Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals

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McKenzie’s creditors filed an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in 2008. McKenzie filed a voluntary Chapter 11 petition a month later. The cases were consolidated and converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Several weeks before the involuntary petition was filed, McKenzie executed a promissory note and a pledge in favor of GKH for unpaid legal fees. The pledge listed several entities in which McKenzie held an interest, ranging from an “auto mall” to a farm. GKH filed a proof of claim for $750,000, describing the collateral as “Real Estate” and “Other” and sought relief from the automatic stay. The Trustee opposed relief on the ground that the pledge constituted a preferential transfer. The bankruptcy court granted relief with respect to certain real estate, but denied relief as to equity interests. The bankruptcy court held that McKenzie had not validly conveyed his equity interests in certain entities to GKH, that the Trustee could use his hypothetical lien-creditor status and avoidance powers defensively to defeat GKH’s security interest, and that the statute of limitations should be equitably tolled because of GKH’s conduct. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, holding that GKH had the burden of establishing the validity of its claimed security interest and that a trustee may use his hypothetical lien-creditor status and avoidance powers to oppose relief from the automatic stay after expiration of the statutory limitation on avoidance actions under 11 U.S.C. 546(a)(1)(A). View "In re: Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison v. Still" on Justia Law

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Crockett’s former law firm subscribed to a LexisNexis legal research plan that allowed unlimited access to certain databases for a flat fee. Subscribers could access other databases for an additional fee. According to Crockett, LexisNexis indicated that a warning sign would display before a subscriber used a database outside the plan. Years after subscribing, Crockett complained that his firm was being charged additional fees without any warning that it was using a database outside the Plan. LexisNexis insisted on payment of the additional fees. The firm dissolved. Crockett’s new firm entered into a LexisNexis subscription agreement, materially identical to the earlier plan; it contains an arbitration clause. Crockett filed an arbitration demand against LexisNexis on behalf of two putative classes. One class comprised law firms that were charged additional fees. The other comprised clients onto whom such fees were passed. The demand sought damages of more than $500 million. LexisNexis sought a federal court declaration that the agreement did not authorize class arbitration. The district court granted LexisNexis summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. “The idea that the arbitration agreement … reflects the intent of anyone but LexisNexis is the purest legal fiction,” but the one-sided adhesive nature of the clause and the absence of a class-action right do not render it unenforceable. The court observed that Westlaw’s contract lacks any arbitration clause. View "Reed Elsevier, Inc. v. Crockett" on Justia Law

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In her representation of a client charged with alien smuggling, 8 U.S.C. 1324, Migdal, an attorney who has served as an Assistant Federal Public Defender for nearly 25 years, had a number of disagreements with the federal prosecutor, who ultimately moved for sanctions against Migdal. The prosecutor failed to follow Department of Justice policy requiring supervisory approval of sanctions requests. Despite the government withdrawing the motion and indicating that it did not believe that Migdal acted in bad faith, the district court entered orders strongly publicly reprimanding Migdal. The Sixth Circuit vacated, stating that the record does not support any basis for the orders. View "United States v. Llanez-Garcia" on Justia Law

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Bowers joined Ophthalmology Group as an employee in 1999 and, in 2002, became one of six partners. In November 2009, Bowers tendered a resignation letter to her partners. Although she did not give a date of departure, the partnership agreement required a one-year notice. In March, 2010, the partners voted to expel Bowers from the partnership, stating that her Chapter 7 bankruptcy and creditors’ proceedings and other personal conduct were detrimental to the Partnership.” After exhausting administrative remedies, Bowers filed suit, alleging: gender discrimination under Title VII; wrongful termination in breach of contract or in violation of public policy under Kentucky common law; gender discrimination under Kentucky statutes; retaliation for complaining about gender discrimination under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e. and the state law; and misappropriation of name for commercial advantage. Bowers moved to disqualify defendant’s counsel because another attorney at the firm previously represented Bowers in a substantially related matter. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant because Bowers, as a former partner, was not an “employee” under Title VII and denied the motion to disqualify “as moot.” The Sixth Circuit vacated summary judgment and granted the motion to disqualify. View "Bowers v. Ophthalmology Grp." on Justia Law

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The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, accredited by the ABA, enrolls more students than any other U.S. law school and plans to expand. Cooley charges full-time students tuition of $36,750 per year, exclusive of other costs, and, according to U.S. News & World Report, has the lowest admission standards of any accredited law school. The school has a very low retention rate. In a 66-page complaint, 12 graduates claimed that the school disseminated false employment statistics, upon which they relied as assurances that they would obtain full-time attorney jobs after graduating. The graduates did not obtain the kind of employment the statistics advertised; some found employment at all. They claimed that, had they known the truth, they would not have attended Cooley or would have paid less tuition, and sought, among other relief, partial tuition reimbursement, which they estimated for the class would be $300,000,000. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that the Michigan Consumer Protection Act does not apply to the facts. The complaint shows that one of the statistics on which they relied was objectively true and reliance on the statistics, without further inquiry, was unreasonable. View "MacDonald v. Thomas M. Cooley Law School" on Justia Law

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Carpenter sued Flint, a councilwoman and the mayor, based on Carpenter’s termination from his position as Director of Transportation, asserting age and political discrimination, breach of contract, wrongful discharge, gross negligence, defamation, and invasion of privacy. Defendants argued that the complaint failed to identify which claims were alleged against which defendants, and that the allegations were “excessively esoteric, compound and argumentative.” Carpenter did not respond by the court’s deadline, and about five weeks later, a stipulated order entered, permitting Carpenter to file an amended complaint by April 21, 2011. Counsel manually filed an amended complaint on May 20, 2011, violating a local rule requiring electronic filing. The clerk accepted the filing, but issued a warning. Carpenter failed to timely respond to a renewed motion to strike. Carpenter responded to a resulting show-cause order, but failed to abide by local rules. Another warning issued. Carpenter’s response to a second show-cause order was noncompliant. The court warned that “future failure to comply … will not be tolerated.” After more than five months without docket activity, the court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Defendants bore some responsibility for delays and the length of delay does not establish the kind of conduct or clear record warranting dismissal; lesser sanctions were appropriate. View "Carpenter v. City of Flint" on Justia Law

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Bistline pled guilty to knowingly possessing 305 images and 56 videos of child pornography on his computer, many of which depicted 8- to 10-year-old girls being raped by adult men. His recommended Guidelines sentence was 63 to 78 months’ imprisonment. The district court sentenced Bistline to a single night’s confinement in lockup, plus 10 years’ supervised release. The Sixth Circuit vacated, noting that Bistline’s guidelines range should have been “the starting point” for considering the factors in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) and that the court was entitled to consider Bistline’s age, health, and family circumstances, but that those could not justify the sentence imposed. On remand, the district court again imposed a sentence of one day’s confinement and 10 years’ supervised release, stating: “If I have got to send somebody like Mr.Bistline to prison, I’m sorry, someone else will have to do it. I’m not going to do it.” The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for reassignment and resentencing. View "United States v. Bistline" on Justia Law

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Mendoza drove a truck from North Carolina to Tennessee with Tavera as a passenger. The truck contained construction equipment. A large quantity of methamphetamine was hidden under nails. The truck was stopped after being followed as part of a sting operation. At trial, Tavera, a roofer, testified that he did not know about the drugs and that he thought he was going to Tennessee to view a construction project. Tavera was convicted of participating in a methamphetamine drug conspiracy and sentenced to 186 months of imprisonment. He subsequently learned that days before the trial Mendoza had participated in plea negotiations in which he told Taylor, the prosecution’s trial lawyer, that Tavera had no knowledge of the drug conspiracy. Mendoza later pled guilty and changed his story. Tavera filed an appeal and a year later moved for a new trial in the district court. The district court has not ruled on the motion. The Sixth Circuit vacated the conviction, based on the “Brady” violation, calling the case “not close,” and recommended that the U.S. Attorney’s office conduct an investigation of why the prosecutorial error occurred. View "United States v. Tavera" on Justia Law

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The Trustee for McKenzie’s bankruptcy estate filed an adversary proceeding against GKH, McKenzie’s law firm (and a creditor), seeking records pertaining to entities in which McKenzie allegedly had an interest (11 U.S.C. 542). The parties entered into an agreed order. The Trustee then filed other actions, arising from the same post-petition transfer of 50 acres from the Cleveland Auto Mall, an entity in which McKenzie had a 50% interest, to a newly formed entity in which McKenzie had no interest. The Trustee alleged violation of the automatic stay, 11 U.S.C. 362(k) and preferential or fraudulent transfer, 11 U.S.C. 547(b) and 544(g)). The Bankruptcy Court dismissed, finding that under Tennessee law and notwithstanding prior dissolution, CAM existed as a separate legal entity such that the land remained its separate property. The Trustee then filed a state court action, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and civil conspiracy to commit fraud; GKH allegedly represented McKenzie under a conflict of interest in drafting the transfer documents. Several claims were dismissed as untimely. GKH then sued the Trustee alleging malicious prosecution and abuse of process. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed GKH’s adversary proceeding alleging claims, citing quasi-judicial immunity and failure to state a claim, and denied GKH’s motion for leave to file a complaint in state court. The district court and Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "In re McKenzie" on Justia Law

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Exact developed business software. Infocon began distributing Exact’s software in 1998. A conflict arose when Exact allegedly abandoned a scheduled upgrade, leaving distributors like Infocon out to dry, and Infocon allegedly failed to remit fees. Exact sued Infocon in 2003. According to the district court, Exact showed “persistent noncompliance with… ever more stringent” discovery orders. When Infocon moved for a default judgment, Exact fired its lawyer, hired new counsel and entered settlement negotiations. . On the eve of settlement, Infocon fired its lawyer, DeMoisey. DeMoisey placed a charging lien on the settlement proceeds. Exact delivered the $4 million settlement to the district court, which distributed most of it to Infocon and placed the remaining $1.2 million in escrow pending resolution of the fee dispute. Nine months later, Infocon sued DeMoisey in Kentucky state court for malpractice. After a summary judgment ruling in favor of the lawyer, the district court held a bench trial and awarded DeMoisey $1.4 million in quantum meruit relief. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the amount was too high, that Infocon had a right to a jury trial and, for the first time on appeal, that the district court lacked jurisdiction because DeMoisey and Infocon are both from Kentucky. View "Exact Software N. Am., Inc. v. Infocon Sys., Inc." on Justia Law