Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Dr. Arunachalam sued multiple defendants alleging patent infringement and Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962, violations. The case was assigned to Judge Andrews. Arunachalam added defendants, including Judge Andrews, and moved for the judge's recusal. The court referred the matter to Chief Judge Stark. Arunachalam then moved to recuse Stark, who denied that motion and dismissed Judge Andrews as a defendant. Judge Andrews denied Arunachalam’s motion to recuse and dismissed several counts, explaining that “[p]atent infringement is not a crime,” and not a RICO predicate. Arunachalam unsuccessfully moved to vacate the dismissal and, again, to recuse Andrews. A motion for leave to amend was denied as violating local rules, “in bad faith.” Only the infringement claims remained. Meanwhile, the Patent Trial & Appeal Board (PTAB) found the claims at issue unpatentable. After the appeals period expired, Arunachalam opposed a motion to dismiss, arguing that “the lawless misconduct and ... fraud by the PTAB and the Federal Circuit . . . voids their rulings.”In a motion for sanctions, the defendants noted that Arunachalam had re-asserted her RICO claim in another district court. The court awarded attorneys’ fees for “defending against a baseless racketeering lawsuit,” but did not rule on the specific amounts. Arunachalam continued to file motions and questions that required responses, including requests that Judge Andrews and “attorneys of record” produce their oaths of office, “foreign registration statements,” and “bond” and “insurance information.” The Federal Circuit affirmed awards totaling about $150,000, and denial of Arunachalam’s “frivolous” motions. Arunachalam’s “abusive” litigation conduct warranted monetary sanctions and her later-filed motions were baseless and untimely. View "Arunachalam v. International Business Machines Corp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the Oregon State Bar, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Oregon State Bar's (OSB) requirement that lawyers must join and pay annual membership fees in order to practice in Oregon. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that (1) the two statements from the April 2018 Bulletin are not germane; (2) compelling them to join and maintain membership in OSB violates their right to freedom of association; and (3) compelling plaintiffs to pay—without their prior, affirmative consent—annual membership fees to OSB violates their right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Crowe Plaintiffs alone contend that the Bar's constitutionally mandated procedural safeguards for objecting members are deficient, and the Gruber Plaintiffs alone continue to argue on appeal that OSB is not entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. The district court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims.The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that precedent forecloses the free speech claim, but neither the Supreme Court nor this court has resolved the free association claim now before the panel. Even assuming both statements at issue were nongermane, the panel concluded that plaintiffs' free speech claim failed. As alleged, the panel also concluded that the OSB's refund process is sufficient to minimize potential infringement on its members' constitutional rights. However, the panel explained that plaintiffs may have stated a viable claim that Oregon's compulsory Bar membership requirement violates their First Amendment right of free association. On remand, the panel noted that there are a number of complicated issues that the district court will need to address. First, the district court will need to determine whether Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2477, 2481 (2018), supplies the appropriate standard for plaintiffs' free association claim and, if so, whether OSB can satisfy its "exacting scrutiny standard." Given that the panel has never addressed such a broad free association claim, the district court will also likely need to determine whether Keller v. State Bar of California's, 496 U.S. 1, 13–14 (1990), instructions with regards to germaneness and procedurally adequate safeguards are even relevant to the free association inquiry. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred by determining that OSB was an arm of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court with instructions. View "Crowe v. Oregon State Bar" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that F. William Cullins, a district judge in the Fourteenth Judicial District be suspended from his judicial duties in the state of Kansas for one year, concluding that the charges against Cullins were supported by clear and convincing evidence.After a hearing, the Commission on Judicial Qualifications found that Cullins had engaged in conduct that violated Canon 1, Rule 1.2 and Canon 2, Rules 2.3 and 2.8 the Kansas Code of Judicial Conduct. The Commission recommended that Cullins be disciplined for the violations by public censure and that the Supreme Court refrain from making any future appointment of Cullins as chief judge. The Supreme Court ordered that Cullins be suspended from his judicial duties for one year and that the suspension be stayed after sixty days provided that Cullins enters into an approved plan for training and counseling. View "In re Cullins" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County, Maryland. This case arose from the County's failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's disability. The district court concluded that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she was not a prevailing party under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).The court found this case similar to Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is even more of a prevailing party than the Parham plaintiff. The court explained that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the County to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the County capitulated by transferring her to another call center. Furthermore, the transfer was key to the district court's subsequent finding that the County reasonably accommodated plaintiff and thus the district court's ultimate denial of plaintiff's request for equitable relief. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law

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LHO owns a downtown hotel that it rebranded as “Hotel Chicago” in 2014. In 2016, Rosemoor renamed its existing westside hotel as “Hotel Chicago.” LHO sued Rosemoor for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act and for deceptive advertising and common-law trademark violations under Illinois law. The district court denied preliminary injunctive relief, finding that “LHO has failed, at this juncture, to show that it is likely to succeed in proving secondary meaning" and was unlikely to show that “Hotel Chicago” was a protectable trademark. LHO appealed but successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims with prejudice before briefing.Rosemoor requested more than $500,000 in attorney fees, arguing that the case qualified as “exceptional.” The district court denied the request under the Seventh Circuit's “abuse-of-process” standard. The Seventh Circuit held that the district court should have evaluated Rosemoor’s attorney-fee request under the Supreme Court’s “Octane Fitness” holding. On remand, Rosemoor filed a renewed request for more than $630,000 in fees, arguing that the weakness of LHO’s position on the merits, LHO’s motives in bringing suit, and its conduct in discovery, made the case exceptional under Octane Fitness. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the request. The district court applied the Octane Fitness standard and reasonably exercised its discretion in weighing the evidence before it. View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Rosemoor Suites, LLC" on Justia Law

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An employee sued her former employer for wrongful termination. The employee died, but her attorney continued to litigate, negotiate, and mediate the case for another year before informing the court or opposing counsel of her death. The superior court concluded the attorney had committed serious ethical violations related to this delay and disqualified him from the case. Post-disqualification, the attorney filed a motion to substitute the personal representative of the employee’s estate as plaintiff. The superior court issued an order dismissing the case on several grounds. The Alaska Supreme Court found the court did not abuse its discretion by disqualifying the attorney and denying the motion for substitution he submitted. The superior court was correct to dismiss the case, as only one party remained, but the Supreme Court concluded granting summary judgment in favor of the former employer and supervisor was error. "The estate is not entitled to appeal the court’s refusal to enforce a draft settlement agreement signed by the employee before her death and does not have standing to appeal the sanctions imposed against the attorney. But because the estate was not allowed to participate as a party, we conclude that awarding affirmative relief against it was error." View "Bunton v. Alaska Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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In an action challenging the voluntary and intelligent nature of appellant's plea as to certain drug and drug-related offenses, the DC Circuit concluded that the appointment of counsel was not in the interest of justice under the Criminal Justice Act given her unwaived and material conflict of interest.The court explained that, under controlling Supreme Court precedent, the only legally viable avenue for challenging the plea apparent on the record would have been for counsel to argue that her own and/or her husband's representation of appellant in the decision to plead guilty was constitutionally ineffective. In this case, the fact that counsel chose to pursue a challenge to appellant's guilty plea that was plainly foreclosed by precedent rather than the only potentially viable legal avenue recognized by case law—an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against herself and her spouse—presents an untenable direct and plain conflict of interest between attorney and client. Furthermore, counsel, when she re-inserted herself into appellant's case to file this Section 2255 motion, did not obtain any waiver of the conflict—even assuming a conflict like this is waivable at all. The court explained that counsel never advised appellant that, to be legally viable, a challenge to the voluntary and intelligent nature of his plea based on the suppression of the other wiretaps would require him to level an ineffective assistance of counsel claim aimed at her and/or her husband. Therefore, the court concluded that the conflict of interest persisted throughout and permeated counsel's representation of petitioner in these Section 2255 proceedings. The court reversed and remanded for the appointment of conflict-free counsel to assist with appellant's Section 2255 petition. View "United States v. Scurry" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-client Stephen Aguiar claimed attorney David Williams failed to turn over files related to plaintiff’s 2009 criminal prosecution. The civil division of the superior court granted summary judgment in favor of attorney, and client appealed. The Vermont Supreme Court held client owned the entire contents of the file, subject to certain exceptions. The Court agreed with the trial court that attorney had substantial grounds to refuse to disclose certain materials to client, and that client failed to demonstrate an ownership interest in an iPod containing recordings of wiretap evidence However, the Court concluded summary judgment was premature regarding two issues: whether client was entitled to a paper copy of the discovery file that attorney allegedly created for use at trial, and whether client has been provided with certain trial exhibits. The Supreme Court therefore reversed and remanded for further proceedings on those issues. View "Aguiar v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Carrie Thompson-Widmer appealed the dismissal of her claims of defamation and tortious interference with a business relationship against Kimberly Larson, Wells County, Eddy County, and Foster County. In January 2017, Larson filed a formal complaint with the State Board of Social Work Examiners against Thompson-Widmer on the basis of Thompson-Widmer’s actions in two child protection services cases. Larson alleged Thompson-Widmer misrepresented information about a child’s home environment in one case, and altered a report about methamphetamine in an infant’s meconium in the other case. Larson also met with a state’s attorney about Thompson-Widmer’s actions. The attorney referred the matter to a special prosecutor for consideration of potential criminal charges. Because the complaint to the State Board was filed while Thompson-Widmer was a Tri-County employee, Larson placed the complaint and the supporting documents in Thompson-Widmer’s employee personnel file. After the criminal investigation into Thompson-Widmer’s action was suspended, she became employed with Catholic Charities in April 2017. Tri-County worked with Catholic Charities on adoption placement cases. Larson’s staff informed her they did not feel comfortable working with Thompson- Widmer. Larson notified Catholic Charities that Tri-County would rather work with someone other than Thompson-Widmer. Catholic Charities submitted an open records request for Thompson-Widmer’s personnel file, and Larson fulfilled the request on Tri-County’s behalf. In May 2017, after receiving the personnel file, which included Larson’s complaint against Thompson-Widmer, Thompson-Widmer was terminated because she was not forthcoming about her issues while employed by Tri-County. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding Larson’s communications were privileged and therefore not subject to liability for defamation. View "Thompson-Widmer v. Larson, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2010, Appellants Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC and Meso Scale Technologies, LLC (collectively “Meso”) filed suit in Delaware against Appellee entities Roche Diagnostics GmbH, Roche Diagnostics Corp., Roche Holding Ltd., IGEN LS LLC, Lilli Acquisition Corp., IGEN International, Inc., and Bioveris Corp. (collectively “Roche”), all of which were affiliates or subsidiaries of the F. Hoffmann -- La Roche, Ltd. family of pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies. Meso alleged two counts of breach of contract. Roche prevailed at trial, and the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in 2014. Then in 2019, Meso brought a new action asking the court to reopen the case, vacate the judgment entered after trial, and order a new trial. Meso alleged that the Vice Chancellor who decided its case four years earlier had an undisclosed disabling conflict, namely, that Roche’s counsel had been simultaneously representing him in an unrelated federal suit challenging the constitutionality of Delaware’s law providing for confidential business arbitration in the Court of Chancery (“Section 349”). In that federal litigation, which ended in 2014, the Chancellor and Vice Chancellors of the Court of Chancery, as the parties responsible for implementing the challenged statute, were nominal defendants. The Court of Chancery denied relief and dismissed the action. Meso appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Meso Scale Diagnostics, LLC v. Roche Diagnostics GMBH" on Justia Law