Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Plaintiff filed suit against Exxon Mobil alleging damages caused by exposure to naturally occurring radioactive material. On appeal, Exxon Mobil challenged the dismissal of its intervention based on the district court's ruling that a memorandum prepared by Exxon Mobil's in-house counsel was ineligible for the protections of the attorney-client privilege. The court concluded that the manifest purpose of the memorandum was to deal with what would be the obvious reason Exxon Mobil would seek its lawyer's advice in the first place, namely to deal with any legal liability that may stem from under-disclosure of data, hedged against any liability that may occur from any implied warranties during complex negotiations. Accordingly, the court concluded that the memorandum was privileged and vacated and remanded the judgment of the district court. View "Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Hill, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against a Louisiana state court judge under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and 1985, alleging a deprivation of civil rights. The judge presided over a custody proceeding between plaintiff and his ex-wife. Plaintiff moved to recuse the judge based on his suspicion that the judge had a social relationship with his ex-wife. The motion was denied. Plaintiff later renewed the recusal motion and the judge issued an order recusing himself, citing his friendship with the ex-wife. Plaintiff then filed this suit seeking monetary damages. Plaintiff alleged that the judge and his ex-wife conspired to make false statements at the first recusal hearing. The court concluded that when the judge testified, he was testifying as a witness in an adversarial proceeding and thus was absolutely immune from section 1983 liability. The court also concluded that the section 1985 claim was inadequately pled because a violation under section 1985 required class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirator's action. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Moffett v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Baker Botts and Jordan Hyden served as debtor's counsel to ASARCO during its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and helped ASARCO confirm a reorganization plan that paid all of its creditors in full. At issue on appeal was whether the bankruptcy court abused its discretion in authorizing a 20% premium to Baker Botts and 10% premium to Jordan Hyden for their unusually successful fraudulent transfer litigation. Also at issue was whether the bankruptcy court was authorized, consistent with 11 U.S.C. 330, to award attorneys' fees to the firms for defending their fee application in court. The court affirmed as to the fee enhancements awarded to Baker Botts and Jordan Hyden where the district court's 85-page opinion on fees described with specificity and in detail Baker Botts's "rare and exceptional" performance and where Jordan Hyden's attorneys were an integral part of the successful team effort. The court reversed as to additional fee awards for litigation concerning fee applications, concluding that section 330(a) does not authorize compensation for the costs counsel or professionals bear to defend their fee applications. View "Asarco, L.L.C., et al. v. Jordan Hyden Womble Culbreth" on Justia Law

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Defendant is a Texas law firm engaged in an advertising campaign to solicit former dental patients from Kool Smiles dental clinics as potential clients. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's denial of its Texas anti-SLAPP motion brought under the Texas Citizen's Participation Act (TCPA), Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. 27.001-27.011, to dismiss a claim brought by Kool Smiles. The court held that it had jurisdiction to interlocutorily consider the denial of a TCPA anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss; because Kool Smiles waived its argument that the TCPA was a procedural law that conflicted with the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the court assumed that it did not; and the Supreme Court of Texas would most likely hold that defendant's ads and other client solicitations were exempted from the TCPA's protection because defendant's speech arose from the sale of services where the intended audience was an actual or potential customer. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's anti-SLAPP motion. View "NCDR, L.L.C., et al. v. Mauze & Bagby, P.L.L.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Attorneys appealed, and the City cross-appealed, the district court's determination of the fees owed by the City to Attorneys for representing the City. Although the court applied slightly different reasoning that the district court in determining that the Attorneys' contingency contract was unenforceable, the court affirmed the district court's quantum meruit award of $1.3 million to Attorney Davidson; Davidson could not recover the contracted-for contingency fee where there was only partial performance of a joint, indivisible obligation before default; and the district court's quantum meruit award was proper and reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "City of Alexandria v. Cleco Corp., et al." on Justia Law

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The bankruptcy court ordered debtor's counsel to return all consideration he received, but in so doing it imposed an additional sanction beyond return of compensation. A bankruptcy judge may regulate attorney compensation by ordering debtor's counsel to return to the estate excessive compensation, 11 U.S.C. 329(b). Separately, a bankruptcy judge has authority to discipline attorneys who violate the disclosure requirements of the Bankruptcy Code and Rules. In this case, the court reversed and remanded the bankruptcy court's order because a bankruptcy judge's reach under the plain language of section 329(b) was limited to attorney compensation. View "Baker v. Cage" on Justia Law

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Companion, a South Carolina insurer, appealed the district court's dismissal of its complaint alleging legal malpractice against defendants, Louisiana residents and attorneys at a Louisiana law firm. The court concluded that the district court properly dismissed Companion's complaint against defendants for lack of personal jurisdiction in a Texas Forum where defendants maintained no offices in Texas, had no personnel stationed there, paid no Texas taxes, and had no registered agent for service of process; defendants transacted only limited and discrete business in Texas over an appreciable period; and the venue issue was unnecessary for a decision in this case because the court affirmed the dismissal on personal-jurisdiction grounds. View "Companion Property and Casualty Co. v. Palermo, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant, an attorney and the brother-in-law of Trent Lott, appealed from the denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion challenging one of his two convictions for bribing a judge. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his bribe of a circuit court judge in a lawsuit involving a fee-sharing dispute with co-counsel (the "Wilson Case"). Defendant offered to recommend the judge to Lott, who at the time was a U.S. Senator, for a district court judgeship in exchange for the judge's help in winning the Wilson Case. The court concluded that Skilling v. United States, which addressed the constitutionality of the honest-services statute, 18 U.S.C. 1346, had no effect on the district court's subject matter jurisdiction over defendant's guilty plea. Defendant had shown neither his actual innocence of post-Skilling honest-services fraud nor that there was cause and prejudice for failing to raise a constitutional-vagueness challenge to section 1346. Therefore, defendant procedurally defaulted on his claim and the district court correctly denied his section 2255 motion. Finally, the court rejected defendant's First Amendment overbreadth challenge to section 1346. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Scruggs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Luminant, his employer, alleging several unlawful employment practices. The jury agreed with plaintiff that plaintiff's complaints motivated Luminant's decision to discipline him. The jury also found, however, that Luminant proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would have made the "same decision" irrespective of his complaints. The district court entered judgment in Luminant's favor and taxed all costs against plaintiff. Plaintiff moved to retax costs and sought an award of attorney's fees. The court held that 42 U.S.C. 2000e-5(g)(2)(B)(i) authorized cost-and-fee-shifting only for violations of section 2000e-2(m). Retaliation did not violate section 2000e-2(m). Consequently, the district court correctly decided that section 2000e-5(g)(2)(B)(i) did not authorize cost-and-fee-shifting. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Carter v. Luminant Power Services Co." on Justia Law

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Defendants, parents of a minor child who filed an unsuccessful administrative complaint against the school district, asserted that the district court's denial of attorneys' fees to the school district in turn rendered defendants prevailing parties. The court affirmed, however, the district court's denial of attorneys' fees to defendants because defeating a request for attorneys' fees was not the type of success on the merits required to establish prevailing party status. View "Alief Indep. Sch. Dist v. C. C." on Justia Law