Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wyoming Supreme Court
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The case revolves around Kenya H. Bindner, who was convicted of possession of marijuana and possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. The authorities executed a search warrant at Bindner's residence, where they found methamphetamine and marijuana. Bindner was standing near the location where the drugs were found. He was charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, one count of felony possession of methamphetamine, and one count of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.During the trial, Bindner's defense was that while the drugs were present in the residence, they were not his and he did not possess them. However, a text message exchange between Bindner and his girlfriend suggested that he had knowledge of the methamphetamine and had an intent to control it. The jury found Bindner guilty on all three counts. The district court dismissed the count for possession of methamphetamine on double jeopardy grounds and sentenced Bindner to a combined prison term of five to eight years on the remaining counts.Bindner appealed, claiming that his counsel was deficient in his failure to produce a potentially exculpatory witness statement. After an evidentiary hearing, the court concluded that defense counsel's performance was deficient as he failed to reasonably investigate the witness statement, which ultimately led to the exclusion of the witness's testimony. However, the court concluded that Bindner had not demonstrated a reasonable probability that the result of his trial would have been different. Therefore, the court denied Bindner's motion for a new trial. The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. View "Bindner, Jr. v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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Solomon Bolen was convicted of multiple offenses, including attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery. Bolen appealed, arguing that the district court violated his due process rights by not instructing the jury on his plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency (NGMI). He also claimed that his attorneys were ineffective for not seeking those instructions. Additionally, Bolen contended that his convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery violated his right against double jeopardy.The district court had found Bolen mentally fit to proceed with the trial. Despite Bolen's NGMI plea, the court-designated examiner, Dr. Wilkinson, opined that Bolen did not meet the statutory criteria for an NGMI defense. She noted that Bolen's altered state of mind and psychosis at the time of the crimes were caused by self-induced intoxication, which is specifically excluded from the statutory definition of mental illness or deficiency. Bolen's attorneys did not pursue the NGMI defense and focused instead on the self-induced intoxication defense.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bolen did not present competent evidence to support an NGMI defense, and thus was not entitled to have the jury instructed on the defense. The court also found that Bolen's attorneys were not ineffective for not pursuing the NGMI defense, as the instructions would not have been proper even if they had renewed their request for them. Lastly, the court held that Bolen's convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery did not violate his right against double jeopardy, as the crimes contained separate elements. View "Bolen v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves a legal malpractice claim brought by Patricia Kappes against Diana Rhodes and Rhodes Law Firm, LLC. Kappes alleges that Rhodes' negligence resulted in the loss of a legal action against a defendant. The legal action in question pertains to the wrongful death of Kappes' mother, Lula M. Tanner, who was a resident at Deseret Health and Rehab at Rock Springs, LLC. Kappes had sought legal recourse for her mother's death against her mother's healthcare providers. However, Rhodes failed to timely file an application with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel and a wrongful death complaint against Ms. Tanner’s healthcare providers, which Kappes alleges constitutes legal malpractice.The District Court of Laramie County, Wyoming, certified four questions to the Supreme Court of Wyoming. These questions pertained to the role of the collectibility of the judgment in the underlying action in legal malpractice cases in Wyoming. The lower court sought to understand whether the collectibility of a judgment is a relevant consideration in a legal malpractice case, which party bears the burden of proving the underlying judgment would have been collectible, whether collectibility must be pled as an affirmative defense, and whether the Collectibility Doctrine is available as a defense to an attorney who has admitted liability.The Supreme Court of Wyoming concluded that the collectibility of the judgment is an essential part of the causation/damages element of a legal malpractice action. The client, in this case, Kappes, has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that any judgment she would have obtained in the underlying action would have been collectible. The court held that the client's burden includes showing she would have obtained a judgment in the underlying action and the judgment would have been collectible. The court did not find it necessary to answer the third and fourth certified questions as they were predicated on the court deciding collectibility is an affirmative defense to be pled and proved by the attorney. View "Kappes v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the district court denying Wind River Rehabilitation and Wellness's motion to compel arbitration in this action alleging medical malpractice, holding that the district court erred in denying the motion to compel arbitration.Plaintiff, the wrongful death representative of Loy Forshee, filed this action against Wind River, where Forshee lived when he fell and broke his hip, alleging medical malpractice. Wind River moved to compel arbitration under the parties' arbitration agreement. The district court denied the motion, concluding that Wind River waived his right to arbitration by waiting fourteen months to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the record did not support a conclusion that Wind River waived its right to arbitrate. View "Empres at Riverton, LLC v. Osborne" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the district court in favor of Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd, P.C. and Kelly Rudd (collectively, BCR) in this action brought by the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the Wind River Hotel & Casino (collectively, the Tribe), holding that the district court's order imposing sanctions on the Tribe was erroneous.The Tribe brought this action seeking injunctions for the return of tribal funds and documents, an accounting, and damages for conversion and civil theft. The district court granted summary judgment for BCR on the accounting and injunctions claims and, after a jury trial, entered final judgment on the conversion and civil theft claim. The Tribe appealed, arguing, among other things, that the district court erred by awarding sanctions under Wyo. R. Civ. P. 11. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding that (1) the district court erred in imposing sanctions because BCR failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Rule 11; (2) the district court did not err when it granted summary judgment for BCR on the Tribe's accounting claim; and (3) the Tribe failed to show the verdict would have been more favorable if racially charged evidence had not been admitted. View "Northern Arapaho Tribe v. Baldwin, Crocker & Rudd, P.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against Steven Johnson and his legal entities (collectively, Appellants) on Johnson's legal malpractice claims against Danielle M. Mathey and Mathey Law Office, P.C. (collectively, Appellees), holding that Appellees were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.Appellants sued Appellees alleging legal malpractice regarding Mathey's representation of Johnson on various matters. Because Appellants did not designate an expert witness or present any competent evidence establishing the legal elements of their legal malpractice claims the district court granted summary judgment for Appeellees, finding that Appellants failed to establish through expert testimony or other competent evidence a genuine issue of material fact on the elements of their claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, under the facts of this case, the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees. View "Johnson v. Mathey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on her counterclaim for breach of contract in this legal malpractice lawsuit, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the parties entered into a lawfully enforceable settlement agreement.The underlying lawsuit arose after the death of Plaintiff's mother when Defendant failed timely to file an application with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel and a wrongful death lawsuit. Defendant filed a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging that the parties had entered into a valid agreement to settle the legal malpractice claim for $100,000. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant, concluding that the settlement agreement was enforceable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact about whether the parties had a setting of the funds on the issue of who was settling and who would be bound by the settlement, precluding summary judgment. View "Kappes v. Rhodes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court reversing in part and affirming in part the decision of the Wyoming Board of Medicine to suspend Dr. Rebecca Painter's medical license, holding that the district court did not err.The Board appointed two members (Petitioners) to file a complaint and petition alleging that Painter had violated certain provisions of the Wyoming Medical Practice Act, Wyo. Stat. Ann. 33-26-101 through -703. After a contested case hearing, the Board terminated Painter's license upon finding that Painter had exploited her professional relationship with a patient and the patient's family and improperly terminated the physician-patient relationship. The Board then assessed costs and fees against Painter. The district court affirmed some violations, reversed other violations, reversed the Board's assessed fees and affirmed all other costs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the contested case hearing procedure did not violate Painter's due process rights; (2) the Board's finding that Painter exploited her professional relationship with the patient was supported by clear and convincing evidence; and (3) the Board's finding that Painter improperly terminated the physician-patient relationship was supported by substantial evidence. View "Hallingbye ex rel. Wyoming Board of Medicine v. Painter" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting Defendants' motion to dismiss this legal malpractice complaint and to compel arbitration based on the arbitration provision in the parties' engagement agreement, holding that the district court erred when it failed to stay the malpractice action.On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the arbitration provision and the engagement agreement were unenforceable and that the district court erred when it failed to stay the malpractice action as required by the Wyoming and Utah Uniform Arbitration Acts. The Supreme Court agreed, holding (1) the district court properly limited the scope of its arbitrability ruling to address only the enforceability of the arbitration provision; and (2) the district court erred when it dismissed the legal malpractice action upon ordering arbitration. View "Inman v. Grimmer" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court granting Defendant summary judgment and dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim, holding that collateral estoppel and in pari delicto barred Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim.In 2018, the district court revoked The Mattheis Company's (the Company) liquor license. In 2019, the Company sued Richard Mulligan and Mulligan Law Office, P.C. (collectively, Mulligan), for legal malpractice related to the revocation of its liquor license. The district court granted Mulligan summary judgment based on collateral estoppel. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that collateral estoppel and in pari delicto barred the Company's legal malpractice claim. View "Mattheis Co. v. Mulligan" on Justia Law