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Itron alleged that misrepresentations by three of SmartSynch's corporate officers (defendants) caused it unknowingly to assume an unwanted $60 million contractual obligation to a third party, Consert. Itron eventually settled Consert's claims and then filed suit against defendants for negligent misrepresentation. The magistrate judge ordered Itron to produce, without qualification, materials that were shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. The Fifth Circuit granted Itron's petition for mandamus and vacated the magistrate judge's order, holding that the mere act of filing the lawsuit effected no waiver of any attorney-client privilege. The court remanded with instructions to reevaluate defendants' motion. View "In Re: Itron, Inc." on Justia Law

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Itron alleged that misrepresentations by three of SmartSynch's corporate officers (defendants) caused it unknowingly to assume an unwanted $60 million contractual obligation to a third party, Consert. Itron eventually settled Consert's claims and then filed suit against defendants for negligent misrepresentation. The magistrate judge ordered Itron to produce, without qualification, materials that were shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. The Fifth Circuit granted Itron's petition for mandamus and vacated the magistrate judge's order, holding that the mere act of filing the lawsuit effected no waiver of any attorney-client privilege. The court remanded with instructions to reevaluate defendants' motion. View "In Re: Itron, Inc." on Justia Law

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Murphy was awarded a judgment in his federal civil rights suit against two prison guards, including an award of attorney’s fees; 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d)(2) provides that in such cases “a portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant.” The district court ordered Murphy to pay 10% of his judgment toward the fee award, leaving defendants responsible for the remainder. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that section 1997e(d)(2) required the district court to exhaust 25% of the prisoner’s judgment before demanding payment from the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed. The mandatory phrase “shall be applied” suggests that the district court has some nondiscretionary duty to perform. The infinitival phrase “to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded” specifies the purpose of the preceding verb’s nondiscretionary duty and “to satisfy” an obligation, especially a financial obligation, usually means to discharge the obligation in full. The district court does not have wide discretion to pick any “portion” that does not exceed the 25% cap. This conclusion is reinforced by section 1997e(d)’s surrounding provisions, which also limit the district court’s pre-existing discretion under section 1988(b). View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Murphy was awarded a judgment in his federal civil rights suit against two prison guards, including an award of attorney’s fees; 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d)(2) provides that in such cases “a portion of the [prisoner’s] judgment (not to exceed 25 percent) shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded against the defendant.” The district court ordered Murphy to pay 10% of his judgment toward the fee award, leaving defendants responsible for the remainder. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that section 1997e(d)(2) required the district court to exhaust 25% of the prisoner’s judgment before demanding payment from the defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed. The mandatory phrase “shall be applied” suggests that the district court has some nondiscretionary duty to perform. The infinitival phrase “to satisfy the amount of attorney’s fees awarded” specifies the purpose of the preceding verb’s nondiscretionary duty and “to satisfy” an obligation, especially a financial obligation, usually means to discharge the obligation in full. The district court does not have wide discretion to pick any “portion” that does not exceed the 25% cap. This conclusion is reinforced by section 1997e(d)’s surrounding provisions, which also limit the district court’s pre-existing discretion under section 1988(b). View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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This case raised a question of whether Alexander v. Georgia, 772 SE2d 655 (2015), could be applied retroactively. The Georgia Supreme Court held that an attorney’s failure to counsel his client about parole eligibility may give rise to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Teresa Lynn Kohnle pleaded guilty to felony murder in December 2010, before Alexander was decided, but after the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U. S. 356 (2010), on which the Georgia Court relied in deciding Alexander. Sentenced to life in prison, Kohnle filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that her plea counsel was ineffective in several ways, including that he failed to inform her of the parole eligibility implications of a life sentence. The habeas court granted Kohnle’s petition, relying on Alexander to conclude that Kohnle’s counsel had rendered ineffective assistance. The Warden appealed, arguing that the habeas court erred in applying Alexander retroactively. The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with the Warden that the habeas court erred by applying Alexander to find that plea counsel performed deficiently by failing to advise Kohnle that she would not be eligible for parole for 30 years if she pleaded guilty, and thus the Court vacated the habeas court’s order. But the Court remanded for the habeas court to consider Kohnle’s claim that counsel was deficient for affirmatively misinforming her about parole eligibility matters, something the Court had held could support a claim of ineffective assistance long before Kohnle entered her plea. View "Kennedy v. Kohnle" on Justia Law

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The district court order disqualifying an attorney from representing a criminal defendant, based primarily on speculative evidence of a potential conflict, constituted “an untenable ground for the district court to exercise its discretion.” The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting the State’s motion to disqualify attorney Steven Gardner from defending Carlos Ramon Mulatillo on felony drug charges. Less than two weeks before the jury trial was to commence, Mulatillo and Gardner were informed of the name of a confidential informant and the potential conflict of interest between Gardner and this individual. Gardner had previously represented the confidential informant for approximately one month on felony drug charges. After a Watson hearing, the district court concluded that there was a serious potential for a conflict of interest that precluded Gardner from representing Mulatillo. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the evidence provided by the State did not rise to the level of substantial evidence that was necessary to prove that Gardner’s continued representation of Mulatillo created a serious potential for an actual conflict of interest. View "State v. Mulatillo" on Justia Law

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Jaworski provided construction services to Master Hand, an Illinois general contractor, over several years. Some of these services went unpaid. Jaworski alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Employee Classification Act, which makes it unlawful for construction firms to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor. The Classification Act presumes that the complainant is an employee unless the contractor proves otherwise; a misclassified employee is entitled to double “the amount of any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the person by reason of the violation.” The judge held that Master Hand had misclassified Jaworski and was entitled to the compensation guaranteed by the Minimum Wage Law and Wage Payment and Collection Act without having to prove that he is an employee. Those statutes do not include the presumption that plaintiffs are employees. The judge rejected Master Hand’s insolvency defense and ordered Master Hand to pay $200,000 in damages, plus $150,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, adding attorneys’ fees for the frivolous appeal. The court declined to review the rulings challenged by Master Hand, as a sanction for failure to follow court rules. View "Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

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Jaworski provided construction services to Master Hand, an Illinois general contractor, over several years. Some of these services went unpaid. Jaworski alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Employee Classification Act, which makes it unlawful for construction firms to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor. The Classification Act presumes that the complainant is an employee unless the contractor proves otherwise; a misclassified employee is entitled to double “the amount of any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the person by reason of the violation.” The judge held that Master Hand had misclassified Jaworski and was entitled to the compensation guaranteed by the Minimum Wage Law and Wage Payment and Collection Act without having to prove that he is an employee. Those statutes do not include the presumption that plaintiffs are employees. The judge rejected Master Hand’s insolvency defense and ordered Master Hand to pay $200,000 in damages, plus $150,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, adding attorneys’ fees for the frivolous appeal. The court declined to review the rulings challenged by Master Hand, as a sanction for failure to follow court rules. View "Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court ordered Jackson to pay Cooke the death benefit on her husband’s life insurance policy and to reimburse Cooke’s legal expenses. The court concluded that her husband died before the end of a grace period allowed for late premium payments and that Jackson should have expedited the litigation by attaching documents to its answer and by making some arguments sooner. The court’s order granted Cooke summary judgment but stated: This case is hereby dismissed with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction under the final-decision rule, 28 U.S.C. 1291. The order is contradictory and does not provide relief. It states that a motion has been granted and an award made, but it does not say who is entitled to what; it “transgresses almost every rule applicable to judgments.” A second document avoided the internal contradiction but lacked vital details and the judge’s signature. The court later entered an order specifying that Jackson must pay $191,362.06 on the insurance policy, plus 10% per annum simple interest, which Jackson paid, but did not specify the amount of attorneys’ fees. A declaration of liability, including an award of attorneys' fees, lacking an amount due is not final and cannot be appealed. View "Cooke v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's postjudgment order concluding that neither plaintiff nor defendant was the prevailing party in litigation over an assignment fee, and thus neither of them was entitled to attorney fees or costs. The court held that the trial court did not err by determining that there was no prevailing party in this case. The court reasoned that a party's failure to obtain its preferred litigation objective did not mean that the other party was ipso facto the prevailing party. The court also held that the trial court had discretion to allow costs, or not to allow costs, under the circumstances of this case where plaintiff recovered monetary relief and obtained declaratory relief. View "Marina Pacifica Homeowners Assoc. v. Southern California Financial Corp." on Justia Law