Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Lake Eugenie Land & Dev. v. BP
This case stems from an investigation into improprieties in the Court-Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP) responsible for a class of claims related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Movants Glen Lerner and Jonathan Andry appeal the district court’s sanction order disqualifying them from further participation in the CSSP related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and Andry Lerner, L.L.C. appeals the denial of its motion to alter or amend the restrictions imposed on related attorneys’ fees that were escrowed in connection with the sanction. The district court found that Andry and Lerner had violated multiple rules under the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct. The court affirmed the district court's sanction order because that court acted within its inherent authority to supervise the settlement program and did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sanction. The court held that, in light of the Special Master’s representation that the parties intend to agree to appropriate amendments to the restrictions on the escrowed fees, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Andry Lerner, L.L.C.’s motion to alter or amend. The court left open to the district court the possibility of amending its orders upon submission of a properly supported motion. View "Lake Eugenie Land & Dev. v. BP" on Justia Law
Baker v. Deshong
OMSJ filed suit against defendant alleging, inter alia, trademark infringement in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1051 et seq., and the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Defendant created two websites to deconstruct the OMSJ's alleged misrepresentation of the effects of HIV and AIDS and allegedly false research that the OMSJ promulgated on its “HIV Innocence Group” webpage. The district court dismissed the Lanham Act claim, declined to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the state law claims, and denied defendant’s subsequent request for an award of attorney’s fees stemming from the allegedly frivolous trademark claims. In light of recent Supreme Court precedent, Octane Fitness, LLC v. Icon Health and Fitness, Inc., which expanded the standard under which a lawsuit presents an “exceptional case” meriting the award of attorney fees, the court reversed and remanded for reconsideration. The court merged Octane Fitness’s definition of “exceptional” into its interpretation of section 1117(a) of the Lanham Act and construe its meaning as follows: an exceptional case is one where (1) in considering both governing law and the facts of the case, the case stands out from others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position; or (2) the unsuccessful party has litigated the case in an “unreasonable manner.” The district court must address this issue “in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances.” View "Baker v. Deshong" on Justia Law
In re: William Goode
Appellant, a criminal defense attorney practicing in Lafayette, Louisiana, challenged his six-month suspension from the Western District of Louisiana. The suspension was imposed due to his violation of L. Crim. R. 53.5, which operates as a prior restraint against attorney speech during the pendency of a criminal trial. The court concluded that, under the plain language of Rule 53.5, appellant falls within the scope of the rule as an attorney associated with the defense where appellant stressed that, although he was not counsel of record, he was helping the defendant with his case, appellant assisted the defendant with trial preparation, and appellant attended several of the pretrial hearings. The court also concluded that the district court was not required to make a finding of bad faith before sanctioning appellant. Finally, the court held that Rule 53.5 is unconstitutional as applied to appellant and the court need not address appellant's facial challenge. Rule 53.5 does not incorporate either a “substantial likelihood standard” or even a “reasonable likelihood” standard, as required under United States v. Brown. In this case, the Government failed to demonstrate that the prior restraint is narrowly tailored and provides the least restrictive means to achieve the Government's goal. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "In re: William Goode" on Justia Law
United States v. Dvorin
Jason Dvorin appealed his conviction of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Dvorin's appeal has been consolidated with the appeal of Mindy Sauter, the attorney who prosecuted defendant during his first trial. Dvorin asserted that the district court erred in: (1) denying his request for an apparent-authority jury instruction; (2) denying his request for a special unanimity jury instruction; (3) overruling his objections under Federal Rules of Evidence 701 and 704 to the government counsels’ and witnesses’ use of the terms “fraud,” “fraudulent check,” or “conspiracy”; (4) excluding extrinsic evidence of and cross-examination regarding the district court’s findings that Chris Derrington, Pavillion Bank's executive vice president, testified falsely in a prior proceeding; (5) declining to award sanctions for prosecutorial discovery misconduct; (6) admitting the testimony of Chase Bank representative Arthemis Lindsay despite the government’s failure to timely designate Lindsay as a possible witness on its witness list; and (7) permitting the government to add a forfeiture count to the second superseding indictment before the second trial and entering a forfeiture judgment at sentencing without having a jury find the facts essential to that judgment. Sauter contends that the district court erroneously found that she violated Brady, Giglio, and Napue and acted “recklessly” by failing to timely disclose Derrington’s plea agreement supplement. The court reversed the district court’s denial of Dvorin’s motion to dismiss the forfeiture account for prosecutorial vindictiveness because the presumption of vindictiveness applied in this case where the government added a forfeiture notice in the second superseding indictment, and the government failed to overcome this presumption. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Dvorin" on Justia Law
Kingdom Fresh Produce, Inc., et al v. Delta Produc
The Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA), 7 U.S.C. 499e, is a Depression-era statute designed to protect sellers of perishable produce form delinquent purchasers. In this case, two such purchasers filed for bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court appointed special counsel to collect and disburse funds to PACA-protected sellers that had claims against the purchasers-turned-debtors. At issue on appeal is whether special counsel’s (Stokes) fees and expenses be disbursed from the PACA fund. Nowhere in the orders on the interim appeals is there an indication that the district court realized these were interlocutory orders and believed there was a benefit to hearing them in this piecemeal manner. That absence means the district court did not have appellate jurisdiction over the first two interim fee orders. Therefore the court vacated for lack of jurisdiction the district court’s order vacating the first and second fee awards. The court found that Kingdom Fresh has no standing to dispute the percentage of Stokes’s fee allocable to the nonobjecting parties. Only the small percentage of Stokes’s fee apportionable to Kingdom Fresh is at issue in this appeal; Stokes is free to keep the remainder. The court agreed with the Second Circuit that PACA’s unequivocal language requires that a PACA trustee - or in this case, its functional equivalent - may not be paid from trust assets “until full payment of the sums owing” is paid to all claimants. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order vacating the final fee award, but only as to Kingdom Fresh's pro rata share of the fees. View "Kingdom Fresh Produce, Inc., et al v. Delta Produc" on Justia Law
Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P.
Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against Allen Standford's lawyers, Thomas Sjoblom, and the law firms where he worked, arguing that they aided and abetted Stanford’s fraud and conspired to thwart the SEC’s investigation of Stanford’s Ponzi scheme. The district court subsequently denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint as barred by the attorney immunity under Texas law. The court held that, under Texas law, attorney immunity is a true immunity of suit, such that denial of a motion to dismiss based on attorney immunity is appealable under the collateral order doctrine. The court reversed the district court’s order denying defendants’ motions to dismiss based on attorney immunity now that the Texas Supreme Court has clarified that there is no “fraud exception” to attorney immunity. Accordingly, the court rendered judgment that the case is dismissed with prejudice. View "Troice v. Proskauer Rose, L.L.P." on Justia Law
Long v. GSDMIdea City, L.L.C.
Plaintiff appealed the district court's award of costs to defendant after the district court dismissed plaintiff's underlying qui tam case against defendant with prejudice based on judicial estoppel. The court concluded that the district court abused its discretion in awarding excessive costs for expert witness fees and awarding costs for the following: (1) expedited transcripts; (2) shipping, tabbing, and binding costs; and (3) PACER fees. Altogether, these costs amount to $7768.89. Accordingly, the court modified the award of costs by subtracting this amount. View "Long v. GSDMIdea City, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Naranjo v. Thompson
Plaintiff filed suit against the company managing the prison he was incarcerated in, and others, for multiple violations of his constitutional rights. On appeal, plaintiff challenged the district court’s denial of his motion for appointment of counsel to help litigate his civil rights claims against defendants. The district court denied the motion because it had no funding with which to compensate an appointed attorney, and it could find “no attorneys in the area willing or able to take the case pro bono.” Then the district court entered summary judgment against plaintiff. The court vacated and demanded, concluding that federal courts have inherent power to order counsel to accept an uncompensated appointment under the limited factual circumstances here. On remand, the district court must consider whether a compulsory appointment is warranted. View "Naranjo v. Thompson" on Justia Law
D.G. v. New Caney Indep. Sch. Dist.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq., seeking attorneys' fees after she proved in an administrative hearing that a school district had violated her child’s right to a free appropriate public education by repeatedly placing him in isolation during school hours. The court concluded that the district court erred in applying section 1415(i)(2)(B)’s limitations period to this action for attorneys’ fees under the IDEA by a party that prevailed at the administrative level. Because the statute contains no limitations period for such actions, the district court should have borrowed one from state law. The court held that the limitations period for such an action does not begin to run until the time for seeking judicial review of the underlying administrative decision passes, and that plaintiff’s action was timely under any limitations period that could be borrowed. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "D.G. v. New Caney Indep. Sch. Dist." on Justia Law