Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Rivera-Velazquez v. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Ins. Co.
In 2010, Plaintiff, then fifty-eight years old, applied for a job with Defendant. Defendant extended a written offer of employment, which Plaintiff accepted, but before Plaintiff started on the job, Defendant rescinded the offer. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging, among other claims, that the rescission of the employment offer was a by-product of age discrimination. Defendant removed the case to the federal district court. Thereafter, Plaintiff’s attorneys blundered time and again, which led to the district court issuing an order for Plaintiff to show cause why his case should not be dismissed. After the district court received no response from Plaintiff, it dismissed the case. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) asking the court to set aside the judgment due to the neglect of one of Plaintiff’s attorneys. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, given Plaintiff’s persistent pattern of noncompliance, the district court’s refusal to set aside the order of dismissal was not an abuse of discretion. View "Rivera-Velazquez v. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Ins. Co." on Justia Law
In re Plaza-Martinez
Appellant acted as counsel in district court for a criminal defendant (“Defendant”) who pleaded guilty to several charges arising out of a carjacking. The day before a disposition hearing was scheduled to take place, Appellant moved for a continuance, stating that she could not attend the scheduled sentencing because it conflicted with the commencement of a trial in another criminal case. The district court denied the motion. The court subsequently fined Appellant a monetary sanction, stating that Appellant had not been “candid with the Court” because she entered her appearance in the second case subsequent to requesting the continuance of Defendant’s sentencing. Appellant sought a vacation of the monetary sanction, asserting that she had been a key participant in the second case for several months. The district court denied relief. The First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sanctions order and expunged the sanction, holding that the district court abused its discretion in sanctioning Appellant, as there was no appropriate basis for a finding that Appellant had not been candid with the court. View "In re Plaza-Martinez" on Justia Law
Bezio v. Draeger
When Plaintiff retained a Maine law firm to represent him in a legal action, he signed an attorney-client engagement letter that contained an arbitration provision. Plaintiff later sued the law firm and individual defendants (collectively, Defendants) for malpractice and violations of Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Defendants moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. The district court granted the motion under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred in enforcing the arbitration clause. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the action, as (1) Maine professional responsibility law for attorneys permits arbitration of legal malpractice claims so long as there is no prospective limitation on the law firm's liability; and (2) Maine law, like the FAA, is not hostile to the use of the arbitration forum, and Maine would enforce the arbitration of malpractice claims provision in this case. View "Bezio v. Draeger" on Justia Law
Posted in: Arbitration & Mediation, Contracts, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
In re Auerhahn
After the Office of Professional Responsibility of the Department of Justice found Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn and others had withheld exculpatory information from two federal criminal defendants who were convicted and served substantial terms in prison, the Massachusetts district court asked the Massachusetts Bar Counsel to investigate Auerhahn's conduct and recommend whether to initiate disciplinary proceedings. Bar Counsel filed a petition for an order to show cause why Auerhahn should not be terminated. A three-judge panel appointed by the court denied Bar Counsel's petition in all respects, concluding that Auerhahn had not violated any rules of professional conduct. Bar Counsel appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Bar Counsel lacked standing to appeal the district court's decision because Bar Counsel was not a party to Auerhahn's disciplinary proceedings. View "In re Auerhahn" on Justia Law
In re Bulger
James "Whitey" Bulger was the leader of a criminal organization in Boston from 1972 to 1999. An indictment returned by a federal grand jury charged Bulger with a number of federal offenses, including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and the indictment alleged that Bulger committed nineteen murders ancillary to the RICO conspiracy. Bulger's case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns. Bulger moved that Judge Stearns recuse himself, arguing that the judge's prior employment as head of the U.S. Attorney's Criminal Division in Boston and his close friendship with FBI Director Robert Mueller created an appearance of impropriety necessitating recusal. Judge Stearns denied the motion. Bulger subsequently petitioned the First Circuit Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus requiring reversal of the judge's order denying the motion for recusal. In an opinion written by Hon. David H. Souter, the First Circuit granted the petition and ordered the case to be reassigned to a different judge "because it is clear that a reasonable person would question the capacity for impartiality of any judicial officer with the judge's particular background in the federal prosecutorial apparatus in Boston during the period covered by the accusations." View "In re Bulger" on Justia Law
Balerna v. Gilberti
This appeal arose from the behavior of Appellant, an attorney, during a case in which he made accusations against opposing counsel. After the trial in the case, the trial court held that sanctions were warranted because of the "heedless and unnecessary damage" to the other attorney's reputation. The court admonished Appellant under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b) for his conduct but did not impose any sanction beyond the admonishment itself. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admonishing Appellant for the accusations he made against opposing counsel concerning conversion, usury, and false statements. View "Balerna v. Gilberti" on Justia Law
Volkswagen Grp of Am. v. McNulty Law Firm
In a suit alleging engine defects in Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, the district court awarded $30 million in attorneys' fees to several groups of plaintiffs' attorneys who achieved a class action settlement agreement. The award was based in federal law. The First Circuit vacated the fee award and remanded for calculation using Massachusetts law. In a diversity suit, where the settlement agreement expressly states that the parties have not agreed on the source of law to apply to the fee award and there is an agreement that the defendants will pay reasonable fees, state law governs the fee award. View "Volkswagen Grp of Am. v. McNulty Law Firm" on Justia Law
Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc.
Companion was authorized to license space in Wal-Mart stores to companies that sell durable medical equipment and entered into licensing agreements with defendants. In 2007, defendants shut down operations. Companion sued. Problems arose during discovery, including defense counsel motions to withdraw, allegations of inadequate responses to discovery requests, objections to the scope of discovery, refusal to attend depositions, motions to compel, multiple extensions, and claims of obstruction. After three years, the district judge imposed a default as to all counts, based on discovery violations by the defendants. The court eventually lifted the default except as to Companion's veil piercing claim, allowing the substantive claims to go to trial. A jury found for Companion and awarded more than $1 million in damages. Defendants, personally liable as a result of the default, appealed. The First Circuit vacated the default and remanded, "because the district court imposed such a severe sanction based on a very limited slice of the relevant facts." View "Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: Business Law, Commercial Law, Contracts, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep’t
Plaintiff, a police department employee, made claims of sexual harassment and emotional abuse. The district court issued a scheduling order, closing discovery as of November 18, 2010. When defense counsel encountered an emergency, the court reset the date to January 28, 2011. In November, defendants served plaintiffs with interrogatories and requests for production of documents. The court extended discovery closure date to February 28, 2011. On February 24, plaintiffs moved to extend this deadline by 30 days, claiming that their lawyer had no time to devote to their case. The court extended the discovery closure date to March 25, but stated that plaintiffs must provide answers to outstanding interrogatories and requests for production of documents no later than February 28 and that failure to answer by that date would result in dismissal, with prejudice. On March 1, defendants informed the court that plaintiffs had not complied. The court extended the deadline by 10 days. On March 16, defendants informed the court that the interrogatories remained unanswered and that the documents had not been produced. The next day the court dismissed the action with prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed. View "Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep't" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Labor & Employment Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals
McCarty v. Verizon New England Inc.
An employee crashed a Verizon truck and admitted to snorting heroin earlier that day. When his supervisor visited his home to have paperwork completed, the encounter became hostile. Verizon fired him. He filed a Massachusetts workers' compensation claim, based on injuries from the accident and alleged psychological harm based on-the-job harassment by the supervisor before the accident and the supervisor's visit to the house. An ALJ rejected the claims and the review board affirmed. A state court affirmed. Employee filed a second workers' compensation claim pertaining solely to the incident at the house. The claim was rejected by the ALJ as res judicata; the board and court affirmed, with an award of double costs against the employee for frivolous appeal. Employee then filed suit against Verizon and the supervisor, charging intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and trespass. The court dismissed, based on preemption provisions of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185(a), and the exclusivity provision of the Compensation Act, Mass. Gen. L. ch. 152, 24. The court ordered plaintiff's attorney to pay $34,908.12 to reflect only defendants’ attorney fees incurred after the court's warning about the lawsuit's viability. The First Circuit affirmed. View "McCarty v. Verizon New England Inc." on Justia Law