Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
Smith v. Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., et al.
This appeal concerned a fee dispute that arose between the parties after the underlying case was resolved on the merits. The court concluded that the district court's decision to award defendants attorneys' fees under the Florida Whistle-Blower Act (FWA), Fla. Stat. 448.102, was within its discretion; the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, 18 U.S.C. 1514A, provided no obstacle to the exercise of that discretion because the federal statute did not preempt the FWA's fee provision; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding defendants' fees for the costs they incurred opposing the Rule 11 motion, nor did it abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff the opportunity to seek 28 U.S.C. 1927 sanctions 21 months after the deadline for fee motions had passed. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Smith v. Psychiatric Solutions, Inc., et al." on Justia Law
Doe v. Black
The United States investigated Jeffrey Epstein's sexual abuse of minors, but failed to confer with the victims before entering a non-prosecution agreement with Epstein. Two victims filed suit under the Crime Victims' Rights Act, 18 U.S.C. 3771, to enforce their rights and sought to discover the correspondence between Epstein's attorneys and the United States regarding the non-prosecution agreement. Epstein and his attorneys intervened to object to that discovery as privileged. The district court overruled the objection and ordered disclosure. Intervenors appealed and the victims moved to dismiss. The court concluded that it had jurisdiction over this interlocutory appeal and that the plea negotiations were not privileged from disclosure where Federal Rule of Evidence 410 provided no privilege for plea negotiations, the intervenors waived any work-product privilege, and the court declined to recognize a common-law privilege for plea negotiations. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Doe v. Black" on Justia Law
Republic of Ecuador v. Hinchee, et al.
Dr. Hinchee, who resides in Florida, and Chevron appeal the district court's discovery order compelling production of Dr. Hinchee's documents to the Republic of Ecuador. Dr. Hinchee served as a testifying expert for Chevron in a related proceeding. The discovery dispute at issue stemmed from a suit brought by Ecuadorian plaintiffs alleging that Texaco's oil exploration in the Amazonian rain forest polluted private and public lands in Ecuador and that Texaco was responsible for plaintiffs' oil-related health problems and the environmental contamination of plaintiffs' property. The court concluded that Dr. Hinchee's notes and email communications with non-attorneys, including other experts, were relevant within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), and the Republic was thus entitled to discover these materials. Neither the text of Rule 26(b)(3)(A) nor its structure, history, and rationale support extending the work-product doctrine to all testifying expert materials. To the extent any attorney core opinion work-product was embedded in the 1,200 documents at issue here, Chevron and Dr. Hinchee could appropriately redact such portions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order compelling discovery. View "Republic of Ecuador v. Hinchee, et al." on Justia Law
Torrens, et al. v. Hood, Jr.
The bankruptcy court held that appellants violated 11 U.S.C. 527 and 528(a)(1), Florida Rules of Professional Conduct 4-3.3(a)(1), and 4-8.4(c), and possibly 18 U.S.C. 157(3) by helping appellee file an "ostensibly pro se [Voluntary Chapter 13] bankruptcy petition in bad faith to stall a foreclosure sale." The bankruptcy court held that appellants prepared the Chapter 13 petition as ghostwriters and consequently made false and fraudulent representations to the court. The court concluded that the bankruptcy court erred in its determination that appellants committed fraud when they contracted with appellee to provide foreclosure defense services, took appellee's money, had appellee sign documents, and then filed an ostensibly "pro se," bad faith bankruptcy petition on appellee's behalf. At bottom, the court concluded that appellants did not "draft" a document within the scope of Rule 4-1.2(c) and did not commit fraud in violation of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct or 18 U.S.C. 157(3). Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Torrens, et al. v. Hood, Jr." on Justia Law
Lehman, et al. v. Lucom, et al.
Wilson Lucom was an American expatriate who wished to bequeath assets worth more than $200 million to a foundation established for impoverished children in Panama. Plaintiff, Lucom's attorney, filed suit against the Arias Group/Arias Family, Lucom's wife and step-children, under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968, alleging that the Arias Group participated in a criminal conspiracy to thwart plaintiff through acts of intimidation, extortion, corruption, theft, money laundering, and bribery of foreign officials, so that the Arias Group could steal the Estate assets for themselves. At issue on appeal was RICO's four-year statute of limitations on civil actions and the "separate accrual" rule. Under the rule, the commission of a separable, new predicate act within a 4-year limitations period permitted a plaintiff to recover for the additional damages caused by that act. The court concluded that none of the injuries in plaintiff's complaint were new and independent because all of his alleged injuries were continuations of injuries that have been accumulating since before September 2007. The court agreed with the district court that plaintiff had done little more than repackage his 2007 abuse of process complaint. Therefore, plaintiff's civil RICO complaint was untimely, and the district court did not err when it granted summary judgment in favor of the Arias Group. View "Lehman, et al. v. Lucom, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Scrushy
Defendant, the founder and former CEO of HealthSouth, was found guilty of federal funds bribery, honest services fraud, and conspiracy to commit the latter offenses. Defendant subsequently appealed the district court's denial of his motion for a new trial filed while Siegelman I was before the Supreme Court on certiorari, and the denial of his motion to recuse the trial judge. The court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in Judge Henkle's denial of the motion to recuse under 28 U.S.C. 455(b) where the judge's ex parte meeting with the Marshals regarding a disputed factual issue did not lead an objective disinterested lay observer to entertain significant doubt about the judge's impartiality and the judge did not have personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding, nor was he likely to be a material witness. Addressing five of the six grounds defendant relied on in seeking a new trial, the court also concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in Judge Fuller's handling of the motion for new trial under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33(b)(1). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Scrushy" on Justia Law
Gray v. Bostic
This case stemmed from the detention and handcuffing of a nine-year-old student during her physical education class. Defendant, a Deputy Sheriff, appealed from the district court's grant of attorney's fees. The court concluded that the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney's fees to plaintiff where plaintiff achieved a de minimus victory under the Farrar v. Hobby factors. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for entry of judgment in favor of defendant on his claim for attorney's fees. View "Gray v. Bostic" on Justia Law
RES-GA Cobblestone, LLC, et al. v. Roberts, III, et al.
Grady A. Roberts and his law firm (collectively, Roberts) appealed the district court's orders directing Roberts to pay a fine, contempt sanctions, and appellees' costs and fees, as well as an order directing that Roberts be incarcerated for civil contempt. The court dismissed the appeal as moot because the consent order Roberts signed and his actions in compliance with it disposed of all issues in the appeal. View "RES-GA Cobblestone, LLC, et al. v. Roberts, III, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Rothstein
Defendant, a lawyer, deposited lucre in his law firm's bank accounts after he was convicted of criminal activity, where it was commingled with the firm's receipts from legitimate clients. At issue was whether the money in the bank accounts at the time defendant was charged was subject to forfeiture. The sheer volume of financial information available and required to separate tainted from untainted monies in this case lead the court to apply the Third Circuit's rule in United States v. Voigt; in this case, the district court erred in ordering forfeiture of the funds as proceeds; consequently, all proceedings the court held subsequent to the imposition of defendant's sentence must be vacated; the court's conclusion did not foreclose the Government's attempt to forfeit a property interest held by defendant individually; and, after addressing the parties' remaining arguments, the court reversed and remanded the judgment of the district court. View "United States v. Rothstein" on Justia Law
Reese, et al. v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree, & Adams, LLP
Plaintiffs defaulted on a loan that they had secured by giving the lender a mortgage on their property. A law firm representing the lender sent plaintiffs a letter and documents demanding payment of the debt and threatening to foreclose on the property if they did not pay it. Plaintiffs then filed a putative class action lawsuit against the law firm alleging that the communication violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692e. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The court held, however, that the complaint contained enough factual content to allow inference that the law firm was a "debt collector" because it regularly attempted to collect debts. The complaint also alleged that the law firm was "engaged in the business of collecting debts owed to others incurred for personal, family[,] or household purposes" and that in the year before the complaint was filed, the firm had sent more than 500 people "dunning notice[s]" containing "the same or substantially similar language" to that found in the letter and documents attached to the complaint in this case. Further, the complaint alleged enough to constitute regular debt collection within the meaning of 1692a(6). Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Reese, et al. v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree, & Adams, LLP" on Justia Law