Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia

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In 2003, Dumville met with attorney Thorsen to prepare her will. Thorsen understood that Dumville wanted a will that would, upon her death, convey all of her property to her mother if her mother survived her, and, if her mother predeceased her, to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Dumville was 43 and lived with three cats, which she desired to go to the RSPCA upon her death. Thorsen prepared, and Dumville executed, the will. She died in 2008, her mother having predeceased her. Thorsen, as co-executor of the estate, notified the RSPCA that it was the sole beneficiary of Dumville’s estate. Thorsen was informed that, in the opinion of the title insurance company, the will left only the tangible estate, not real estate, to the RSPCA. Thorsen brought suit in a collateral proceeding to correct this “scrivener’s error” based on Dumville’s clear original intent. The court found the language unambiguously limited the RSPCA bequest to tangible personal property, while the intangible estate passed intestate to Dumville’s heirs at law. The RSPCA received $72,015.60, but the bequest, less expenses, would have totaled $675,425.50 absent the error. RSPCA sued Thorsen for negligence, as a third-party beneficiary of his contract with Dumville. The court found for the RSPCA. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed: RSPCA was a clearly and definitely identified third-party beneficiary. View "Thorsen v. Richmond Soc'y for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" on Justia Law

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Two attorneys (together, “defense counsel”) were sanctioned $200 each during the course of their representation of Client, who was the defendant in a wrongful death suit. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant. The plaintiff filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, asserting that defense counsels’ “misconduct” in submitting a jury instruction with an error tainted the jury. The trial judge denied the motion, concluding that counsel’s representation was not a deliberate act to mislead the court. The court, however, concluded that counsels’ inadvertence rose to the level of a sanctionable act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the trial court erred in sanctioning defense counsel for a mutual mistake when the error was inadvertent and, upon its discovery, was timely noted. View "Ragland v. Soggin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a compliant against Defendants in order to enforce a mechanics lien. Wells Fargo was named in the complaint because it was the trustee and secured party of certain property. Wells Fargo filed a motion for leave to file answer out of time and requested its fees and costs incurred with regard to the motion. The trial court granted Wells Fargo’s motion and ordered Plaintiff’s counsel to reimburse Wells Fargo’s counsel $1200 for fees and costs incurred regarding the motion for leave to file answer out of time. The trial court also granted Plaintiff’s motion for default judgment against Defendants. In its final order, the trial court stated that the mechanics lien had been released and that it had issued the $1200 sanctions award against Plaintiff’s counsel for its failure to voluntarily extend the time in which Wells Fargo might file its answer. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s judgment regarding sanctions, as Plaintiff’s counsel did not engage in behavior that could be characterized as unprofessional, an ethics violation or behavior that is subject to statutory sanctions. View "Env’t Specialist, Inc. v. Wells Fargo Bank" on Justia Law