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The trial court imposed a $950 sanction on Deputy Public Defender Raju, counsel for Landers in a two-defendant joint criminal trial, for violating a reciprocal discovery order. The court found that Raju failed to disclose to the prosecution the name and statements taken from Fletcher, a witness called by Landers’s co-defendant, Lemalie. Raju argued the sanction order was improper because he never intended to call Fletcher at trial, and in fact did not call her; he contends he relied on a state-of-the evidence defense for Landers, putting on no affirmative defense case and eliciting what he needed through cross-examination of various witnesses, one of whom was Fletcher. The court of appeal reversed. Raju did not violate the reciprocal discovery order. Raju had no general obligation to disclose exculpatory information he expected to come from witnesses called by Lemalie. A “sham cross-examination” theory relied on by the trial court is unsupported by substantial evidence, and as applied here, violates due process. View "People v. Landers" on Justia Law

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The Estate appealed the district court's order denying its motion for reconsideration of an adverse grant of summary judgment. SPV cross-appealed the denial of its 28 U.S.C. 1927 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(g)(3) sanctions against the Estate's attorneys. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering the Estate's motion for reconsideration because the Estate sought to use its motion for reconsideration for the impermissible purpose of introducing new arguments it could have raised earlier and failed to support those arguments with any evidence even after receiving additional time for discovery. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying 28 U.S.C. 1927 sanctions. The court reversed in part, holding that the district court erred by denying the Estate's request for sanctions under Rule 26(g)(1) with respect to Attorney Kroll. However, the district court did not abuse its discretion denying sanctions against Attorney Donahoe. View "SPV-LS, LLC v. The Estate of Nancy Bergman" on Justia Law

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For representation in administrative proceedings, the Social Security Act provides that if a fee agreement exists, fees are capped at the lesser of 25% of past-due benefits or a set dollar amount—currently $6,000, 42 U.S.C. 406(a)(2)(A); absent an agreement, the agency may set any “reasonable” fee, section 406(a)(1). In either case, the agency is required to withhold up to 25% of past-due benefits for direct payment of fees. For representation in court proceedings, section 406(b) caps fees at 25% of past-due benefits; the agency may withhold benefits to pay these fees. Culbertson represented Wood in Social Security disability benefit proceedings before the agency and in court. The agency ultimately awarded Wood past-due benefits, withheld 25%, and awarded Culbertson fees under section 406(a) for representation before the agency. Culbertson sought a separate award under 406(b) for the court proceedings, requesting 25% of past-due benefits. The Eleventh Circuit held that 406(b)’s 25% limit applies to the total fees awarded under both sections. The Supreme Court reversed. Section 406(b)(1)(A)’s 25% cap applies only to fees for court representation, not to the aggregate fees awarded under 406(a) and (b). The subsections address different stages of the representation and use different methods for calculating fees. Applying 406(b)’s 25% cap on court-stage fees to 406(a) agency-stage fees, or the aggregate fees, would make little sense and would subject 406(a)(1)’s reasonableness limitation to 406(b)’s 25% cap—a limitation not included in the statute. The fact that the agency presently withholds a single pool of past-due benefits for payment of fees does not support an aggregate reading. The amount of past-due benefits that the agency can withhold for payment does not delimit the amount of fees that can be approved for representation before the agency or the court. View "Culbertson v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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When O'Gara Coach moved to disqualify Richie Litigation from representing its former senior executive, Joseph Ra, in litigation, O'Gara Coach argued that Darren Richie had been a client contact for outside counsel investigating the charges of fraudulent conduct that ultimately led to an action alleging that O'Gara Coach and Ra had committed fraud in connection with Marcelo Caraveo's acquisition of luxury vehicles from O'Gara Coach. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order denying the motion to disqualify Richie Litigation. The court held that Darren Richie could not act as Ra's counsel because he obtained privileged information relating to the pending litigation as O'Gara Coach's President and CEO. Furthermore, Richie Litigation, not just Richie, must be disqualified under established rules for vicarious disqualification. View "O'Gara Coach Co. v. Ra" on Justia Law

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The Strawns’ home and pickup, which were insured by State Farm were “damaged and destroyed” by fire on June 1, 2009. They immediately notified State Farm. Dennis Strawn was prosecuted for arson, but the case was dismissed in February 2013. In August 2015, State Farm informed the Strawns that it was denying their claims on the ground that Dennis Strawn had intentionally set the fire and Diane Strawn had fraudulently concealed evidence of this wrongful conduct. In August 2016, the Strawns sued, alleging breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and elder abuse. The claims for invasion of privacy and elder abuse were also alleged against Wood, the attorney who represented State Farm, and MPP, Wood’s law firm. The trial court dismissed the claims against the attorneys. The court of appeal affirmed as to financial elder abuse but reversed as to the claim of invasion of privacy, which alleged that Wood improperly provided the Strawns’ tax returns to State Farm and its accountants despite their assertion of their privilege to not disclose the returns. View "Strawn v. Morris, Polich & Purdy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants were an adult daughter (believed to be incompetent) and her mother. After retaining counsel, the mother brought a tort action as the daughter’s next friend for in utero injuries to the daughter, which the mother alleged were caused almost 20 years previously in a boating accident. The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, but they also offered to permit plaintiffs to dismiss the case with each side to bear its own costs and fees. The plaintiffs’ attorney believed that accepting this walk-away offer was in the daughter’s best interest, but the mother disagreed. Facing a conflict of interest between his two clients, the attorney moved to withdraw. The superior court permitted the attorney to withdraw and ultimately granted the unopposed motion for summary judgment and awarded costs and fees against both plaintiffs. The mother and daughter appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court held that before granting the attorney’s motion to withdraw the court should have determined the daughter’s competency, and if she was found incompetent the court should have appointed a guardian ad litem or taken further action to protect her interests pursuant to Alaska Civil Rule 17(c). Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court’s orders granting the motion to withdraw and summary judgment, vacated the award of attorney’s fees and costs, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bravo v. Aker" on Justia Law

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After the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's holding that plaintiff's motion for $31,365 in statutory attorney fees was timely and supported by substantial evidence, the court stated, "In the interest of justice, the parties are to bear their own costs of appeal." Defendant argued that "costs" included attorney fees on appeal and plaintiff sought $114,840 in appellate attorney fees. The trial court awarded plaintiff the lodestar and denied defendant's motion to reconsider or clarify the ruling. The court affirmed, holding that the trial court had jurisdiction to award fees and the trial court's order granting plaintiff's counsel's motion for attorney fees was adequate. View "Stratton v. Beck" on Justia Law

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Law firm Schiff Hardin challenged the denial of its Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss the complaint and rejection of its attorney immunity defense in an action alleging negligent misrepresentation. The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erred in rejecting the firm's attorney immunity defense because the conduct sued on occurred during the representation of the firm's client. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's denial of the firm's motion and rendered judgment dismissing the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). View "Ironshore Europe DAC v. Schiff Hardin, LLP" on Justia Law

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The en banc court reversed the district court, vacated the award of attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), and remanded with instructions to recalculate the attorney fees for the civil rights law firm that represented plaintiff. The en banc court clarified that when a district court awards complete relief on one claim, rendering it unnecessary to reach alternative claims, the alternative claims cannot be deemed unsuccessful for the purpose of calculating a fee award. The en banc court rejected the post hoc "mutual exclusivity" approach to determining whether "unsuccessful" claims are related to succesful claims and reaffirmed that Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), sets forth the correct standard of "relatedness" for claims under the EAJA. The en banc court reaffirmed that in evaluating whether the government's position is substantially justified, the court looks at whether the government's and the underlying agency's positions were justified as a whole and not at each stage. View "Ibrahim v. DHS" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants Jamie and Kelly Etcheson brought an action under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (commonly known as the "lemon law") against defendant and respondent FCA US LLC (FCA) after experiencing problems with a vehicle they had purchased new for about $40,000. After admitting the vehicle qualified for repurchase under the Act, FCA made two offers to compromise under Code of Civil Procedure section 998: one in March 2015, to which plaintiffs objected and the trial court found was impermissibly vague, and a second in June 2016, offering to pay plaintiffs $65,000 in exchange for the vehicle's return. Following the second offer, the parties negotiated a settlement in which FCA agreed to pay plaintiffs $76,000 and deem them the prevailing parties for purposes of seeking an award of attorney fees. Plaintiffs moved for an award of $89,445 in lodestar attorney fees with a 1.5 enhancement of $44,722.50 for a total of $134,167.50 in fees, plus $5,059.05 in costs. Finding the hourly rates and amount of counsels' time spent on services on plaintiffs' behalf to be reasonable, the trial court tentatively ruled plaintiffs were entitled to recover $81,745 in attorney fees and $5,059.05 in costs. However, in its final order the court substantially reduced its award, concluding plaintiffs should not have continued to litigate the matter at all after FCA's March 2015 section 998 offer. It found their sought-after attorney fees after the March 2015 offer were not "reasonably incurred," and cut off fees from that point, awarding plaintiffs a total of $2,636.90 in attorney fees and costs. Pointing out their ultimate recovery was double the estimated value of FCA's invalid March 2015 section 998 offer, which they had no duty to counter or accept, plaintiffs contended the trial court abused its discretion by cutting off all attorney fees and costs incurred after that offer. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed the order and remanded back to the trial court with directions to award plaintiffs reasonable attorney fees for their counsels' services, including those performed after FCA's March 2015 offer, as well as reasonable fees for services in pursuing their motion for fees and costs. View "Etcheson v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law