Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
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Manning, a lawyer who served as the executor of Barney’s estate and the trustee of a trust for Mrs. Barney, set up accounts at National City Bank, one for the estate and one for the trust. He then wired funds, totaling about $1,250,000, from the bank accounts into the account of his business in violation of his fiduciary duties. Manning’s business failed and Manning confessed to Mrs. Barney that he had absconded with the money from the two accounts. The estate, trust, and Mrs. Barney sued Manning’s law firm in state court, but the suit was rejected on summary judgment. The Barneys then sued the successor to National City Bank to try to recover the money Manning stole. The district court dismissed, citing the affirmative defense of Ohio’s version of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Barneys failed to plead facts giving rise to an inference that the Bank committed any wrongdoing. View "Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat'l Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Martello, a doctor with a law degree, never passed the bar exam despite four attempts; in 1997 she passed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination. In 1991, Martello started reviewing medical malpractice cases for Santana, who paid an hourly rate. She alleges that they changed the arrangement for three cases and that Santana wrote that he would pay Martello 20 percent of his fee if the case settled before filing and 25 percent if the case settled after filing suit. Martello alleges that the document was intended to cover future cases. Later, Santana sent Martello a letter stating that: Kentucky canons of ethics prohibit the payment of your fees for assisting … on a contingency basis … you will be billing us on an hourly basis. Martello claims that Santana told her to fabricate time to earn the equivalent of what she would have received under the contract. Martello was dissatisfied with what she received and sued. The district court determined that Martello’s contract claims were barred because the contracts were void as against public policy, while her fraud claims, even accepting tolling agreements, were barred by the statute of limitations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Martello v. Santana" on Justia Law

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In 1979, Plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, on behalf of present and future recipients, alleging that Tennessee’s Medicaid program violated federal requirements, 42 U.S.C. 1396, and the Due Process Clause. The decades that followed involved intervenors, consent orders, revisions, and creation of a subclass. In 1994, Tennessee converted to a managed care program, TennCare. In 1995, five class members filed motions alleging that TennCare was being administered inconsistent with a 1992 decree and federal law. In 2009, the district court awarded plaintiffs more than$2.57 million for fees and expenses leading up to a 2005 Revised Consent Decree. Plaintiffs had originally requested a lodestar amount of $3,313,458.00, but the court reduced the award by 20 percent on account of plaintiffs’ “limited” success relative to the breadth of defendants’ requests and the scope of the litigation. The court noted that there was “no dispute that Plaintiffs in this case are the prevailing party, and thus entitled to attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988.” The Sixth Circuit vacated parts of the award, noting that section 1988 “is not for the purpose of aiding lawyers and that the original petition for fees included requests for dry cleaning bills, mini blinds, and health insurance. View "Binta B. v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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Klie purchased property with financing from Coldwell Banker, which assigned its rights to the Federal National Mortgage Corporation (Fannie Mae) but continued to service the loan. The assignment was never recorded. In 2007, servicing rights transferred to JP Morgan. Coldwell Banker assigned its rights in the note and mortgage (none) to JP Morgan, which reassigned to Fannie Mae. Chase, an arm of JP Morgan, serviced the loan until Klie died. With the loan in default, Chase’s law firm, RACJ, prepared an assignment of the note and mortgage that purported to establish Chase’s right to foreclose and filed a foreclosure actionf, naming Glazer, a beneficiary of Klie’s estate. The court entered a decree of foreclosure, but later vacated and demanded that RACJ produce the original note. Chase dismissed the foreclosure without prejudice. Glazer filed suit, alleging that Chase and RACJ violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, and Ohio law by falsely stating that Chase owned the note and mortgage, improperly scheduling a foreclosure sale, and refusing to verify the debt upon request. Chase and RACJ moved to dismiss. The district court dismissed. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that mortgage foreclosure is debt collection under the Act. View "Glazer v. Chase Home Fin. LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Universal demanded payment from Allstate for medical services that Universal allegedly rendered to 36 persons claiming coverage under Allstate insurance policies. Allstate denied payment, contending that Universal had not, in fact, rendered any services to those persons. Universal filed suit asserting claims for reimbursement, for defamation, and for tortious interference with business relationships. In November 2009, Allstate served Universal with interrogatories and document requests. Universal failed to respond for more than two months, so Allstate filed a motion to compel. In May 2010, the magistrate judge granted Allstate’s motion and ordered Universal to “provide full and complete responses” no later than June 7, 2010. Again Universal did not respond by the deadline or by an extended deadline. Universal finally responded on October 6, but its responses were incomplete. After Universal failed to supplement or to Allstate’s efforts to depose employees, Allstate filed a second motion to dismiss, which was granted. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Allstate’s repeated motions, and the court’s own orders, were not enough to compel Universal to do what the Rules required. “Universal’s conduct violated the rules of civil procedure and common courtesy alike” View "Universal Health Grp. v. Allstate Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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To help defendants resist child-pornography charges, technology expert and lawyer Boland downloaded images of children from a stock photography website and digitally imposed the children’s faces onto the bodies of adults performing sex acts. Boland’s aim was to show that the defendants may not have known they were viewing child pornography. When the parents of the children involved found out about the images, they sued Boland under 18 U.S.C. 2252A(f) and 2255. Section 2252A(f) provides a civil remedy to “[a]ny person aggrieved” by child pornography, while 2255 provides a civil remedy of at least $150,000 in damages to minor victims who suffer a “personal injury” from various sex crimes. The district court granted summary judgment to the parents and awarded $300,000 in damages. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. If Boland felt compelled to make his point with pornography, he could have used images of adults or virtual children. Instead, he chose an option Congress explicitly forbade: the choice was not protected by the First Amendment. View "Doe v. Boland" on Justia Law

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Stone owned STM, which owed Fifth Third about $1 million, secured by liens on business assets and on Stone’s house. Stone’s attorney, Atherton, introduced Stone to Waldman, a potential investor. Stone did not know that Atherton was indebted to Waldman and had given Waldman STM’s proprietary business data. Atherton filed STM’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition to preserve assets so that Waldman could acquire them. Atherton allowed the automatic stay to expire. Fifth Third foreclosed, obtaining judgments and a lien on Stone’s house. Waldman paid Fifth Third $900,000 for the bank’s rights. Waldman and Atherton offered to pay off Stone’s debts and employ him in exchange for STM’s assets and told Stone to sign documents without reading them, to meet a filing deadline. The documents actually transferred all STM assets exchange for a job. Ultimately, Waldman owned all STM assets and Stone’s indebtedness, with no obligation to forgive it. Waldman filed garnishment actions; Stone filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, alleging that Waldman had fraudulently acquired debts and assets. Atherton was disbarred. The bankruptcy court found that Waldman and Atherton had perpetrated “egregious frauds,” invalidated Stone’s obligations, and awarded Stone $1,191,374 in compensatory and $2,000,000 in punitive damages. The district court affirmed. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the discharge, but vacated the award of damages as unauthorized. View "Waldman v. Stone" on Justia Law

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Goldberg, a medical malpractice attorney, appeared before Judge Maloney in several cases. Following complaints that Goldberg concealed assets and retained unearned fees, Maloney ordered Goldberg to pay the estates involved. Goldberg failed to do so. Maloney directed him to show cause why he should not be held in contempt. Following a hearing, Maloney found Goldberg to be in criminal contempt and cited Goldberg for attempting to suborn witnesses, charges that did not appear on the hearing notice. Goldberg received a sentence of 18 months. An Ohio appellate court affirmed. Before the Ohio Supreme Court, Goldberg argued for the first time that he had not received sufficient notice of the charges and ineffective assistance because his attorney failed to raise this notice claim. The Ohio Supreme Court declined further review. In 2004, the district court granted habeas relief on the basis that Goldberg received constitutionally inadequate notice. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding that Goldberg had procedurally defaulted on his lack-of-notice claim by failing to raise it in the state court of appeals. On remand, the district court determined that Goldberg had not demonstrated sufficient cause or prejudice to overcome the procedural default, and denied his petition. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Goldberg v. Maloney" on Justia Law

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Judge DeWeese sentenced Griffeth to prison for sexual battery and later oversaw his supervised release. Mayer supervised the agency responsible for monitoring Griffeth and suspected that his wife, Leech, was having an affair with Griffeth. Plaintiffs alleged that Mayer conspired with other officers and DeWeese to harass Griffeth. Mayer’s marriage ended. Plaintiffs allege that Mayer, who had been drinking, saw Griffeth and Leech in a car, pursued them, and called police to have Griffeth arrested for violating curfew. Mayer’s supervisor ordered that Mayer have no further involvement in Griffeth’s case. Plaintiffs allege that Mayer met with DeWeese and arranged to transfer Griffeth’s case to Mayer’s friend. DeWeese imposed a condition prohibiting Griffeth from contact with Leech or with her minor daughter. Griffeth was accused of associating with Leech and lying about it. Judge DeWeese refused to recuse himself, sentenced Griffeth to six months in community control, and ordered Leech removed from Griffeth’s home. The district court held that DeWeese had not established absolute judicial immunity to a claim concerning removing non-party Leech from her home. The Sixth Circuit reversed. DeWeese’s order requiring compliance with the no-contact condition of supervised release by removing Leech from the house fell within DeWeese’s subject matter jurisdiction over supervised release. View "Leech v. DeWeese" on Justia Law

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The Legislative Ethics Commission conducted a hearing regarding fund-raising by Kentucky Senate President Williams, which attorney Berry attended. Following an executive session from which the public, the media, and Berry were excluded, the Commission dismissed. Berry wrote a letter criticizing disposition of the matter and disseminated copies to the media. The Inquiry Commission of the Kentucky Bar Association issued a warning asserting that the letter violated Kentucky Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(a), which provides that “[a] lawyer shall not make a statement that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge, adjudicatory officer or public legal officer,” by publicly implying that the Commission did not conduct its review appropriately. The disciplinary complaint against Berry was dismissed. Berry did not appeal because Kentucky does not provide for an appeal of the Commission’s findings. Berry sued, alleging that he wished to engage in further criticism of the investigation but has refrained from such speech because he fears professional discipline. The district court granted the KBA summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed; Rule 8.2(a) is unconstitutional as applied to Berry’s speech. View "Berry v. Schmitt" on Justia Law