marquez challenged two interlocutory rulings that dismissed the complaint as to one defendant and denied reconsideration. However, the district court dismissed the case as a penalty for Marquez's failure to comply with discovery orders, which Marquez did not challenge in this appeal.The Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Marquez's challenge to the interlocutory orders as it was not an appeal from a final decision of the district court. The Court explained that the merger rule, which allows an interlocutory order to merge into the final judgment, does not apply when a district court enters a dismissal as a sanction. If Marquez successfully challenges the sanction dismissal, she would then have the opportunity to challenge the interlocutory orders as part of any appeal from a final judgment on the merits. In this situation, however, the Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction. View "Marquez v. Silver" on Justia Law

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Ivan Reyes-Arzate, the defendant-appellant, appealed his conviction and sentence after pleading guilty to a drug offense before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He was sentenced to 120 months' imprisonment, four years of supervised release, and was also subjected to a special assessment and forfeiture. His defense counsel filed an Anders brief seeking to withdraw from the appeal on the basis that any appeal would be frivolous due to the defendant's plea agreement, which included a valid waiver of the right to appeal any sentence of 293 months or less. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, deferred a decision on the motion to withdraw and ordered the defense counsel to submit a supplemental brief. The court found that the defense counsel's brief only addressed the validity of Reyes-Arzate's appeal waiver and did not discuss the scope of the waiver, particularly as it related to non-imprisonment components of the sentence such as the term and conditions of supervised release. The court clarified that when filing Anders briefs, defense counsels should address all aspects of a defendant’s conviction and sentence that are not unambiguously waived. The court deferred decision on the motions and ordered the defendant-appellant's counsel to file a supplemental brief addressing whether the non-imprisonment components of the sentence, which are not unambiguously covered by the appeal waiver, present any non-frivolous issues for appeal. View "United States v. Reyes-Arzate" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Minhye Park’s case against David Dennis Kim by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The District Court dismissed the case due to Park’s persistent and knowing violation of court orders, specifically regarding discovery. The Court of Appeals found that Park’s noncompliance amounted to "sustained and willful intransigence" despite repeated warnings that continued refusal to comply would result in dismissal.Additionally, the Court of Appeals addressed the conduct of Park's attorney, Jae S. Lee. Lee cited a non-existent court decision in her reply brief to the court, which she admitted she generated using an artificial intelligence tool, ChatGPT. The court deemed this action as falling below the basic obligations of counsel and referred Lee to the court’s Grievance Panel. The court also ordered Lee to provide a copy of the decision to her client. The court emphasized that attorneys must ensure that their submissions to the court are accurate and that they have conducted a reasonable inquiry to confirm the existence and validity of the legal authorities on which they rely. View "Park v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Appellant, an attorney, represented debtor in proceedings before the United States Bankruptcy Court. After Appellant failed to comply with a series of discovery orders, the bankruptcy court imposed sanctions of $55,000 for 55 days of non-compliance and $36,600 in attorneys' fees. The orders were affirmed by the district court. Appellant appealed, arguing that, first, the bankruptcy court lacked inherent authority to issue civil contempt sanctions, and second, as a matter of due process, he was not provided with sufficient notice of the basis for the sanctions imposed against him.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the civil contempt sanctions imposed against Appellant were within the scope of the bankruptcy court's discretion and that he had ample notice of the basis and reasons for the imposition of sanctions. The court explained that it appears that Appellant could not have been sanctioned under any express authority; the bankruptcy court was right to consider its inherent contempt authority. Nor was the bankruptcy court's exercise of its inherent contempt authority contrary to any provision of the Bankruptcy Code, including Section 105(a). Further, the court reasoned that the bankruptcy court found all the necessary elements -- that is, a finding of bad faith and satisfaction of the King factors -- to order contempt sanctions in the circumstances here, where Appellant was acting as an advocate. View "In re: Larisa Ivanovna Markus" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a California licensed attorney, challenged (1) the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for transmitting extortionate communications in interstate commerce to sportswear leader Nike, attempted Hobbs Act extortion of Nike, and honest-services wire fraud of the client whom Defendant was purportedly representing in negotiations with Nike. Defendant further challenged the trial court’s jury instruction as to honest-services fraud and the legality of a $259,800.50 restitution award to Nike.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the trial evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction for the two charged extortion counts because a reasonable jury could find that Defendant’s threat to injure Nike’s reputation and financial position was wrongful in that the multi-million-dollar demand supported by the threat bore no nexus to any claim of right. Further, the court held that the trial evidence was sufficient to support Defendant’s conviction for honest-services fraud because a reasonable jury could find that Defendant solicited a bribe from Nike in the form of a quid pro quo whereby Nike would pay Defendant many millions of dollars in return for which Defendant would violate his fiduciary duty as an attorney. The court further explained that the district court did not exceed its authority under the MVRA by awarding restitution more than 90 days after initial sentencing, and Defendant has shown no prejudice from the delayed award. Finally, the court wrote that the MVRA applies in this case where Nike sustained a pecuniary loss directly attributable to those crimes as a result of incurring fees for its attorneys to attend the meeting demanded by Defendant at which he first communicated his extortionate threat. View "United States v. Avenatti" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued her employer, Defendant Montefiore Medical Center, and two of its employees, asserting claims of sexual harassment during and retaliatory discharge from her employment. Following the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in their favor, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s remaining claims and sought sanctions against Plaintiff and her counsel, Appellant Daniel Altaras and his firm, Appellant Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC (“DSLG”), contending that Plaintiff’s text message evidence was a forgery. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Plaintiff had fabricated the text messages, falsely testified about their production, and spoliated evidence in an attempt to conceal her wrongdoing. The district court also found that Altaras had facilitated Plaintiff’s misconduct. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s remaining claims with prejudice and imposed a monetary sanction of attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred by Defendants. On appeal, Appellants challenged various aspects of the district court’s conduct.   The court vacated the portion of the district court’s judgment imposing a sanction on Altaras and DSLG and remanded for further proceedings consistent. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all other respects. The court held that the district court erred by failing to expressly make the finding of bad faith required to support the sanction it imposed against Altaras and DSLG.  The court directed that on remand, the district court may assess in its discretion whether Altaras’s misconduct—including his insistence on defending a complaint founded on obviously fabricated evidence or other actions—amounted to bad faith. View "Rossbach et al. v. Montefiore Medical Center et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Virginia-licensed mental health counselor, appealed from a district court judgment dismissing her First Amendment and Due Process challenges to a New York law requiring her to obtain a further license in that state to provide mental health counseling to New York residents. Plaintiff argued that the district court erred in (1) dismissing her as-applied challenges for lack of standing, (2) construing her First Amendment facial challenge as alleging overbreadth and concluding therefrom that she failed to state a plausible claim for relief, and (3) overlooking her facial Due Process claim.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that because Plaintiff need not satisfy the particular requirements for initial licensure to provide mental health counseling to New York residents, she can allege no injury from, and therefore has no standing to challenge, that part of the law. Moreover, as to Plaintiff’s First Amendment claims, the court explained that New York’s license requirement withstands intermediate scrutiny as a matter of law because there is no question that the law (i) serves an important government interest in promoting and protecting public health, specifically, public mental health; and (ii) is narrowly tailored by statutory definition and exemptions to advance that interest without unduly burdening speech. View "Brokamp v. James" on Justia Law