Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals
Blythe Holdings, Inc. v. DeAngelis
Hill formed Blythe Corporation to acquire vacant lots in Chicago and was Blythe’s sole owner and employee. Blythe entered into a contract with Flawless Financial, which was to acquire the lots; Blythe agreed to pay legal fees of $50,000 to the attorney recommended by Flawless (DeAngelis) and deliver a $25,000 retainer fee. Blythe signed a representation agreement that had been drafted by DeAngelis, an employee of Brown Udell, on Brown Udell letterhead, but never informed Brown Udell of the representation. Blythe remitted a $25,000 check, payable to DeAngelis which was deposited into the “John A. DeAngelis Client Fund Account.” DeAngelis never shared fees received from Blythe with Brown Udell. Blythe investors transferred $250,000 to the DeAngelis Client Fund Account. Following Hill’s instructions, DeAngelis transferred $249,978 to a Flawless account. None of those funds were ever used to purchase lots on behalf of Blythe. Forte, a Blythe investor, contributed an additional $250,000. DeAngelis submitted an Application for Purchase of Redevelopment Project Area Property to obtain the vacant lots. The Department of Planning and Development reviewed the application and indicated steps necessary to move forward. Blythe, however made no effort to amend its application or to pursue necessary approvals. Blythe did not respond to inquiries by DeAngelis; Hill “[could] not recall” what happened to the funds received from Forte. Blythe sued DeAngelis and Brown Udell, claiming legal malpractice and unjust enrichment. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Blythe Holdings, Inc. v. DeAngelis" on Justia Law
Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Lewis
Lewis was injured in an automobile accident and her health plan paid $180,000 for her medical treatment Lewis filed a tort suit against the driver (her son-in-law), represented by Georgia lawyer Lashgari, and obtained a $500,000 settlement. Lashgari knew the plan had a subrogation lien, but split the proceeds between himself and Lewis. He claimed that the plan was owed nothing. The plan filed suit under ERISA to enforce the lien, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(3). The defendants argued that because the settlement funds have been dissipated, the suit was actually for damages, not authorized by ERISA. The district judge ordered the defendants to place $180,000 in Lashgari’s trust account pending judgment. The defendants did not comply. A year later, the defendants having neither placed any money in a trust account nor produced any evidence of their inability to pay, the judge held them in civil contempt, ordered them to produce records that would establish their financial situations, and ordered Lashgari to documents relating to the contempt to the General Counsel of the State Bar for possible disciplinary proceedings against him. The defendants appealed the contempt order. The Seventh Circuit dismissed, characterizing the appeal as frivolous and the defendants’ conduct as outrageous. View "Cent. States, SE & SW Areas Health & Welfare Fund v. Lewis" on Justia Law
Americana Art China Co., Inc. v. Foxfire Printing & Packaging, Inc.
In 2008, defendant faxed tens of thousands of unsolicited advertisements, violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227. After defendant’s insurer intervened, a second proposed class action settlement was reached. The insurer, Continental, agreed to make $6.1 million available to class members. The total is approximately equal to the number of faxes sent (110,853) times per-fax damages offered by Continental ($55.03) with an attorney fee award of 1/3 the total amount: $2,033,333.33. The district court preliminarily approved the settlement and 24,389 of the 28,879 class members were successfully notified; five requested exclusion. None objected. Only 1,820 returned a claim form, seeking damages for 7,222 unlawful fax transmissions, so that Continental would pay out only $397,426.66 of the $6.1 million, with the remainder, less attorney fees and incentive awards, to revert. Despite the relatively meager final payout to class members, plaintiffs’ attorneys continued to demand more than $2 million. The district court employed the lodestar method, rather than the percentage method, applying a risk multiplier of 1.5 to arrive at a final fee award of $1,147,698.70. After arguments on appeal, the attorneys sought to dismiss. The Seventh Circuit declined to dismiss and affirmed the reduced fee award. View "Americana Art China Co., Inc. v. Foxfire Printing & Packaging, Inc." on Justia Law
McDaniel v. Qwest Commc’ns Corp.
More than 13 years ago, lawyers around the country began class actions challenging the installation of fiberoptic cable on property without landowners’ consent. The cases began to settle on a state-by-state basis, leaving the lawyers to allocate awarded and expected attorney’s fees. The lawyers informally grouped themselves based on their negotiation and litigation positions. The Susman Group participated in mediation and agreed to a fee division, but balked at signing a written agreement, ostensibly because Susman disliked its enforcement terms. The district court held that Susman is bound by the agreement despite his failure to sign. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reasoning that, given the parties’ lengthy course of dealing, Susman’s failure to promptly object to the written agreement can objectively be construed as assent. A finding that Susman’s refusal to sign was a case of “buyer’s remorse” rather than a genuine objection to the enforcement terms in the agreement was supported by the record. View "McDaniel v. Qwest Commc'ns Corp." on Justia Law
United States v. Johnson
Convicted of robbing three banks, Johnson was sentenced to 220 months’ imprisonment. At trial Prince told the jury that he and Johnson had planned and executed the robberies together. Williams testified that Prince asked her to give him a ride one day and was accompanied by a stranger. She drove them several places, lastly a grocery store. Prince and the stranger entered the store and robbed the branch bank inside. Williams picked a photo of Johnson from an array of six photos. On appeal, Johnson argued that the judge should not have allowed Williams and the agent who conducted the array to testify about the identification because the Seventh Circuit has suggested that police show photographs sequentially rather than in an array. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction, noting that Johnson did not attempt to show that all photo spreads are unnecessary and suggestive, or make it impossible for counsel to use the tools of the adversary process to explore an identification’s reliability. All six photos met Williams’s description and the array was not suggestive. The court also imposed a fine on Johnson’s attorney for omitting, from his brief, the court’s reasons for declining to exclude the identification. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law
Richardson v. City of Chicago
Off-duty Officer Macon argued with Richardson about Macon’s former girlfriend. Macon fired his gun at Richardson but missed. When on-duty officers arrived, Macon said that Richardson had struck him with a baseball bat. Richardson was arrested and charged with assault and battery. After the charges were dismissed, Richardson filed suit, with 39 claims under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state law against Chicago, Macon, the arresting officers, and others. Chicago was dismissed before trial because municipalities are not vicariously liable under section 1983, and the district judge found that none of the city’s policies (including its training regimens) was constitutionally deficient. The jury rejected claims against the other defendants, but decided in Richardson’s favor on one claim, concerning the shot Macon fired, and awarded $1 in nominal damages plus $3,000 in punitive damages. Macon did not appeal, nor did Chicago, which under Illinois law must indemnify Macon for the $1 but not the punitive award. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1988, Richardson sought more than $675,000 in fees. The district judge awarded $123,000, noting that the firm’s billing did not allow non‑compensable time to be separated out. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the award as “generous, considering Richardson’s recovery.” View "Richardson v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
Goesel, et al. v. Boley Int’l, et al.
In consolidated appeals, the court ruled on motions to seal settlement agreements. In Goesel, the law firm filed a motion to maintain under seal documents disclosing the amounts of a personal injury settlement and of the lawyers' costs and fees. In Massuda, defendants sought to keep the redacted settlement agreement, in a suit for breach of fiduciary duty, kept under seal. The court concluded that the parties in both cases have failed to rebut the presumption of public access to judicial records. In neither case have they offered any reason for secrecy except that they have a confidentiality agreement and that was insufficient. The court denied the request in Goesel where an outsider to the litigation could not evaluate the dispute over the district judge's modification of the settlement without knowing the amount of the settlement before and after the modification. The court dismissed the request in Massuda where, inter alia, there was no indication that the amount of the settlement figured in the district court's decision. View "Goesel, et al. v. Boley Int'l, et al." on Justia Law
Fiala, et al. v. B&B Enterprises, et al.
Plaintiffs filed a class action suit against B&B and others, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962. The alleged scheme involved "Population Equivalents" (PEs), specified quantities of sewage that a house or other building was estimated to dump into the local sewage system. The complaint alleged that B&B had improperly taken control of the Wasco Sanitary District and used that control to divert to itself permit fees that should have gone to the district to finance an expansion of its sewage system. The district court dismissed the claim for want of RICO standing because plaintiffs could not demonstrate an injury to their business or property. On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's denial of their application for an award of attorneys' fees under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(1) and (2). The court concluded that plaintiffs' suit, while meritless, was not frivolous. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Fiala, et al. v. B&B Enterprises, et al." on Justia Law
Wells Fargo Bank, NA v. Younan Props., Inc.
Wells Fargo sued the Younans for breach of contract. The defendants moved for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction over Sherry Younan because of lack of minimum contacts in Illinois and insufficient service of process. The district court ruled that the opposing parties were not of diverse citizenship and that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Instead of amending, Wells Fargo moved, nine months after filing its original complaint, to be allowed to dismiss without prejudice. The defendants asked that dismissal be conditioned on Wells Fargo’s paying their legal expenses of $56,000. The judge dismissed, conditioned on Wells Fargo reimbursing defendants for $11,000 in legal expenses incurred in seeking dismissal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the defendants did not justify their “extravagant‐seeming request, which included more than $9,000 for two briefs each of which was just half a page long and merely incorporated by reference another lawyer’s brief.” View "Wells Fargo Bank, NA v. Younan Props., Inc." on Justia Law
Re v. United States
Re and Leach owned warehouses in Englewood, Florida. After leasing space in Leach’s warehouse, Daughtry told his agent that he did so because Leach stated that a sewer line essential to Re’s warehouse crossed Leach’s property without permission and lacked permits. The agent shared the information who Re, who hired assailants to beat Leach and threaten worse unless he broke the lease. Re was convicted under the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. 1951, for using extortion to injure Leach’s business in interstate commerce. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. In a petition under 28 U.S.C. 2255, Re claimed that his lawyers rendered ineffective assistance: trial counsel by stealing from Re and appellate counsel by omitting an argument certain to prevail. The district court denied the petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that threatening someone without “obtaining” money, or value, in return, does not meet the Hobbs Act definition. A jury could find that Re’s goal in having Leach beaten was to obtain Daughtry as a tenant to get rental payments. A post-trial crime by a lawyer against his client does not spoil the trial as a matter of law; prejudice must be shown. Re could not establish prejudice. The lawyer who embezzled his funds played only a peripheral role in the trial. View "Re v. United States" on Justia Law