Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Native American Law
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After attempting to persuade the Tribe to pay him for services provided under construction and rental agreements, Findleton requested that the Tribe mediate and arbitrate pursuant to clauses in the agreements. The Tribe failed to respond. Findleton filed a petition in March 2012, in the Mendocino County Superior Court to compel mediation and arbitration. The court held the Tribe had not waived its sovereign immunity. The Tribe sought attorney fees it had incurred in defending against Findleton’s petition, which the superior court granted. The court of appeal remanded, finding the Tribe had waived its sovereign immunity, reversing the award of fees. On remand, Findleton again filed a petition to compel mediation and arbitration and sought contractual attorney fees he had incurred in the prior appellate proceedings. The Tribe did not oppose the fee motion on the merits but requested that the court defer ruling until the Tribe filed a demurrer challenging the court’s jurisdiction. The superior court rejected that request and granted Findleton’s motion, awarding costs ($4,591.79) and attorney fees ($28,148.75). The court of appeal affirmed. The Tribe has not demonstrated that tribal remedy exhaustion was required here nor would requiring exhaustion at this late date serve any purpose other than further delay of a case that is already six years old. View "Findleton v. Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians" on Justia Law

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An attorney represented a Native corporation in litigation nearly three decades ago. The corporation disputed the attorney’s claim for fees, and in 1995, after the attorney’s death, the superior court entered judgment on an arbitration award of nearly $800,000 to the attorney’s law firm, then represented by the attorney’s son. The corporation paid eight installments on the judgment, but eventually stopped paying, citing financial difficulties. The law firm sought a writ of execution for the unpaid balance, and the writ was granted. The corporation appealed but under threat of the writ paid $643,760 while the appeal was pending. In a 2013 opinion the Alaska Supreme Court held the writ invalid and required the firm to repay the $643,760. The corporation was never repaid. The original law firm moved its assets to a new firm and sought a stay of execution, averring that the original firm now lacked the funds necessary for repayment. The corporation sued the original firm, the successor firm, and the son for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, conspiracy to fraudulently convey assets, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), unjust enrichment, and punitive damages. The firm counterclaimed, seeking recovery in quantum meruit for attorney’s fees it claimed were still owing for its original representation. The superior court granted summary judgment for the corporation on the law firm’s quantum meruit claim and, following trial, found that the son and both law firms fraudulently conveyed assets and were liable for treble damages under the UTPA. The son and the law firms appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) holding that the quantum meruit claim was barred by res judicata; (2) holding the defendants liable for fraudulent conveyance; (3) awarding damages under the UTPA; and (4) making mistakes in the form of judgment and award of costs. The Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error with one exception. The Court remanded for reconsideration of whether all three defendants are liable for prejudgment interest from the same date. View "Merdes & Merdes, P.C. v. Leisnoi, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Jicarilla Apache Nation's ("Tribe") reservation contained natural resources that were developed pursuant to statutes administered by the Interior Department and proceeds from these resources were held by the United States in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe filed a breach-of-trust action in the Court of Federal Claims ("CFC") seeking monetary damages for the Government's alleged mismanagement of the Tribe's trust funds in violation of 25 U.S.C. 161-162a and other laws. During discovery, the Tribe moved to compel production of certain documents and the Government agreed to the release of some documents but asserted that others were protected by, inter alia, the attorney-client privilege. At issue was whether the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege applied to the general trust relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. The Court held that the fiduciary exception did not apply where the trust obligations of the United States to the Indian tribes were established and governed by statute rather than the common law and, in fulfilling its statutory duties, the Government acted not as a private trustee but pursuant to its sovereign interest in the execution of federal law. The reasons for the fiduciary exception, that the trustee had no independent interest in trust administration, and that the trustee was subject to a general common-law duty of disclosure, did not apply in this context. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.View "United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a suit filed by plaintiffs against the Water District to enjoin the Water District from pumping polluted canal water into Lake Okeechobee. The Tribe joined the suit on plaintiffs' side. The Tribe subsequently appealed the district court's denial of its motion for attorneys' fees. The court affirmed the district court's finding that the Tribe was not a "prevailing party" because, although the district court had ruled in its favor, the decision was overturned on appeal. View "Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of FL, et al. v. South Florida Water Mgmt., et al." on Justia Law

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The Jicarilla Apache Nation's ("Tribe") reservation contained natural resources that were developed pursuant to statutes administered by the Interior Department and proceeds from these resources were held by the United States in trust for the Tribe. The Tribe filed a breach-of-trust action in the Court of Federal Claims ("CFC") seeking monetary damages for the Government's alleged mismanagement of the Tribe's trust funds in violation of 25 U.S.C. 161-162a and other laws. During discovery, the Tribe moved to compel production of certain documents and the Government agreed to the release of some documents but asserted that others were protected by, inter alia, the attorney-client privilege. At issue was whether the fiduciary exception to the attorney-client privilege applied to the general trust relationship between the United States and Indian tribes. The Court held that the fiduciary exception did not apply where the trust obligations of the United States to the Indian tribes were established and governed by statute rather than the common law and, in fulfilling its statutory duties, the Government acted not as a private trustee but pursuant to its sovereign interest in the execution of federal law. The reasons for the fiduciary exception, that the trustee had no independent interest in trust administration, and that the trustee was subject to a general common-law duty of disclosure, did not apply in this context. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.