Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Seventh Circuit upholds award of attorneys’ fees to some plaintiffs and of costs to some defendants in civil rights case. Ghidotti, an employee of Reliable Recovery, attempted to repossess a car from Baker’s step‐daughter. Ghidotti called 911, falsely stating that Baker had threatened him. Police arrived, arrested Baker, and charged him with possession of shotgun with an expired registration. Baker attended nine court hearings before the charges were dropped. Baker and family members sued Chicago, eight named police officers, unknown officers, two private citizens, and Reliable Recovery, alleging civil rights violations and state law tort claims. Baker won a modest recovery from several City defendants on one civil rights claim, and from the City defendants and a private defendant on one state law tort claim, but the defendants prevailed on the remaining claims. The district court granted attorneys’ fees to Baker, but denied him costs as prevailing party, awarding costs to the City for prevailing against two other plaintiffs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, finding no abuse of discretion under 42 U.S.C. 1988 in either the court’s refusal to award costs to plaintiffs or its decision to award costs to the City for the claims raised by family members. The court remanded for recalculation of fees. View "Baker v. Lindgren" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), holding that the Commissioner's litigation position was substantially justified. Plaintiff had successfully challenged the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability benefits and obtained a remand of her claim to the agency for further consideration. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the Commissioner's position was substantially justified because the Commissioner's opposition to remand the claim on the merits was reasonable, even though it turned out to be unsuccessful. Finally, plaintiff's new evidence, though sufficient in the end to persuade the district court to remand the case, did not make that the only reasonable result. View "Decker v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff presented new evidence to the Appeals Council after she lost her claim for social security disability benefits before the ALJ. The district court remanded for further consideration and the Commissioner did not appeal. The district court denied plaintiff's request for attorney's fees, concluding that the Commissioner was substantially justified in arguing that the new evidence did not undermine the ALJ's denial of benefits. The issue that was before the district court on the original merits appeal of the ALJ's denial of benefits was not whether there was other evidence that could support a denial of benefits to plaintiff, or whether the Commissioner's denial of benefits might ultimately be sustained. The Ninth Circuit explained that it was whether the actual decision that was made by the ALJ could be affirmed at that time by the district court in light of the new evidence in the record. In this case, it should have been plain that it could not have been affirmed, because the ALJ's decision failed to provide a reason that was still viable for giving the opinion of the treating doctor little weight. The doctor's final report, if credited, would have undermined the ALJ's original finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Even if the Commissioner might have had a legitimate basis for opposing plaintiff's claim, she did not have a basis to oppose remand and to argue that the district court should affirm the existing ALJ opinion. View "Gardner v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties and denial of recovery of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1988, seeking both declaratory relief that defendant's actions violated their rights and injunctions staying defendant from terminating their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs were the prevailing party before the district court because plaintiffs obtained judicially-sanctioned relief in the form of the Settlement Order, and the Settlement Order materially altered the legal relationship of the parties by making defendant subject to additional requirements not included under the SNAP program. The Fifth Circuit remanded to the district court to assess whether special circumstances apply and, if they do not, to determine the amount of reasonable and necessary attorneys' fees. View "Romain v. Walters" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that David Q. LaBarre, an Emergency Judge of the General Court of Justice, be censured for violations of Canons 1 and 2A of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat*. 7A-376(b). After careful review, the Court accepted and adopted the findings and conclusions of the Judicial Standards Commission. The censure stemmed from Judge LaBarre’s act of driving while substantially impaired and engaging in belligerent and offensive behavior towards law enforcement officers and emergency personnel. View "Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 15-222" on Justia Law

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The court-appointed receiver of the Stanford entities filed suit alleging that six transfers from SCB to Dillon Gage were fraudulent transfers under the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA), Tex Bus. & Com. Code 24.005(a)(1), and should be returned to receivership. The jury found that the transfers were not fraudulent. The district court subsequently denied Dillon Gage attorney's fees. Both parties appealed. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the jury reasonably could have found that SCB could have raised sufficient capital to pay Dillon Gage to complete the Gallery Deal without using new customers' money; the jury was not required to find that SCB was insolvent at the time of the transfers; and, viewing both the direct and circumstantial evidence of fraud as a whole, a rational jury could have found that SCB did not act with fraudulent intent. The Fifth Circuit rejected the receiver's four challenges to the jury instructions and concluded that they were without merit, and held that the district court did not apply the wrong standard in assessing Dillon Gage's fee request. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury verdict and order denying attorney's fees. View "Janvey v. Dillon Gage Inc. of Dallas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of BDO's request for a protective order, holding that BDO did not prove its prima facie case of attorney-client privilege as to all of the log entries at issue, and that a protective order was unwarranted. The EEOC brought a subpoena enforcement action against BDO, seeking production of information relating to an employment discrimination investigation and asserting that BDO's privilege log failed to establish that the attorney-client privilege protected the company's withheld documents. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the log had three types of deficiencies that prevent the court from determining the applicability of the privilege: (a) entries that are vague and/or incomplete, (b) entries that fail to distinguish between legal advice and business advice, and (c) entries that fail to establish that the communications were made in confidence and that confidentiality was not breached. Because the magistrate judge's incorrect application of the legal standard may have affected both her analysis of the allegedly disclosed communications and the breadth of the protections she imposed in her order, the Fifth Circuit remanded so that BDO's request for protection may be considered under the proper legal standard for determining privilege. View "EEOC v. BDO USA" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court concluded that the findings of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) Hearing Panel that Circuit Court Judge Kimberly Michele Shepard violated Canons 7A(3)(e)(ii) and 7A(3)(b) of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct and Rule 4-8.2(b) of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar during her judicial campaign were supported by clear and convincing evidence. The Supreme Court approved the sanction recommended by the Hearing Panel and hereby suspended Judge Shepard without pay for ninety days, ordered her to pay investigative costs and the costs of these proceedings, and commanded Judge Shepard to appear before the Court for the administration of a public reprimand. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Kimberly Michele Shepard" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's order directing Pfizer to pay attorney's fees in an order remanding to state court. The Eighth Circuit agreed with plaintiffs that the filing of the satisfaction of judgment has mooted the appeal, and vacated the district court's order directing Pfizer to pay attorney's fees given an order of vacatur was the usual course, that all parties agree that vacatur was proper, and that vacatur would go a long way toward repairing any possible harm that Pfizer claimed it suffered. The court reasoned that otherwise the prevailing party could solidify a decision as precedent or create a preclusive effect without that decision being subjected to appellate review. View "Robinson v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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Comments that the Court of Federal Claims made during a hearing, before the government’s corrective action materially altered the relationship between the parties, were not sufficient to qualify the contractor as a “prevailing party” under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(a), (d)(1)(A). The Federal Circuit remanded the case, which involved Dellew’s post-award bid protest, alleging that the Army improperly awarded TSI a contract because TSI did not accept a material term of the request for proposals when it refused to cap its proposed general and administrative rate, and the contract awarded varied materially from TSI’s proposal. During oral argument, the Claims Court provided “hint[s]” about its views favorable to Dellew on the merits, and repeatedly expressed its belief that corrective action would be appropriate. The Army subsequently terminated the TSI contract. The Claims Court dismissed Dellew’s action, determined that it retained jurisdiction despited mootness, and awarded Dellew $79,456.76 in fees and costs, stating that it made “numerous substantive comments during oral argument regarding the merits,” that “carried a sufficient judicial imprimatur to materially alter the relationship between [Dellew] and [the Government] such that [Dellew] qualifies as a prevailing party under the EAJA.” View "Dellew Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law