Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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While living in California, Jefri and Debbie Davis sought to purchase a home in northern Idaho, and hired Charles Tuma and Tuma’s broker, Donald McCanlies, to help them. Tuma and McCanlies both worked for Johnson House Company, which in turn was doing business as Coldwell Banker Resort Realty. Some years after purchasing the property in question, the Davises learned that the road they believed provided access to their home, did not in fact do so. The Davises filed suit against Tuma, McCanlies, and Coldwell Banker Resort Realty (collectively, the Defendants), alleging fraud and constructive fraud. The Defendants moved for summary judgment against the Davises. The Davises responded, filing several declarations, portions of which the Defendants moved to strike. The Davises also sought to amend their complaint to add claims for unlicensed practice of law, surveying, or abstracting; and breach of contract and violation of contractual duties. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions for summary judgment and to strike, but did not specifically identify which statements were being stricken. The district court also denied the Davises’ motion to amend their complaint without explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. The Idaho Supreme Court found genuine issues of material facts to preclude the grant of summary judgment to Defendants. Further, the Court concluded the district court abused its discretion in denying the Davises' motion to amend their complaint. The Court vacated the trial court judgment entered and remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Tuma" on Justia Law

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Jonathon Frantz appealed a district court’s award of attorney fees entered against him and his clients, jointly and severally, as a sanction for frivolous conduct. This appeal arose from an easement dispute among family members. The land at issue was split into multiple parcels: the Tracy Parcel, the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and the Osborn Parcel. Plaintiffs Brook Tracy and Travis Mathis owned the Tracy Parcel; Plaintiffs Gailord “Cowboy” Mathis, Brook Tracy, Laura Roll, and Rebecca Stafford owned the Mathis/Roll Parcel; and David and Naomi Osborn owned the Osborn Parcel. In 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint against the Osborns. Frantz was Plaintiffs’ attorney. Plaintiffs claimed that more than thirty years ago they “constructed/placed a home” on the Tracy Parcel, “constructed/placed a cabin” on the Mathis/Roll Parcel, and “created a driveway” through the Osborn Parcel to access their respective properties. Plaintiffs also claimed that for more than thirty years they had openly and continuously used the driveway over the Osborn Parcel for access to the nearest public right-of-way, Highland Drive, which was the only reasonable way to reach their respective properties. Based on this use, Plaintiffs claimed that they had an easement by necessity, an easement by implication, or a prescriptive easement across the Osborn Parcel along the existing driveway. Accordingly, Plaintiffs sought a judgment from the district court declaring their rights in the driveway. The trial court denied a preliminary injunction for two reasons: (1) “the allegations in the complaint and the motion contain[ed] gross exaggerations, if not falsehoods” and “the credibility of all of the plaintiffs” was questionable; and (2) Plaintiffs could not establish entitlement to the relief demanded because they came to the hearing unprepared to support the easement theories they advanced with any competent evidence. The Osborns moved for attorney fees, leaving it to the trial court's discretion to award Rule 11 sanctions "if the [c]ourt determines that this motion was pursued frivolously." On appeal, Frantz contended the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees against him personally because it: (1) failed to follow the procedural requirements set out in Idaho Code section 12-123; and (2) erroneously found that he engaged in frivolous conduct. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded this matter did not present a justiciable controversy because the judgment was satisfied and Frantz did not preserve his right to appeal pursuant to Idaho Code section 10-1115. Accordingly, the Court dismissed Frantz’s appeal because the issues before the Court were moot. View "Frantz v. Osborn" on Justia Law

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Sharon Walsh retained Swapp Law, PLLC, d/b/a Craig Swapp & Associates ("CS&A") after she was involved in two car accidents in 2013. In the negligence action stemming from the first accident, Walsh followed firm employee Stephen Redd’s advice and settled the case. Walsh then changed representation and, with her new counsel, settled the second case. On March 2, 2017, Walsh filed this action alleging, among other things, that CS&A was negligent in advising her to settle the first case while the second case was still pending and by failing to advise her of an underlying subrogation responsibility in the first case. CS&A moved for summary judgment. It argued that Walsh’s claim was time-barred under Idaho Code section 5-219(4)’s two-year statute of limitations because her malpractice claim began to accrue when she released the first claim. The district court agreed and granted the motion. Walsh timely appeals. Based on its review of the record, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in awarding summary judgment to CS&A. The district court properly determined that Walsh’s claim was time barred under Idaho Code section 5-219 because her cause of action accrued when she signed the release of claims for the First Collision case more than two years prior to her filing the action at hand. Further, the district court properly determined that the fraudulent-concealment provision of Idaho Code section 5-219(4) did not apply because Walsh was put on inquiry of CS&A’s alleged malpractice in June 2015, more than one year prior to filing this action. The district court’s decision granting CS&A’s motion for summary judgment and its final judgment were thus affirmed. View "Walsh v. Swapp Law" on Justia Law

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Natalie Shubert sued her former public defender, Michael Lojek, former Ada County chief public defender Alan Trimming, and Ada County (collectively the “Ada County Defendants”). In 2008, Shubert was charged with two felonies and pleaded guilty to both charges. Her sentences were suspended in each case, and she was placed on probation. After a probation violation in 2011, the Ada County district court entered an order extending Shubert’s probation beyond the time period allowed by law. The mistake was not caught. After Shubert’s probation should have ended in both cases, she was charged and incarcerated for a subsequent probation violation in 2014. Thereafter, in 2016, Shubert was charged with a new probation violation. Shubert was assigned a new public defender, who discovered the error that unlawfully kept Shubert on probation. Shubert’s new public defender filed a motion to correct the illegal sentence, raising the error that had improperly extended her probation. The district court granted Shubert’s motion to correct the illegal sentence and released Shubert from custody. Shubert then sued the Ada County Defendants, alleging false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, negligence, and state and federal constitutional violations. The district court dismissed all of Shubert’s claims except for negligence. In denying the Ada County Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the district court held that public defenders were not entitled to common law quasi judicial immunity from civil malpractice liability, and two provisions of the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) did not exempt public defenders from civil malpractice liability. The Ada County Defendants petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court pursuant to Idaho Appellate Rule 12. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shubert v. Ada County" on Justia Law

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Glen Ward appealed an order and final judgment of the district court granting the State’s motion for summary dismissal and dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief. In 2014, Ward was convicted of sexual abuse of a minor under 16 years of age after he pleaded guilty to all elements of the crime except for the sexual intent element, to which he entered an Alford plea. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment with a 7-year fixed term. Ward asked for, and was granted, appointment of counsel to represent him in the post-conviction relief proceedings. After granting the motion, the district court appointed a conflict public defender to represent Ward in the action. Although he had secured new counsel, Ward subsequently filed numerous pro se documents. Ward argued the district court abused its discretion by denying his motion to proceed pro se as moot. Ward also argued the district court erred in denying his motion to proceed pro se because a post-conviction petitioner has a right to proceed pro se. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court vacated in part and affirmed. The Court held that the district court should have refused to entertain Ward’s independent filings in the first place; to the extent that the district court entertained the filings made by Ward as opposed to by his attorney, it was error to do so. However, having come to the conclusion that the district court erred, not by ruling incorrectly on Ward’s purported motion, but by ruling on it at all, the Supreme Court did not need to reverse the district court’s separate order and final judgment granting summary dismissal. "Because we hold that there was no motion properly before the district court to be ruled upon in the first place, the district court’s denial of the purported motion has no impact on the propriety of its final decision and judgment dismissing Ward’s post-conviction petition on the merits." View "Ward v. Idaho" on Justia Law

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Natalie Shubert filed a negligence claim against her former public defender, Michael Lojek, former Ada County chief public defender Alan Trimming, and Ada County (collectively, “Ada County Defendants”). In 2008, Shubert was charged with two felonies and pleaded guilty to both charges. Her sentences were suspended in each case, and she was placed on probation. After a probation violation in 2011, the Ada County district court entered an order extending Shubert’s probation beyond the time period allowed by law, and the mistake was not caught. After Shubert’s probation should have ended in both cases, she was charged and incarcerated for a subsequent probation violation in 2014. Thereafter, in 2016, Shubert was charged with a new probation violation. Shubert was assigned a new public defender, who discovered the error that unlawfully kept Shubert on probation. Shubert’s new public defender filed a motion to correct the illegal sentence, raising the error that had improperly extended her probation. The district court granted Shubert’s motion to correct the illegal sentence and released Shubert from custody. Shubert then sued her original public defender, the Ada County Public Defender’s Officer, and other unknown Ada County employees alleging false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, negligence, and state and federal constitutional violations. The district court dismissed all of Shubert’s claims except for negligence. In denying the Ada County Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on Shubert’s negligence claim, the district court held that public defenders were not entitled to common law quasi-judicial immunity from civil malpractice liability, and two provisions of the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) did not exempt public defenders from civil malpractice liability. The Ada County Defendants petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court affirmed, finding the district court did not err in its finding that the public defenders and the County were not entitled to immunity. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Shubert v. Ada County" on Justia Law

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Primera Beef, LLC appealed a district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Allan Ward. Primera Beef alleged Ward breached the confidentiality provision of a settlement agreement between him and Primera Beef when Ward’s attorney disclosed the terms of the agreement to a prosecutor in a related criminal action. Ward moved for summary judgment, arguing that he was not liable for his attorney’s actions because his attorney was not acting within the scope of his authority when he disclosed the terms. The district court agreed. The Idaho Supreme Court concurred and affirmed the district court. View "Primera Beef v. Ward" on Justia Law

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Mark Ciccarello formed a company named F.E.M. Distribution, LLC for the purpose of marketing and selling a product line called “Lotus Electronic Cigarettes.” In 2013, Ciccarello faced federal criminal charges related to his operation of another business that sold and marketed synthetic cannabinoids. As a result of the federal charges, some of F.E.M.’s assets were seized by the federal government. To prevent further seizure of F.E.M.’s remaining assets, Ciccarello contacted attorney Jeffrey Davies; Ciccarello and Davies discussed options for safeguarding F.E.M.’s assets, which included the possible sale of F.E.M. to another company. Davies drafted documents to form two new companies, Vapor Investors, LLC, and Baus Investment Group, LLC, which collectively owned Lotus Vaping Technologies, LLC. Davies put together a group of investors. The members of Vapor and Baus orally agreed with Ciccarello that he would receive $2 million and a majority ownership interest in Baus in exchange for the sale of F.E.M.’s assets to Lotus, the shares to be held by Bob Henry until Ciccarello's federal problems concluded. F.E.M. was sold to Lotus, and Ciccarello continued to act as CEO and manage operations. In January 2014, the federal government issued a letter stating it had no further interest in Ciccarello’s involvement in Lotus. Ciccarello requested his shares in Baus be returned and that the sale documents be modified to reflect him as the owner of the Baus shares. However, this was never done. In June 2014, Ciccarello was incarcerated due to his federal criminal case. Lotus ceased making monthly payments to Ciccarello in July 2014 and never resumed. At some point in 2014, Ciccarello was also ousted from Lotus by its members and Bob Henry took over his role as CEO. In April 2016, Ciccarello sued Lotus, Vapor, Davies, Henry, and several other investors involved in the sale of F.E.M. to Lotus, seeking recovery of damages Ciccarello alleged he suffered as a result of the structure of the sale. Ciccarello’s claims against Davies was negligence claims asserting legal malpractice. Shortly after Ciccarello made his expert witness disclosure, Davies moved for summary judgment, arguing that even if Davies represented Ciccarello at the time of the F.E.M. sale, Davies was not negligent in his representation. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in favor of Davies, denying Ciccarello’s motion for reconsideration, or denying Ciccarello’s motion for relief under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). View "Ciccarello v. Davies" on Justia Law

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Rebecca Parkinson appealed a district court’s dismissal of her claim for breach of fiduciary duty against her attorney, James Bevis. Parkinson filed a complaint alleging Bevis breached his fiduciary duty when he disclosed a confidential email to the opposing attorney after reaching a settlement in Parkinson’s divorce action. Bevis moved to dismiss under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Parkinson’s complaint failed to state a claim for relief. The district court agreed and dismissed Parkinson’s claim after determining that it was, in essence, a legal malpractice claim, on which Parkinson could not prevail because she admitted that she suffered no damages from Bevis’ disclosure. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the district court erred in dismissing Parkinson's complaint: whether an attorney must forfeit any or all fees for a breach of fiduciary duty to a client must be determined by applying the rule as stated in section 37 of the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers and the factors the Supreme Court identified to the individual circumstances of each case. In light of this conclusion, the district court’s determination that Parkinson could not pursue her claim on an equitable basis as a matter of law was incorrect. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Parkinson v. Bevis" on Justia Law

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David Kosmann appealed a district court judgment relating to a dispute that arose from the sale of real property. He claimed the district court erred in enforcing an oral settlement agreement reached in mediation between Kosmann, Kevin Dinius, and Dinius & Associates, PLLC (collectively “Dinius”). Kosmann also argued the trial court erred in: (1) awarding attorney fees to Dinius as a sanction against Kosmann and his attorney; (2) declining to impose sanctions against Dinius and his attorney; and (3) striking an untimely memorandum and declaration in support of his motion to reconsider. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in enforcing the settlement agreement; the court also did not err in declining to impose sanctions against Dinius on ethics violations. However, the Supreme Court determined the district court abused its discretion in imposing I.R.C.P. 11 sanctions against Kossman and his counsel: the district court did not act consistently with the applicable legal standard for imposing sanctions pursuant to I.R.C.P. 11(b). The Supreme Court declined to address all other issues Kossman raised, and determined he was not entitled to attorney fees on appeal. "The record in this case is so tarnished with questionable conduct that it has presented this Court with a vexing ethical and legal dilemma. While we are gravely concerned over the potential ethical lapses which allegedly occurred during the mediation of this matter, there are no findings in the record concerning these matters. Therefore, as the trial court determined, we will leave to the Idaho State Bar, if properly called upon, the responsibility to investigate this matter further and make the necessary findings and conclusions as to the ethical issues presented." View "Kosmann v. Dinius" on Justia Law