Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Bankruptcy
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Century issued insurance to BSA and purchased reinsurance. After BSA made claims related to sexual abuse litigation, Century sought to collect on those policies and hired the Sidley’s Insurance Group. The representation did not extend to the underlying direct insurance; BSA was not a party to the reinsurance disputes. BSA later retained Sidley to explore restructuring; the engagement letter specified that Sidley would not “advis[e] [BSA] on insurance coverage.” Sidley filed BSA’s bankruptcy petition.Through Haynes, its insurance counsel, BSA engaged in substantive discussions with its insurers, including Century. Sidley attorneys were present at some meetings. Century did not object. When Century later objected, Sidley implemented a formal ethics screen between its restructuring team and its reinsurance team. Ultimately, the Bankruptcy Court recognized Sidley’s withdrawal. Century is separately pursuing its grievances about Sidley’s representation in arbitration.The Bankruptcy Court concluded that while Sidley may have received confidential information in the reinsurance matter relevant to BSA’s bankruptcy, no privileged or confidential information was shared between the Sidley's legal teams; it approved Sidley’s retention nunc pro tunc, finding no violation of 11 U.S.C. 372(a). The district court and Third Circuit affirmed. Century continued to have standing and the matter is not moot. Because Sidley’s representation of BSA did not prejudice Century, but disqualifying it would have been a significant detriment to BSA, it was well within the Court’s discretion to determine that the drastic remedy of disqualification was unnecessary. View "In re: Boy Scouts of America" on Justia Law

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Attorney Romanzi referred a personal injury case to his employer, the Fieger law firm; meanwhile, creditors were winning default judgments against Romanzi. The case settled for $11.9 million; about $3.55 million was awarded as attorney’s fees after Romanzi quit the firm. Romanzi’s employment at the firm entitled him to a third of the fees. Before Romanzi could claim his due, his creditors forced him into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The trustee commenced an adversary proceeding against the firm to recover Romanzi’s third of the settlement fees for the bankruptcy estate. The parties agreed to arbitration.Two of the three arbitrators found for the trustee in a single-paragraph decision that was not "reasoned" to the firm’s satisfaction. The district court remanded for clarification rather than vacating the award. On remand, the panel asked for submissions from both parties, which the trustee provided; the firm refused to participate. The arbitrators’ subsequent supplemental award, approved by the district court, awarded the trustee the fees plus interest. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the arbitrators’ original award was compromised according to at least one factor allowing vacation under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 10(a); that the act of remanding and the powers exercised by the arbitrators on remand violated the doctrine of functus officio; and that the supplemental award should have been vacated under the section 10(a) factors. The district court’s and panel’s actions fall under the clarification exception to functus officio. View "In re: Romanzi" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit upheld the bankruptcy court's ruling that the costs of plaintiff's attorney disciplinary proceedings imposed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court were not dischargeable under a provision of the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(7). The court explained that, although there are several types of proceedings in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court may order costs, see Wis. S.C.R. 22.24(1), attorney discipline uniquely requires a "finding of misconduct" as a precondition for doing so. The court stated that the structure of Rule 22.24(1m) unambiguously singles out attorney discipline as a penal endeavor, and that conclusion has a statutory consequence under section 523(a)(7). Furthermore, the cost order amounts to compensation for actual pecuniary loss under section 523(a)(7). Finally, the court's conclusion that plaintiff's disciplinary costs are nondischaregable under section 523(a)(7) finds firm support in Supreme Court precedent and the court's own case law. View "Osicka v. Office of Lawyer Regulation" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the Blasingames met with attorneys Fullen and Grusin to discuss their financial situation and signed engagement agreements. The Blasingames filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition with Fullen as the attorney of record. Fullen constructed the bankruptcy schedules, obtaining the Blasingames’ financial information from Grusin. The Blasingames claimed less than $6,000 in assets. The bankruptcy court later found the Blasingames failed to disclose millions of dollars in assets that they controlled through a complex web of family trusts, shell companies, and shifting “clearing accounts.”In 2011, the bankruptcy court granted the Trustee summary judgment, denying the Blasingames’ discharge and disqualified the attorneys from further representation of the Blasingames. Although the Blasingames’ new counsel was able to obtain relief from the summary judgment order, their discharge was again denied in 2015. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP) affirmed.A major creditor, CJV1, obtained derivative standing from the bankruptcy court to file a malpractice claim against the filing attorneys on behalf of the estate. CJV, in the bankruptcy court, and the Blasingames, in Tennessee state court, filed malpractice complaints. The bankruptcy court refused to approve the Blasingames’ settlement with the attorneys; the BAP and Sixth Circuit dismissed the Blasingame’s appeal for lack of jurisdiction. CJV asserted that the malpractice claims are property of the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court, the BAP, and the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the Blasingames. Under Tennessee law, the legal malpractice claims accrued arose post-petition. View "Church Joint Venture, L.P. v. Blasingame" on Justia Law

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Glenview, a Glasgow, Kentucky nursing home, jointly owned by Bush and Howlett for over 30 years, filed a voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. The Official Creditors Committee was formed and filed an application to retain DBG, with a declaration from DGB's managing partner, disclosing that DBG had previously represented Howlett in estate planning matters, unrelated to the Chapter 11 case, that the representation concluded in 2017, and that the professionals who represented Howlett would not represent the Committee. Glenview filed an objection, although Howlett did not, asserting that DBG assisted Glenview and Howlett with the preparation of a buy-sell agreement for Glenview and all its assets, attaching an invoice from DBG for a period in 2016. DBG asserted that no buy-sell agreement was consummated, and that the representation related only to estate planning. The bankruptcy court heard arguments but did not conduct an evidentiary hearing, then denied the Committee’s application to employ DBG.The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel vacated, finding that the court abused its discretion under 11 U.S.C. 1103. State and federal courts jealously guard the attorney-client relationship and that solicitude extends to a committee’s choice of counsel in bankruptcy. View "In re Glenview Health Care Facility, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's denial of plaintiff's motion for leave to amend. In this case, plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to include allegations that the Brewer & Pritchard attorneys assured him during a brief recess during bankruptcy proceedings that they would treat the bankruptcy court's proposed fees as part of plaintiff's "Gross Recovery" under his written agreement with Brewer & Pritchard.The court held that had plaintiff been granted leave to amend his complaint, his proposed claims—whatever their merit—would not have been subject to dismissal under the doctrine of res judicata. The court explained that the "conduct" plaintiff seeks to challenge is the alleged breach of fiduciary duty—the failure to follow through on the new representations supposedly made to him during the November 2017 hearing. Furthermore, at the time of the hearing, plaintiff could not have even known that the attorneys' assurances were misrepresentations, let alone that he should challenge them as such. The court remanded with instructions that plaintiff's motion for leave to amend be granted. View "Rohi v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between two sets of lawyers who provided legal work for a mutual client. Thomas Tufts and the Tufts Law Firm, PLLC appealed the district court's order granting a motion to dismiss on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. Edward Hay and Pitts, Hay & Hugenschmidt, P.A. also filed a second motion to dismiss Tufts's action against them on the additional ground that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. After the district court found personal jurisdiction, Hay and his firm cross appealed.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Barton Doctrine. In this case, Tufts counsel initiated their action against Hay—court-approved counsel—and Tufts did not obtain leave of the bankruptcy court before doing so. The court held that the Barton doctrine has no application when jurisdiction over a matter no longer exists in the bankruptcy court. Thus, the bankruptcy court was properly vested with jurisdiction to consider this action if it could conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate. Here, the action could not conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate and thus the Barton doctrine does not apply. The court also held that the district court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Hay. The court reversed the district court's ruling on subject matter jurisdiction and remanded. View "Tufts v. Hay" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit dismissed bankruptcy appeals filed by attorney Breuer of Moffa & Breuer, who purported to represent the Trust. The bankruptcy court disqualified attorney Moffa and Moffa & Breuer from representing the Trust. Because the Trust was a 50 percent shareholder of the debtor created to ensure that Moffa & Breuer would collect its legal fees, the bankruptcy court concluded that Moffa & Breuer’s representation of a shareholder in which it had a business interest conflicted with its simultaneous representation of the debtor. Moffa & Breuer repeatedly ignored the disqualification order. Moffa, purportedly pro se in his capacity as trustee of the Trust and as an attorney for related entities, filed a competing plan of reorganization that would have released the debtor’s claims against his firm and made him president of the reorganized debtor.There has been no indication of an intent to appeal from any qualified agent of the Trust, only from disqualified attorneys. Moffa had no authority to act pro se in the bankruptcy court, so his filings do not suggest that the Trust intended to appeal. There is no justification for excusing these defective notices of appeal. When an appeal is taken on behalf of an artificial entity by someone without legal authority to do so, the appeal should be dismissed. View "J.J. Rissell, Allentown PA, Trust v. Kapila" on Justia Law

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In 2001-2013, Ridgeway worked for Stryker, which believed that Ridgeway intended to use its confidential business information at his next job. Stryker sued Ridgeway. A jury found that Ridgeway had breached his contractual obligations, breached his fiduciary duty, and violated Michigan’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA) and that the MUTSA violation was willful and malicious for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees. Ridgeway filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The automatic stay caused by the filing of the petition prevented Stryker from making an attorney’s fee request in the Michigan proceedings. Stryker filed a proof of claim for $2,272,369.54, supported by hundreds of pages of time entries; the amount claimed and the corresponding time entries do not just relate to the lawyers’ work on the MUTSA claim. Stryker argued that, under the “Common Core” doctrine, its win on the MUTSA claim entitles it to attorney’s fees for all of its claims. Ridgeway argued that fee recovery under the Common Core doctrine “is reserved for fee awards in civil rights cases.”The bankruptcy court allowed Stryker’s proof of claim, including fees claimed under the Common Core doctrine. The district court and Fifth Circuit affirmed. Ridgeway has not shown that Michigan law requires statutory attorney’s fees to be “proved at trial.” The court upheld the striking of Ridgeway's "Common Core" objection as a sanction. Ridgeway did not comply with a court order to specify to which charges his objection applied. View "Ridgeway v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit previously reversed, in part, bankruptcy appellate panel decisions. The court subsequently denied the debtors’ applications, as prevailing parties, for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d). The EAJA did not authorize attorney fees because a bankruptcy court does not fall within the EAJA’s definition of “United States,” and uncontested Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases are not “civil actions brought by or against the United States.” The EAJA is a limited waiver of the government’s sovereign immunity; it must be strictly construed in favor of maintaining immunity not specifically and clearly waived. View "In re: Sisk" on Justia Law