Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendants, alleging claims of unlawful sexual harassment and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000 et seq., and the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Iowa Code 216.6. On appeal, defendants challenged the jury verdict in favor of plaintiff, arguing that they were entitled to a new trial. Defendants argued that the district court erred in overruling their objection to improper rebuttal closing argument by plaintiff's counsel, and then abused its discretion in denying defendants' post-trial motion because this argument, while improper, was not sufficiently prejudicial to warrant a new trial. Counsel made emotionally-charged comments at the end of rebuttal closing argument, referencing her own sexual harassment during law school and assurances to the jury that her client testified truthfully about past sexual abuse. The court concluded that the timing and emotional nature of counsel's improper and repeated personal vouching for her client, using direct references to facts not in evidence, combined with the critical importance of plaintiff's credibility to issues of both liability and damages, made the improper comments unfairly prejudicial and required that the court remand for a new trial. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Gilster v. Primebank, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from the bankruptcy court's order imposing sanctions and judgment, and an order denying a motion to vacate or alter or amend judgment. The bankruptcy appellate panel affirmed the bankruptcy court's decision that defendant violated Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9011, as well as its imposition of sanctions in connection therewith, including suspension of defendant from practice for six months under Local Rule 2090-2; reversed the bankruptcy court's imposition of sanctions against defendant under 11 U.S.C. 105 and its inherent authority because defendant did not receive separate prior notice and an opportunity to be heard regarding such sanctions; and remanded to the bankruptcy court the decision regarding sanctions for alleged misrepresentations by defendant at the Order to Appear and Show Cause hearing. View "Young v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit claiming malicious prosecution and violations of his civil rights. After plaintiff's attorney failed to comply with discovery deadlines, the district court dismissed plaintiff's suit with prejudice for failure to prosecute and failures to comply with a court order and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court concluded that, in these circumstances, it was an abuse of discretion to impose the "ultimate sanction" of dismissal with prejudice without first considering the viability of lesser sanctions. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Bergstrom v. Sgt. Michelle Frascone, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, the first African-American circuit court judge elected in Phillips County, Arkansas, filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the commission and officials during the disciplinary proceedings against him. The district court denied plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order and stayed proceedings in accordance with the Younger abstention doctrine. The state disciplinary proceedings ended with a decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The district court then granted the commission and officials' Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss, finding no justifiable federal controversy. The court concluded that Defendant Stewart, Executive Director of the commission, was entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity as to plaintiff's claims for damages on the first cause of action; plaintiff had no justiciable claim for damages against any defendant in the second cause of action where plaintiff's allegations amounted to nothing more than a state law defamation claim and the district court did not abuse its discretion; and plaintiff's requests for declaratory and injunctive relief were moot. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Simes, II v. Arkansas Judicial D. & D. Comm, et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the bankruptcy court's imposition of sanctions on her for making factually unsupported and harassing statements in documents filed with the court. The court concluded that Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9011 did not authorize the sanctions imposed in this case; even if Rule 9011 was inapplicable, it did not mean that the bankruptcy court lacked authority to sanction plaintiff; the court had jurisdiction over the appeal where the penalty imposed was criminal in nature because the monetary penalty was punitive, payable to the court, and non-compensatory; plaintiff did not move for recusal or object to the judge's participation and she therefore forfeited any objection; the bankruptcy court did not commit an obvious error by failing to recuse sua sponte and there was no showing of prejudice or miscarriage of justice; there was no reasonable probability of a different outcome before a different judge where the evidence of plaintiff's contempt was undisputed and aggravated; and plaintiff's remaining claims about the contempt process were without merit. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Isaacson v. Manty" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Minnesota homeowners represented by the same counsel, brought thirteen separate claims against defendants, nearly all of which rested on a "show me the note" theory. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss nearly all of the claims and sua sponte sanctioned counsel, awarding attorney fees to defendants. The court affirmed, concluding that the district court had diversity jurisdiction as the claims against the sole nondiverse defendant lacked a reasonable basis in fact and law; plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim for relief sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss; the "show me the note" theory had been repeatedly rejected by the Minnesota Supreme Court and this court applying Minnesota law; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing sanctions against counsel under Rule 11 where, at the very least, counsel had lacked a frivolous basis for appeal. View "Welk, et al. v. Ally Financial,Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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Swift sued its lawyers alleging malpractice for failing to file a timely appeal of an adverse judgment in an Arkansas state court action. The court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the lawyers where there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting evidence of the discovery of disputes or in instructing the jury on spoliation; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting hearsay statements and the statement of a certain witness; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in permitting demonstrative animation evidence. Accordingly, the Arkansas appellate courts would not have reversed the jury's verdict and, therefore, the lawyers' failure to file a timely appeal did not proximately cause harm to Swift. View "Swift Transportation Co., et al. v. Angulo, Jr., et al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against his employer, Union Pacific, for injuries he sustained at a railyard operated by Gunderson. Union Pacific filed a third-party complaint for indemnity against Gunderson, and Union Pacific and Gunderson settled with plaintiff, each agreeing to pay half of plaintiff's settlement demand. After settling with plaintiff, Union Pacific and Gunderson proceeded to trial to determine whether Gunderson should also be liable for Union Pacific's half of the settlement. The court affirmed the district court's award to Union Pacific of half of its attorney's fees and costs incurred as of the settlement pursuant to the parties' Track Lease Agreement but denied Union Pacific's motion for additional attorney's fees arising out of the post-settlement indemnification proceedings. View "Rice v. Union Pacific RR Co." on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a contract dispute between Mountain Valley and Southern. Southern subsequently obtained a judgment against Mountain Valley and, simultaneously, Mountain Valley obtained a judgment against Southern on its counterclaim. Both parties then appealed from the judgment of the district court denying each party attorney's fees and costs for the litigation. The court held that the district court was within its discretion to find that neither party qualified as the prevailing party under Nevada law. Because the court affirmed the denial of attorney's fees to Southern, the court need not discuss Mountain Valley's protective claim for its own attorney's fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Southern Wine and Spirits, etc. v. Mountain Valley Spring Co." on Justia Law

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Universal successfully defended a lawsuit brought by a group of cotton farmers in Arkansas state court for damages arising from off-target aerial application of the herbicide known as 2,4-D Amine. Universal then sued several aerial herbicide applicators (collectively, Crop Dusters) who were not parties to the cotton farmers' litigation, seeking to recover its attorney's fees incurred during the cotton farmers' litigation. Because the Crop Dusters owed no duty to Universal, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Universal's negligence claim. The court affirmed the dismissal of Universal's Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA), Ark. Code Ann. 4-88-107(a), claim where the alleged conduct failed to fit within the scope of the unconscionable trade practices prohibited by the ADTPA. Because the Arkansas Supreme Court most recently has rejected any cause of action against a third party for attorney's fees incurred in earlier litigation against another party, and in this case there was no duty running from the third party to the plaintiff that would support such a cause of action in any event, the court affirmed the dismissal of Universal's claims based on the third-party-litigation exception to the American Rule and Restatement (Second) of Torts section 914(2). Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Universal's complaint for failure to state a claim. View "Universal Cooperatives, Inc., et al v. AAC Flying Service, Inc., et al" on Justia Law