Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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After the district court awarded BancorpSouth nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees under state law, or, in the alternative, under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101 et seq., Spear Marketing appealed. Spear Marketing argued that the district court erred in awarding attorneys’ fees under state law because its state law claim was preempted and erred in alternatively awarding attorneys’ fees under the Copyright Act because it never pleaded or litigated a copyright claim. The court concluded that the district court did not err in awarding attorneys' fees under the state law because no court has ever held the state law claim to be preempted. View "Spear Marketing v. BancorpSouth Bank" on Justia Law

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Appellants-attorneys Shawn Fitzpatrick and Timothy Flocos were sanctioned by the district court for certifying that their clients’ initial disclosures under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(1) were complete and correct even though the disclosures failed to mention evidence that Appellants later used during a deposition. Appellants appealed, asking the Fifth Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and remit to them the monetary sanctions collected by the district court. Appellants argued that they used two recordings solely to impeach a witness' credibility; therefore, they were not required to disclose the recordings under Rule 26(a)(1). Appellants also argued that the district court failed to properly consider whether their decision to withhold the evidence at issue from the initial disclosures was substantially justified. Finding no reversible error in the district court's decision to sanction appellants, the Fifth Circuit affirmed. View "Olivarez v. GEO Group, Inc., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an evangelical Christian, filed suit against the City, alleging that he was denied his First Amendment right to hand out religious literature at a public festival. The parties entered into a consent decree where the City agreed to pay plaintiff a dollar in nominal damages and where, among other provisions, the City was prohibited from interfering with plaintiff's free speech rights or other individuals at future public events in downtown Ft. Worth. At issue are the attorney's fees. Because a plaintiff is a prevailing party when nominal damages are awarded, and this case does not present the special circumstances in which a prevailing civil rights plaintiff may be denied fees altogether, the court vacated the order denying fees and remanded for an assessment of the reasonableness of the fee request. View "Grisham v. City of Fort Worth" on Justia Law

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This attorneys’ fees dispute arises out of an underlying lease dispute between HDRE and RARE. HDRE appealed the district court's award of attorneys’ fees for RARE under an attorneys’ fees provision in a lease agreement between the parties that was subsequently novated by another agreement. The court held that the novation of the Lease extinguished the parties’ rights under that agreement to prevailing-party attorneys’ fees and that the district court consequently abused its discretion in awarding fees to RARE. The court disagreed with the district court’s conclusion that several provisions of the Lease evince the parties’ intent for the attorneys’ fees provision to survive a future novation. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment. View "HDRE Bus. Partners Ltd. Grp. v. RARE Hosp. Int'l" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the city, alleging claims for hostile work environment, quid pro quo, and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court's reduction of her attorney fee award. The district court concluded that the ratio between attorney’s fees and damages was excessively disproportionate. The court vacated the fee award and remanded for determination of a new fee award, concluding that there is no requirement of strict proportionality between attorney’s fees and damages. View "Combs v. City of Huntington" on Justia Law

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This case stems from an investigation into improprieties in the Court-Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP) responsible for a class of claims related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Movants Glen Lerner and Jonathan Andry appeal the district court’s sanction order disqualifying them from further participation in the CSSP related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Andry Lerner, L.L.C. appeals the denial of its motion to alter or amend the restrictions imposed on related attorneys’ fees that were escrowed in connection with the sanction. The district court found that Andry and Lerner had violated multiple rules under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The court affirmed the district court's sanction order because that court acted within its inherent authority to supervise the settlement program and did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sanction. The court held that, in light of the Special Master’s representation that the parties intend to agree to appropriate amendments to the restrictions on the escrowed fees, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Andry Lerner, L.L.C.’s motion to alter or amend. The court left open to the district court the possibility of amending its orders upon submission of a properly supported motion. View "Lake Eugenie Land & Dev. v. BP" on Justia Law

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OMSJ filed suit against defendant alleging, inter alia, trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Defendant created two websites to deconstruct the OMSJ's alleged misrepresentation of the effects of HIV and AIDS and allegedly false research that the OMSJ promulgated on its “HIV Innocence Group” webpage. The district court dismissed the Lanham Act claim, declined to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the state law claims, and denied defendant’s subsequent request for an award of attorney’s fees stemming from the allegedly frivolous trademark claims. In light of recent Supreme Court precedent, Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health and Fitness, Inc., which expanded the standard under which a lawsuit presents an “exceptional case” meriting the award of attorney fees, the court reversed and remanded for reconsideration. The court merged Octane Fitness’s definition of “exceptional” into its interpretation of section 1117(a) of the Lanham Act and construe its meaning as follows: an exceptional case is one where (1) in considering both governing law and the facts of the case, the case stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position; or (2) the unsuccessful party has litigated the case in an “unreasonable manner.” The district court must address this issue “in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances.” View "Baker v. Deshong" on Justia Law

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Appellant, a criminal defense attorney practicing in Lafayette, Louisiana, challenged his six-month suspension from the Western District of Louisiana. The suspension was imposed due to his violation of L. Crim. R. 53.5, which operates as a prior restraint against attorney speech during the pendency of a criminal trial. The court concluded that, under the plain language of Rule 53.5, appellant falls within the scope of the rule as an attorney associated with the defense where appellant stressed that, although he was not counsel of record, he was helping the defendant with his case, appellant assisted the defendant with trial preparation, and appellant attended several of the pretrial hearings. The court also concluded that the district court was not required to make a finding of bad faith before sanctioning appellant. Finally, the court held that Rule 53.5 is unconstitutional as applied to appellant and the court need not address appellant's facial challenge. Rule 53.5 does not incorporate either a “substantial likelihood standard” or even a “reasonable likelihood” standard, as required under United States v. Brown. In this case, the Government failed to demonstrate that the prior restraint is narrowly tailored and provides the least restrictive means to achieve the Government's goal. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "In re: William Goode" on Justia Law

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Jason Dvorin appealed his conviction of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Dvorin's appeal has been consolidated with the appeal of Mindy Sauter, the attorney who prosecuted defendant during his first trial. Dvorin asserted that the district court erred in: (1) denying his request for an apparent-authority jury instruction; (2) denying his request for a special unanimity jury instruction; (3) overruling his objections under Federal Rules of Evidence 701 and 704 to the government counsels’ and witnesses’ use of the terms “fraud,” “fraudulent check,” or “conspiracy”; (4) excluding extrinsic evidence of and cross-examination regarding the district court’s findings that Chris Derrington, Pavillion Bank's executive vice president, testified falsely in a prior proceeding; (5) declining to award sanctions for prosecutorial discovery misconduct; (6) admitting the testimony of Chase Bank representative Arthemis Lindsay despite the government’s failure to timely designate Lindsay as a possible witness on its witness list; and (7) permitting the government to add a forfeiture count to the second superseding indictment before the second trial and entering a forfeiture judgment at sentencing without having a jury find the facts essential to that judgment. Sauter contends that the district court erroneously found that she violated Brady, Giglio, and Napue and acted “recklessly” by failing to timely disclose Derrington’s plea agreement supplement. The court reversed the district court’s denial of Dvorin’s motion to dismiss the forfeiture account for prosecutorial vindictiveness because the presumption of vindictiveness applied in this case where the government added a forfeiture notice in the second superseding indictment, and the government failed to overcome this presumption. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Dvorin" on Justia Law

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The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), 7 U.S.C. 499e, is a Depression-era statute designed to protect sellers of perishable produce form delinquent purchasers. In this case, two such purchasers filed for bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court appointed special counsel to collect and disburse funds to PACA-protected sellers that had claims against the purchasers-turned-debtors. At issue on appeal is whether special counsel’s (Stokes) fees and expenses be disbursed from the PACA fund. Nowhere in the orders on the interim appeals is there an indication that the district court realized these were interlocutory orders and believed there was a benefit to hearing them in this piecemeal manner. That absence means the district court did not have appellate jurisdiction over the first two interim fee orders. Therefore the court vacated for lack of jurisdiction the district court’s order vacating the first and second fee awards. The court found that Kingdom Fresh has no standing to dispute the percentage of Stokes’s fee allocable to the nonobjecting parties. Only the small percentage of Stokes’s fee apportionable to Kingdom Fresh is at issue in this appeal; Stokes is free to keep the remainder. The court agreed with the Second Circuit that PACA’s unequivocal language requires that a PACA trustee - or in this case, its functional equivalent - may not be paid from trust assets “until full payment of the sums owing” is paid to all claimants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order vacating the final fee award, but only as to Kingdom Fresh's pro rata share of the fees. View "Kingdom Fresh Produce, Inc., et al v. Delta Produc" on Justia Law