Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals
United States v. Blackledge
Respondent, civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person, challenged the denial of the motions to extend and reopen the discovery period, motions to withdraw as counsel, and motions to appoint a second expert. The court concluded that, in proceedings that could result in the lifelong incarceration of respondent who has already served his full sentence, respondent was forced to be represented by an attorney asserting multiple conflicts of interest with whom he had not prepared for trial because of their inability to communicate. The district court abused its discretion in requiring counsel to continue representing respondent and the error was not harmless. Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment as to the motions to withdraw and remanded for the district court to consider these motions after engaging in the appropriate inquiry regarding the extent of counsel's conflicts. View "United States v. Blackledge" on Justia Law
Lincoln v. DOWCP
Petitioner sought attorney's fees from Ceres for his purusit of a claim for disability benefits under section 928(a) of the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U.S.C. 928(a). The court concluded that section 928(a)'s plain language requires fee-shifting only when an employer has paid no compensation within 30 days of receiving the official claim. In this case, Ceres voluntarily paid petitioner one week's compensation within 30 days of receiving his claim, and thereby admitting to liability for the injury for the purposes of section 928(a). Ceres met the requirement of section 928(a), moving the dispute to section 928(b). Petitioner was entitled to the services of an attorney but, under the LHWCA's fee-shifting scheme, petitioner was not entitled to have that attorney paid for by Ceres. The court held that Ceres's payment of one week's benefits at the maximum compensation rate, being directly tied as it was to petitioner's alleged injury, qualified as "compensation" within the meaning of section 928(a). Finally, the court rejected petitioner's claim that when Ceres filed a notice of controversion prior to the payment at issue, it signaled that it was controverting his claim, and by doing so, irrevocably triggered section 928(a). Accordingly, the court denied the petition View "Lincoln v. DOWCP" on Justia Law
Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. DOWCP
Claimant was awarded benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), 30 U.S.C. 901-945. At issue was whether the awards of attorneys' fees properly reflected market-based evidence of counsel's hourly rate, as required by the lodestar analysis in Hensley v. Eckerhart. The court held that neither the ALJ nor the BRB abused its discretion in concluding that counsel provided sufficient market-based evidence of rates, and that the number of hours billed for attorneys' services reasonably reflected the work completed. The court also held that the award of fees for work performed by certain legal assistants was not supported fully by the record, and modified that award accordingly. View "Eastern Associated Coal Corp. v. DOWCP" on Justia Law
Central Telephone Co. v. Sprint Communications Co.
Sprint entered into interconnection agreements with incumbent local exchange carriers (CenturyLink Plaintiffs) providing for the mutual exchange of telecommunications traffic pursuant to the provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. 151 et seq. When Sprint began to withhold payments under the agreement, CenturyLink brought a breach of contract claim in federal district court. The court held that the 1996 Act did not require a State commission to interpret and enforce an interconnection agreement (ICA) in the first instance; neither the text of the 1996 Act nor prudential considerations compelled federal deference to State commissions in the first instance; the district court judge's ownership of shares in plaintiff did not constitute a financial interest in plaintiff for purposes of 28 U.S.C. 455(b); the district court did not violate the recusal statute and therefore did not abuse his discretion in deciding that neither recusal nor vacatur was appropriate; when viewed in conjunction with the ambiguity in the ICA's coverage of voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) traffic over Feature Group D (FGD) trunks, the parties' course of dealing reinforced the court's conclusion that the district court did not err in entering judgment for plaintiff on its breach of contract claim; and, in the face of ambiguity, the court construed the relevant provisions of the North Carolina ICA against Sprint and in favor of plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Central Telephone Co. v. Sprint Communications Co." on Justia Law
Maracich v. Spear
This appeal arose from the dismissal of all claims alleged in a putative class action complaint filed pursuant to the Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 (DPPA), 18 U.S.C. 2721-2725. Appellees (Lawyers) were South Carolina attorneys who in 2006 and 2007 instituted several "group action" lawsuits in South Carolina state court against numerous car dealerships under the South Carolina Regulation of Manufacturers, Distributors, and Dealers Act (Dealers Act), S.C. Code Ann. 56-15-10 et seq. Appellants (Buyers) were car buyers who received mailings from Lawyers regarding the Dealers Act litigation. Buyers sued Lawyers in this action alleging that Lawyers violated the DPPA when they obtained and used Buyers' personal information without their consent in connection with the Dealers Act litigation. The court held that the district court erred in its determination that the conduct of Lawyers did not constitute solicitation within the contemplation of the applicable DPPA prohibition. Nevertheless, the district court correctly ruled that Lawyers' conduct in respect to Buyers' personal information was undertaken in anticipation and in connection with litigation, a use permitted by the DPPA. View "Maracich v. Spear" on Justia Law
Warren v. Sessoms & Rogers, P.A.
Plaintiff sued defendants, a law firm and its attorney, alleging that they violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.c. 1692 et seq. At issue was whether defendants' Rule 68 offer of judgment mooted plaintiff's case. Also at issue was whether the district court properly dismissed plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). The court held that defendants' first offer, a payment of $250 in actual damages, and defendants' second offer, conditioning the amount of actual damages on the district court's determination, did not moot plaintiff's case. The court also held that the district court erred in concluding that plaintiff's amended complaint failed to allege violations of 15 U.S.C. 1692c(a)(2), and 1692e(11). Therefore, the court reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Warren v. Sessoms & Rogers, P.A." on Justia Law
United States v. Blair
Defendant, a Maryland attorney, was convicted of offenses related to a scheme to launder proceeds that he obtained from a client. On appeal, defendant challenged several counts of conviction for money laundering, as well as his obstruction of justice conviction, and the denial of his motion to sever the failure-to-file counts. The court affirmed the convictions for money laundering under 18 U.S.C. 1956 and 1957, and affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to sever. The court reversed, however, defendant's conviction on the obstruction-of-justice charge for insufficient evidence. Therefore, the court remanded for resentencing.
Belue v. Leventhal
Appellants appealed an order revoking their pro hac vice admissions in connection with a putative class action suit where the suit alleged that appellants' clients breached supplemental cancer insurance policies that they had issued. At issue was whether the district court erred in revoking appellants' pro hac vice status where the revocation was based on motions appellants filed in response to plaintiffs' request for class certification, chiefly a motion to recuse the district judge based on his comments during an earlier hearing. The court vacated the revocation order and held that, even though the recusal motion had little merit, the district court erred in revoking appellants' pro hac vice admissions where it did not afford them even rudimentary process.