Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Patent Act provides two methods for challenging an adverse decision by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO): direct appeal to the Federal Circuit, 35 U.S.C. 141, or a new civil action against the PTO Director in the Eastern District of Virginia, section 145. Under section 145, the applicant must pay “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings.” NantKwest filed a section 145 civil action after its patent application was denied. The Federal Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the PTO, which moved for reimbursement of expenses, including the pro-rata salaries of PTO attorneys and a paralegal who worked on the case. The Federal Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed the denial of the motion, concluding that the statutory language referencing expenses was not sufficient to rebut the “American Rule” presumption that parties are responsible for their own attorney’s fees. Reading section 145 to permit an unsuccessful government agency to recover attorney’s fees from a prevailing party “would be a radical departure from longstanding fee-shifting principles adhered to in a wide range of contexts.” The phrase “expenses of the proceeding” would not have been commonly understood to include attorney’s fees at the time section 145 was enacted. The appearance of “expenses” and “attorney’s fees” together across various statutes indicates that Congress understands the terms as distinct and not inclusive of each other. View "Peter v. NantKwest, Inc." on Justia Law

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On remand from the district court in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 136 S. Ct. 1642 (2016), the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorney's fees, expenses, and costs to CRST. The court reviewed the district court's detailed order in which it exhaustively explained its rationale for why certain claims brought by the EEOC were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying the Christiansburg standard. In this case, the district court reaffirmed its prior findings that the EEOC's failure to satisfy Title VII's presuit requirements satisfied the Christiansburg standard for the claims dismissed on this basis; the district court exhaustively explained why 71 of the claims dismissed on summary judgment were frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless; and the court rejected the EEOC's argument that it reasonably sought relief for the remaining women on summary judgment based on the pattern-or-practice method of proof. Furthermore, the court rejected the EEOC's arguments that CRST failed to satisfy the Fox standard regarding fees attributable to frivolous claims. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant John-David Gonzales (Gonzales) appealed trial court orders that led to the disbursement of settlement funds to respondents Michael Silvers, a law corporation (Silvers), Panish, Shea & Boyle (PSB), Michael W. Jacobs, Case Advance (CA), Nexus Physical Therapy, and Everence Association, Inc. (Silvers, PSB, Jacobs, CA, Nexus, and Everence were collectively referred to as lienholders). Defendants Gonzales and lienholders were named as parties in an interpleader action filed by plaintiff, respondent, and stakeholder Gregory Hood (Hood). Hood filed this action to resolve the competing claims of defendants to funds from the settlement of Gonzales v. Sears Holding Corporation et al., San Diego Superior Court case No. 27-2014-00040057-CU-PL-CTL (“the personal injury action”), which litigation was filed by Silvers in November 2014 after Gonzales was hurt in a bicycle accident. Gonzales in July 2015 agreed in writing to have PSB associate in as counsel. Silvers/PSB settled a portion of the personal injury action for $100,000. After Silvers/PSB withdrew as counsel of record in the personal injury action, Gonzales retained Jacobs, who obtained an additional settlement of $299,999.99 pursuant to an offer to compromise. Gonzales, however, refused to sign the settlement agreement and endorse the settlement check, terminated Jacobs as counsel, and retained Hood for the " 'determination and distribution' of the settlement funds." Despite his promise to do so, Gonzales again refused to endorse the settlement check. Within days after retaining Hood, Gonzales terminated him as legal counsel. In response, Hood informed Gonzales that, if he did not promptly retain new counsel to allow for the transfer of the settlement check and other settlement funds in Hood's possession, Hood would file an interpleader action, based on Hood's concern there were multiple claimants to the settlement funds and the settlement check would "expire" and not be honored by a bank. In anticipation of a hearing, the lienholders stipulated to a proposed distribution of the settlement funds among defendants. At the hearing, Gonzales (through his fifth attorney of record) agreed with the amounts owed to Silvers, PSB, and CA under that stipulation. Gonzales, however, disputed the amount sought by Jacobs, Nexus, and Everence. He also disagreed with the court's September 14 elisor order awarding costs and fees to Hood. For the most part, the Court of Appeal found all of Gonzales arguments “unavailing,” and affirmed. View "Hood v. Gonzales" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that TMBC's nationwide practice of charging a fee for preparing legal documents when selling boats and trailers constituted unauthorized law business in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. 484.010 and 484.020. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the class, but reversed the award of attorney's fees and costs. The court directed the district court to enforce a contractual fee-shifting provision that entitled the class to recover "all litigation costs and expenses, including reasonable attorneys' fees" from TMBC. On remand, the district court shifted $2,398,353.09 in attorney's fees to TMBC but awarded $700,000 in costs from the common fund. Plaintiffs appealed. The court held that plaintiffs suffered a concrete injury and therefore had standing to bring this action. The court found no error in the amount of attorney's fees and costs awarded, but reversed the district court's decision to award plaintiffs costs from the common fund rather than shifting them to TMBC. View "McKeage v. Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“the Commission”) recommended approval of a Stipulation for Public Censure and Suspension against Judge Lance P. Timbreza. In June 2019, Judge Timbreza was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence and Careless Driving. As he drove home from a party, Judge Timbreza crashed his vehicle into roadside trees and bushes while avoiding a collision with another vehicle. Judge Timbreza contacted the Commission by phone to report his arrest and the charges against him. Judge Timbreza pled guilty to Driving While Ability Impaired and was sentenced to one year of probation, alcohol monitoring, a $200 fine, useful public service, and two days of suspended jail time. By driving while his ability was impaired by alcohol, the Commission determined Judge Timbreza failed to maintain the high standards of judicial conduct required of a judge. The Commission found Judge Timbreza’s conduct violated Canon Rules 1.1 and 1.2 of the Colorado Code of Judicial Conduct. Consistent with the Stipulation, the Commission recommends the Colorado Supreme Court issue a public censure and a twenty-eight-day suspension of Judge Timbreza's judicial duties without pay. The Supreme Court adopted the Commission’s recommendation. View "In the Matter of: Judge Lance P. Timbreza" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff challenged the district court's attorneys' fee award, arguing that the entire award was arbitrary because the district court did not adequately explain its decision to cut the number of hours expended by class counsel by 25%. The underlying class action was brought by plaintiff on behalf of a nationwide class of consumers, alleging that defendants marketed James Bond DVD and Blu-ray sets as containing all the Bonds films, when in fact they failed to include two movies. The parties settled and the settlement agreement included defendants' agreement to pay attorneys' fees and cost. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the attorneys' fee award, holding that the district court's order, when read in its entirety, explained the lodestar calculation it conducted and its application of the percentage-of-recovery analysis as a cross-check for reasonableness. Therefore, the panel found that the district court adequately explained its reasoning and did not abuse its discretion. View "Johnson v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sepling, represented by SC, pled guilty to importing GBL, a controlled substance analogue, 21 U.S.C. 952; Sepling’s sentence would be calculated without consideration of the Guidelines career offender section. Sepling was released on bond pending sentencing and became involved in a conspiracy to import methylone, another Schedule I controlled substance. He was charged under 21 U.S.C. 963. A search uncovered three kilograms of methylone. Subsequent investigation revealed that the conspiracy involved approximately 10 kilograms. A Public Defender (APD) represented Sepling on the new charges. The prosecution agreed to withdraw the new charge; in exchange, Sepling’s involvement in the conspiracy would be factored into his GBL sentence as relevant conduct. The APD ceased representing Sepling. Sepling’s unmodified Guideline range for the GBL was 27-33 months. The methylone relevant conduct dramatically increased his base offense level. The PSR analogized methylone to MDMA, commonly called “ecstasy,” and held him responsible for 10 kilograms, resulting in responsibility equivalent to that for conspiring to distribute five and a half tons of marijuana, for a sentencing range of 188-235 months. SC did not object to that calculation, nor did he file a sentencing memorandum. Rather than researching the pharmacological effect of methylone, SC relied upon Sepling to explain the effects of methylone. SC, the government, and the court all confessed that they did not possess any substantive knowledge of methylone The Third Circuit vacated the 102-month sentence. Sepling was prejudiced by his counsel’s ineffectiveness. View "United States v. Sepling" on Justia Law

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The website, www.legalmatch.com, connects individuals to lawyers, based on an intake form and client specifications. LegalMatch represents that it “does not screen or vouch for any of its users” and does “not imply an endorsement of any subscribing attorney or service …. LegalMatch does not screen individual cases or otherwise channel potential clients to select attorneys.” Only subscribing lawyers associated with the location and category selected by the potential client can affirmatively reach out to the individual. Lawyers and clients negotiate the parameters of their attorney-client relationship. The number of lawyers in a geographic location and category of legal expertise is limited by an algorithm that maintains LegalMatch’s profitability by balancing the number of clients and lawyers available. Potential clients use the site for free. LegalMatch receives no fee for the formation of an attorney-client relationship. When LegalMatch sued attorney Jackson to recover unpaid subscription fees, Jackson argued that LegalMatch was an uncertified lawyer referral service, in violation of Business and Professions Code section 6155. The trial court rejected Jackson’s argument. The court of appeal reversed. The act of referring is complete when LegalMatch routes a potential client to attorneys who match the geographic location and area of practice—regardless of whether LegalMatch exercises legal judgment on an individual’s issue before communicating that information to lawyers on its panel. View "Jackson v. LegalMatch.com" on Justia Law

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A plaintiff who obtains a preliminary injunction under the All Writs Act does not qualify as a prevailing party for fee-shifting purposes by virtue of that injunction, where the order granting injunctive relief makes no mention of the merits of the plaintiff's claims. In this case, plaintiffs filed suit against the State of Hawaii and other defendants, alleging that defendants became state actors by conducting elections and that the State's involvement in the self-governance process violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of the race-based restrictions on eligibility. Although the district court denied the injunction and this court denied a motion for an injunction pending appeal, the Supreme Court subsequently granted plaintiffs' application for an injunction under the All Writs Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, holding that there was no indication that the Supreme Court's injunction order addressed the merits. Furthermore, plaintiffs sought and received a voluntary dismissal without prejudice in the district court, which was the opposite of an adjudication on the merits. Therefore, plaintiffs were not prevailing parties entitled to attorney fees. View "Makekau v. Hawaii" on Justia Law

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While shopping at a Wal-Mart store, Waldon believes she slipped on a plastic hanger and fell causing her injuries. Under Indiana premises-liability law, a defendant must have actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee. Wal-Mart offered the testimony of employees that they had not been aware of a dangerous condition. After discovery, the district court concluded there was no evidence Wal-Mart knew of such a condition and granted it summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and, because Waldons’ counsel had deleted date stamps on photographs submitted to the court, ordered counsel to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure for misrepresenting the record to the court. View "Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law