Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of O'Gara Coach's motion to disqualify Richie Litigation and its attorneys from representing plaintiff, a former sales advisor at O'Gara Coach, in plaintiff's action against O'Gara Coach for race discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other employment-related misconduct. The court held that O'Gara Coach failed to present evidence Richie possessed privileged information materially related to the pending litigation. The court also held that Richie's likely testimony as a percipient witness did not justify disqualification of Richie Litigation or other attorneys at the firm under the advocate-witness rule. View "Wu v. O'Gara Coach Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Wolfington brought a claim under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601, stemming from reconstructive knee surgery he received from Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates (the Rothman Institute). Wolfington alleged that Rothman failed to provide disclosures required by the Act when it permitted him to pay his deductible in monthly installments following surgery. The district court entered judgment, rejecting Wolfington’s claim because it determined he had failed to allege that credit had been extended to him in a “written agreement,” as required by the Act’s implementing regulation, Regulation Z. The court also sua sponte imposed sanctions on Wolfington’s counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that Wolfington failed to adequately allege the existence of a written agreement, but concluded that counsel’s investigation and conduct were not unreasonable. In imposing sanctions, the district court placed emphasis on the statement by Rothman’s counsel, not Wolfington’s. The statement by Wolfington’s counsel did not amount to an “unequivocal” admission that there was no written agreement. View "Wolfington v. Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates II, PC" on Justia Law

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The circumstances that gave rise to this case stemmed from Plaintiff Floyd Bledsoe’s allegedly wrongful conviction for the 1999 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old C.A. C.A> lived with Plaintiff and his wife Heidi, C.A.'s older sister. Plaintiff and Heidi reported C.A. missing when C.A.'s coat and book bag were found, but C.A. was not. The couple spent the next forty-eight hours or so looking for the missing girl. A breakthrough came days later when Tom Bledsoe, Plaintiff’s older brother, confessed that he had killed C.A. Tom led the officers to C.A.’s body, which had been buried under a large amount of dirt and plywood. C.A. had been shot once in the back of the head and several times in the torso. The coroner later found semen in her vagina but could not say whether she had been forcibly raped. Near her body, investigators found three bullet casings, a pornographic video, and a t-shirt printed with the name of the church Tom attended. Tom’s attorney also surrendered a Jennings nine-millimeter handgun—the professed murder weapon—to the authorities. Authorities soon charged Tom with the first-degree murder of C.A. Despite this evidence, authorities switched course and decided to pin C.A.’s death on Plaintiff instead. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the prosecutor enjoyed absolute immunity from suit for fabricating evidence against Plaintiff during the preliminary investigation of the crime. The Tenth Circuit determined Supreme Court precedent dictated that the prosecutor did not, the district court’s order denying the prosecutor absolute immunity was affirmed. View "Bledsoe v. Vanderbilt" on Justia Law

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C. Randall Caldwell, Jr. worked for George Woerner, who owned several businesses headquartered in Foley. In 2009, Caldwell was promoted to president of Woerner Landscape, Inc., one of those businesses. Caldwell stated that, at that time, he was a licensed attorney in good standing in Alabama even though he was not engaged in private practice. During his employment with Woerner, the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Caldwell contacted an attorney with Cunningham Bounds, LLC, a law firm in Mobile, regarding the possibility of referring Woerner's businesses to Cunningham Bounds for Cunningham Bounds to handle their claims arising out of the spill. In April 2011, the Woerner companies retained Cunningham Bounds; Cunningham Bounds executed representation agreements with each of the Woerner companies. Those agreements provided that Cunningham Bounds would be paid a contingency fee for the work. In 2014, the Woerner companies retained Sirote & Permutt, P.C. to assist Cunningham Bounds in the BP oil-spill litigation. Additionally, each of the Woerner companies sent Caldwell a letter in which they stated that Caldwell had previously assisted with a BP oil-spill claim asserted on behalf of that Woerner company; that the claim had been principally handled by Cunningham Bounds; and that at the time Caldwell provided assistance he was working as in-house counsel for one or more of the Woerner companies. Each letter went on to assert that the claim would have to be reworked "based on newly announced guidelines from appellate courts hearing BP's objections to some of the previously filed claims"; that the owners and management of the Woerner companies felt that it would be in their best interest to retain a firm with experienced tax and business attorneys to assist in the claims; that the Woerner companies wished to continue their representation by Cunningham Bounds; that they were terminating the attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner companies; and that they were retaining Sirote to assist Cunningham Bounds in reworking the claims asserted by the Woerner companies. After receiving this letter, Caldwell contacted one of the attorneys at Cunningham Bounds and told him that it was his position that he was entitled to the referral fees discussed in the representation agreements because, he said, he had referred the Woerner companies' claims to Cunningham Bounds. Summary judgment was ultimately entered in favor of Caldwell; the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in finding Caldwell was owed a referral fee. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law

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The Plaintiffs, purportedly the assignees of certain private insurers (Medicare Advantage Organizations), brought a putative class action against State Farm to recover payments State Farm allegedly should have made to them as reimbursement for certain medical costs. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice, and imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against one of the plaintiffs, MSP. and its attorneys. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ case with prejudice, when the problem was a fundamental lack of Article III standing so that the court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. However, the court acted within its discretion when it denied plaintiffs a third opportunity to cure the defects in their pleadings. The court’s order, in substance, was a jurisdictional dismissal without prejudice with denial of leave to amend dismissal is without prejudice. The district court exceeded the bounds of its discretion when it imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Recovery Claims and its attorneys. View "MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Where an offeree achieves a judgment more favorable than a first offer, the determination of whether an offeree obtained a judgment more favorable than a second offer should include all costs reasonably incurred up to the date of the second offer. This case involved a landlord-tenant dispute which resulted in the tenant rejecting two offers to compromise from the landlord. After a bench trial, the trial court awarded the tenant damages less than the two offers to compromise. The trial court found that the Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offers were reasonable and made in good faith; declared the landlord to be the prevailing party; and awarded him attorney fees. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court improperly calculated the "net" judgment to ascertain whether tenant had obtained a judgment more favorable than the section 998 offers. In this case, the trial court should have added her costs and attorney fees to the damages award to determine the correct "net" judgment. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court's amended judgment incorporating the order and remanded for a determination of the amount of the tenant's reasonable costs. The court either declined to reach the tenant's remaining arguments or otherwise did not have jurisdiction to consider them. View "Hersey v. Vopava" on Justia Law

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Golden was researching Golden’s then-forthcoming book, Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities. Golden requested documents from public universities, including three requests to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act, N.J. Stat. 47:1A-1–47:1A-13 (OPRA). Many of the NJIT documents originated with the FBI and were subject to prohibitions on public dissemination. The FBI directed NJIT to withhold most of the records. NJIT obliged, claiming exemption from disclosure. After this suit was filed, NJIT and the FBI reexamined the previously withheld records and produced thousands of pages of documents, formerly deemed exempt. Golden then sought prevailing plaintiff attorneys’ fees under OPRA. The district court denied the fee motion. The Third Circuit reversed. Under the catalyst theory, adopted by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees if there exists “a factual causal nexus between [the] litigation and the relief ultimately achieved” and if “the relief ultimately secured by plaintiffs had a basis in law.” Before Golden filed suit, NJIT had asserted OPRA exemptions to justify withholding most of the requested records. Post-lawsuit, NJIT abandoned its reliance on those exemptions and produced most of the records. Golden’s lawsuit was the catalyst for the production of documents and satisfied the test. That NJIT withheld records at the behest of the FBI does not abdicate its role as the records custodian. View "Golden v. New Jersey Institute of Technology" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against the City and individual police officers for alleged deprivations of his constitutional rights, defendants presented plaintiff with an offer judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. Plaintiff accepted the officer but the parties disputed the sum of attorney's fees, expenses, and costs to be paid. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to reduce plaintiff's attorney's reasonable hourly rate in light of the simple nature of the case; affirmed the district court's decision to reduce the hours claimed through an across-the-board reduction to reflect the clerical work performed; but reversed and vacated the district court's decision to award plaintiff attorney's fees for the work incurred preparing the fee application where the express terms of the accepted Rule 68 offer of judgment limited the fees recoverable to those incurred to the date of the offer. View "Lilly v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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The parties dispute the district court's award of attorney's fees to plaintiff in an action successfully claiming a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The Second Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiff was entitled to attorney's fees as a prevailing party; plaintiff may not obtain fees for the administrative proceedings for failure to identify "the discrete portion of the work product from the administrative proceedings" for which fees might have been awarded, North Carolina Dep't of Transportation v. Crest Street Community Council, Inc., 479 U.S. 6, 15 (1986); and the 50 percent reduction was appropriate. View "Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Litchfield Historic District Commission" on Justia Law

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Cases consolidated for review came to the Court of Appeal as part of ongoing litigation between The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry (the National Grange) and the Order’s relatively recent charter the California State Grange (the California Grange) (collectively, respondents) against the Order’s former California charter, now known as the California Guild (the Guild), which operated the California Grange Foundation (the Foundation) when the Guild’s charter was previously active. At issue was the disqualification of the law firm representing the Guild and the Foundation following its hiring of an attorney who previously worked for the law firm representing the National Grange. The trial court granted respondents’ motions to disqualify Ellis Law Group in litigation initiated in 2012 while the court’s prior order granting summary judgment in favor of the National Grange was pending on appeal in this court. In litigation initiated in 2016 by only the California Grange against the Foundation, the trial court granted the California Grange’s motion to disqualify Ellis Law Group too. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in disqualifying the Ellis Law Group, and affirmed the trial court's orders. View "The Nat. Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry v. California Guild" on Justia Law