Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Idaho Supreme Court - Civil
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The law firm Hepworth Holzer, LLP (“Hepworth Holzer” or “the firm”), petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus or prohibition, seeking relief from a district court order disqualifying it as counsel for Dr. Gary Tubbs in a personal injury lawsuit against Bogus Basin Recreational Association, Inc. (“Bogus Basin”). Bogus Basin was represented by Elam & Burke in the proceedings. Elam & Burke moved to disqualify Hepworth Holzer after an associate attorney who worked at Elam & Burke when Tubbs initiated his lawsuit went to work for Hepworth Holzer and assisted the firm on a memorandum in support of a motion to reconsider filed in the case. The district court granted Elam & Burke’s motion. The district court ordered that “[a]ny attorney associated with Hepworth Holzer, LLP, including [the associate attorney], are disqualified from any further representation of [Dr.] Gary Tubbs in this matter and from providing any information from its files after January 21, 2021, and cannot relay any information discussed or received about this case after January 21, 2021[,] to Tubbs or any new attorney/firm representing Tubbs.” Hepworth Holzer contended the district court’s disqualification and gag order was clearly erroneous and unconstitutional. Finding the district court erred in issuing its disqualification order, the Supreme Court granted Hepworth Holzer's request for mandamus relief. The disqualification and gag order were vacated; and a new judge was ordered to preside over further proceedings. View "Hepworth Holzer, LLP v. Fourth Judicial District" on Justia Law

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Holly Cook appealed an administrative order entered by an Administrative District Judge (“ADJ”) declaring her to be a vexatious litigant pursuant to Idaho Court Administrative Rule 59. The order prohibited Cook from filing any new litigation pro se in Idaho without first obtaining leave of the court where the litigation was proposed to be filed. Ms. Cook petitioned for a divorce from her husband (“Mr. Cook”) in 2015. During the lengthy and contentious divorce proceedings, Ms. Cook had assistance of counsel for portions of the proceedings, but represented herself pro se when she did not. Some aspects of the divorce proceedings were appealed to the district court. Mr. Cook filed a moved that Ms. Cook declared a vexatious litigant. Neither party requested a hearing on Mr. Cook’s motion. The district judge presiding over the appeal referred the matter to the ADJ. The ADJ found that Ms. Cook largely failed to appear at dates set in scheduling orders that she (with and without counsel) agreed to. She failed at obtaining continuances, at having the trial judge disqualified, and to move the court for reconsideration of many intermediate decisions. She attempted to collaterally attack the default judgment of divorce, and at some point, was held in contempt for failing to respond to court orders during the divorce proceedings. Separate from the divorce proceedings, the ADJ noted Ms. Cook had filed nine pro se civil protection orders, all of which had been dismissed in favor of the parties from whom she sought protection. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the ADJ abused its discretion in declaring Ms. Cook a vexatious litigant; the ADJ did not review the merits and reason for dismissal in the nine civil protection actions, causing the ADJ to conclude incorrectly the final determinations were adverse to her. Furthermore, with respect to the divorce proceedings, the Court determined the ADJ abused its discretion by failing to make factual findings that Ms. Cook repeatedly attempted to relitigate issues already finally decided by the magistrate court. The Supreme Court concluded the ADJ did not make sufficient findings to support the conclusion that Ms. Cook’s filings were frivolous, unmeritorious, or filed with the intent to cause unnecessary delay. Accordingly, the Court reversed the prefiling order and remanded to allow the ADJ the opportunity to reconsider this matter. View "Cook v. Wiebe" on Justia Law

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This case involved a fee dispute between two attorneys arising from a purported fee-sharing agreement. The underlying case involved an airman in the U.S. Air Force who was injured while driving through Idaho on his way to a posting in Alaska. The airman hired an Alaska attorney, Stephen Merrill, to represent him in pursuit of his personal-injury claims in Idaho. Merrill associated Erik Smith, an Idaho attorney, to act as local counsel in the airman’s suits. At a point in the proceedings, the airman terminated Merrill’s representation. Smith ultimately settled the case and retained the entire attorney fee. Merrill then sued Smith seeking his proportionate share of the fee. Smith moved for summary judgment which was granted by the district court. Merrill appeals. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in granting summary judgment to Smith: Smith failed to meet his burden as the moving party on summary judgment. "When Smith filed his motion for summary judgment, he alleged that it was undisputed that there was no agreement reached between the parties, written or oral. This bald assertion contradicted the crux of Merrill’s complaint that the agreement about fee sharing had been reached over the course of the email correspondence. However, Smith did not support this assertion by presenting evidence or by citing to any admissible evidence in this record." View "Merrill v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Attorney Craig Wise appealed a district court’s determination that he breached a duty of care owed to Billy Kyser, Jr., as a beneficiary of Carolyn Kyser’s will. Wise represented Billy’s mother, Carolyn, in divorce proceedings from Bill Kyser, Sr., and in preparing a will that bequeathed her entire estate in equal shares to Billy and his brother Brent Kyser. As part of the divorce proceedings, and before Carolyn’s will was completed, Carolyn and Bill Sr. executed a property settlement agreement in which Bill Sr. and Carolyn agreed to retain sequential life estates in the family home, with the remainder going to Brent and Billy as tenants in common upon the death of the last surviving parent. Wise prepared a deed memorializing the terms of the property settlement agreement. After Bill Sr. and Carolyn both passed away, Brent retained Wise to represent him as the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate. Brent also hired Wise independently to prepare a quitclaim deed transferring Billy’s interest in the home to Brent. Wise sent the deed to Billy, who then executed it. David Kalb, Billy’s court-appointed conservator, then filed a malpractice suit against Wise. After a court trial, the district court held Wise breached the duty he owed to Billy as a beneficiary of Carolyn’s will by preparing the deed because it frustrated Carolyn’s testamentary intent that her estate be divided equally between her two sons. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court’s legal determination that Wise owed Billy a duty of care when Wise was acting as counsel for the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate, Brent. "Although Wise owed Billy a duty of care in drafting and executing Carolyn’s will, the district court impermissibly extended that duty by requiring that Wise ensure an asset outside the probate estate complied with Carolyn’s intent in her will." View "Kalb v. Wise" on Justia Law

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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