Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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LHO's Chicago hotel underwent a branding change in February 2014 when the establishment became “Hotel Chicago,” a signature Marriott venue. Around May 2016, Perillo and his associated entities opened their own “Hotel Chicago” three miles from LHO’s site. LHO sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and for trademark infringement and deceptive trade practices under Illinois law. After more than a year, LHO moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims, with prejudice. Defendants made a post‐judgment request for attorney fees, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), for the prevailing party in “exceptional cases.” The parties identified two distinct standards for exceptionality: the Seventh Circuit’s standard, that a case is exceptional under section 1117(a) if the decision to bring the claim constitutes an “abuse of process” and the more relaxed totality‐of‐the‐circumstances approach under the Patent Act that the Supreme Court announced in Octane Fitness (2014). Other circuits have extended Octane to the Lanham Act. The district judge acknowledged Octane but adhered to the “abuse‐of‐process” standard and declined to award fees. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that Octane’s “exceptional case” standard controls. The court noted the legislative history, the Patent Act’s identical language, and the Supreme Court’s use of trademark law in Oc‐ tane View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Perillo" on Justia Law

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McCurry worked at an Illinois warehouse owned by Mars, the candy maker, and operated by Kenco, a management firm. In 2015 Kenco lost its contract with Mars and laid off its Mars employees, including McCurry. A year later, she filed two “rambling” pro se complaints accusing Kenco, Mars, and several of her supervisors of discriminating against her based on her race, sex, age, and disability and claiming that Kenco and Mars conspired to violate her civil rights. The district court dismissed some of the claims. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the rest. McCurry’s response violated Local Rule 7.1(D)(2)(b)(6), under which the failure to properly respond to a numbered fact in an opponent’s statement of facts “will be deemed an admission of the fact.” Where McCurry did respond, she frequently simply stated that she “objected” to the statement without stating a basis for her objection. The judge accepted the defendants’ factual submissions as admitted and entered judgment in their favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. McCurry did not challenge the judge’s decision to enforce the local summary-judgment rule. As a result, the uncontested record contains no evidence to support a viable discrimination or conspiracy claim. The court called the appeal “utterly frivolous and McCurry’s monstrosity of an appellate brief” incoherent, and ordered her appellate lawyer to show cause why he should not be sanctioned or otherwise disciplined. View "McCurry v. Kenco Logistic Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Gaetanos run a cannabis dispensary. After a failed business transaction, a third party sued the Gaetanos and their attorney, Goodman, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Goodman. An ethics inquiry uncovered multiple violations. Goodman lost his license to practice law. The Gaetanos severed their relationship with him. The IRS later audited the Gaetanos’ tax returns and contacted Goodman for assistance. Goodman threatened the Gaetanos that unless they gave him a “significant down-payment” he would see them “take[n] down”. They did not oblige, Goodman sent menacing emails. The Gaetanos contacted the IRS. Goodman assured the IRS that his information was not privileged but was obtained through on-line searches and a private investigator; he discussed several aspects of the Gaetanos’ business. Goodman then taunted the Gaetanos, who again notified the IRS. The Gaetanos filed suit, seeking to stop the government from discussing privileged information with Goodman and requiring it to destroy attorney-client confidences. The IRS asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a). The Sixth Circuit agreed that the Act bars the lawsuit; the “Williams Packing” exception does not apply. The exception requires that the taxpayer show that under no circumstances could the government prevail against their claims and that “equity jurisdiction otherwise exists.” The Gaetanos have not identified any privileged information that Goodman provided to the IRS and have adequate remedies at law. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law

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A law firm challenged the government's use of a "Filter Team" — created ex parte by a magistrate judge in the District of Maryland and comprised of federal agents and prosecutors — to inspect privileged attorney-client materials. The district court denied the law firm's request to enjoin the Filter Team's review of seized materials. The Fourth Circuit held that the use of the Filter Team was improper because the Team's creation inappropriately assigned judicial functions to the executive branch, the Team was approved in ex parte proceedings prior to the search and seizures, and the use of the Team contravened foundational principles that protect attorney-client relationships. Therefore, the court held that injunctive relief was warranted and the district court abused its discretion by failing to enjoin the Filter Team's review of the materials. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Under Seal" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's orders affirming the bankruptcy court's award of monetary sanctions pursuant to its inherent power. Appellant filed a Chapter 7 petition in bankruptcy court for his client but ultimately failed to prosecute the case. The bankruptcy court then issued multiple orders to show cause, which appellant failed to comply with, and then the bankruptcy court ultimately sanctioned him. The court held, as a matter of first impression, that bankruptcy courts possess inherent power to sanction attorneys in appropriate circumstances. In this case, appellant's challenges to the bankruptcy court's exercise of that power failed for the reasons set forth in a separately-filed summary order. View "In re: Alba Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Atwood pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes. The presentencing report calculated a Guidelines range of 188-235 months. Judge Bruce sentenced Atwood to 210 months’ imprisonment, citing the 3553(a) factors and stating, "if I have made a mistake in the guideline calculations … my sentence would still be the same.” It later became known that while Atwood’s case was pending, Judge Bruce engaged in extensive ex parte communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about other cases. Bruce had been a federal prosecutor at that Office before his appointment to the judiciary. A newspaper exposed that communication and published emails. Judge Bruce was removed from cases involving the Office. The ex parte communications never explicitly mentioned Atwood’s case. The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council found no evidence that Bruce’s improper communications actually affected his decision in any case but stated that his actions violated the Code of Conduct. Bruce remained unassigned to any case involving the Office until September 2019. The Seventh Circuit vacated Atwood’s sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge. The federal recusal statute, 28 U.S.C. 455(a), requires a judge to recuse himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality may reasonably be questioned. The disclosure of the ex parte correspondence invited doubt about Bruce's impartiality in proceedings involving the Office. Because of the judge’s broad discretion in sentencing, Bruce’s failure to recuse himself was not harmless error. View "United States v. Atwood" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the law firm's motion to compel arbitration between the firm and its client. The court held that the law firm's offer to pay plaintiff's share of the arbitration costs cured any substantive unconscionability that the agreement may have contained; the offer also cured any issue regarding substantive unconscionability where the arbitration provision in effect allowed only the firm to obtain redress of claims; plaintiff has not demonstrated that she lacked meaningful choice, and thus the circumstances giving rise to the lawsuit did not render the retainer agreement procedurally unconscionable; and the language in the agreement adequately disclosed the consequences of the arbitration provision, and the agreement was not unenforceable because the firm violated their ethical duties under DC Circuit precedent. View "Plummer v. McSweeney" on Justia Law

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In 2016, a grand jury indicted defendant Fred Reimonenq on charges of first degree rape, attempted first degree rape, and sexual battery of a victim under the age of 13. Trial was scheduled to begin on September 25, 2018. On the Sunday before this trial date, the state presented defense counsel with a curriculum vitae, but apparently nothing more, of Anne Troy, Ph.D., a sexual assault nurse examiner, who it intended to call as an expert witness at trial. On the morning of trial, the state provided defense counsel with formal notice of its intent to use Dr. Troy’s testimony. Defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude any expert testimony that had not been properly noticed under La.C.Cr.P. art. 719, including Dr. Troy’s testimony. The trial court granted the defense’s motion in limine and excluded Dr. Troy’s testimony. The court disallowed any attempt at supplementation based upon its finding there was “a timing issue” that still made the late notice “prejudicial to the [d]efense and [did] not afford the [d]efense the opportunity to conduct whatever defensive positions it might otherwise be able to take had it had more time . . . .” The state noted its intent to apply for supervisory writs, but did not do so, and, instead, opted to enter a nolle prosequi. Two days later, on September 27, 2018, the state filed a new indictment on the same charges. On October 18, defendant appeared for arraignment and orally moved to adopt all previous filings and motions from the original case. Trial was then set for December 3, 2018. On November 27, 2018, the state filed its supplemental notice pursuant to La.C.Cr.P. art. 719 with respect to Dr. Troy’s testimony. On the morning of trial, defense counsel filed a supplemental motion in limine regarding Dr. Troy’s testimony and a related motion to quash. The issue this case presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review centered on the authority of the district attorney to dismiss and reinstitute criminal prosecutions. Because the actions of the state in this matter "so undermine the authority of the trial court that it offends bedrock principles of fundamental fairness and due process," the Court reversed. View "Louisiana vs. Reimonenq" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Texas answered two certified questions, holding that the time for determining the existence and amount of unpaid commission due under Tex. Bus. & Com. Code section 54.001(1) is the time the jury or trial court determines the liability of the defendant, whether at trial or through another dispositive trial-court process such as a summary judgment; and that a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees and costs under section 54.004(2) even if the plaintiff does not receive treble damages, if the factfinder determines that the fees and costs were reasonably incurred under the circumstances. The Fifth Circuit held that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, and the district court was thus correct to grant summary judgment to Horsburgh on the treble damages claim. In this case, there were no unpaid commissions due at the time of judgment, because Horsburgh had already paid all of its outstanding commissions, plus interest. The court also held that CPTS was eligible for attorney's fees simply by virtue of Horsburgh's breach. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, but erred by granting summary judgment to Horsburgh without awarding CPTS reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "JCB, Inc. v. The Horsburgh & Scott Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order awarding plaintiff attorney fees following the settlement of her action against Hyundai. Plaintiff moved for a fee award using the lodestar method for a total of $191,688.75, but the district court only awarded $73,864. The court held that the trial court did not engage in an inappropriate proportionality analysis; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by cutting fees billed by six of eleven attorneys; and plaintiff has shown no abuse of discretion in the trial court's reductions of the attorneys' hourly rates. View "Morris v. Hyundai Motor America" on Justia Law