Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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On remand from the district court in light of the Supreme Court's opinion in CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 136 S. Ct. 1642 (2016), the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorney's fees, expenses, and costs to CRST. The court reviewed the district court's detailed order in which it exhaustively explained its rationale for why certain claims brought by the EEOC were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, and held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in applying the Christiansburg standard. In this case, the district court reaffirmed its prior findings that the EEOC's failure to satisfy Title VII's presuit requirements satisfied the Christiansburg standard for the claims dismissed on this basis; the district court exhaustively explained why 71 of the claims dismissed on summary judgment were frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless; and the court rejected the EEOC's argument that it reasonably sought relief for the remaining women on summary judgment based on the pattern-or-practice method of proof. Furthermore, the court rejected the EEOC's arguments that CRST failed to satisfy the Fox standard regarding fees attributable to frivolous claims. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that TMBC's nationwide practice of charging a fee for preparing legal documents when selling boats and trailers constituted unauthorized law business in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. 484.010 and 484.020. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the class, but reversed the award of attorney's fees and costs. The court directed the district court to enforce a contractual fee-shifting provision that entitled the class to recover "all litigation costs and expenses, including reasonable attorneys' fees" from TMBC. On remand, the district court shifted $2,398,353.09 in attorney's fees to TMBC but awarded $700,000 in costs from the common fund. Plaintiffs appealed. The court held that plaintiffs suffered a concrete injury and therefore had standing to bring this action. The court found no error in the amount of attorney's fees and costs awarded, but reversed the district court's decision to award plaintiffs costs from the common fund rather than shifting them to TMBC. View "McKeage v. Bass Pro Outdoor World, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the law firm's motion to compel arbitration between the firm and its client. The court held that the law firm's offer to pay plaintiff's share of the arbitration costs cured any substantive unconscionability that the agreement may have contained; the offer also cured any issue regarding substantive unconscionability where the arbitration provision in effect allowed only the firm to obtain redress of claims; plaintiff has not demonstrated that she lacked meaningful choice, and thus the circumstances giving rise to the lawsuit did not render the retainer agreement procedurally unconscionable; and the language in the agreement adequately disclosed the consequences of the arbitration provision, and the agreement was not unenforceable because the firm violated their ethical duties under DC Circuit precedent. View "Plummer v. McSweeney" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff, an attorney, discovered that SBAND was using his compulsory dues to oppose a state ballot measure he supported, plaintiff filed suit against SBAND and various state officials in their official capacities, alleging First Amendment claims. The district court granted summary judgment for defendants and the Eighth Circuit affirmed. A year later, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). On remand from the Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit again affirmed the district court's judgment and held that Janus did not alter its prior decision explaining why the district court did not err in granting summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's claim that SBAND's procedures violate his right to "affirmatively consent" before subsidizing non-germane expenditures. The court held that plaintiff forfeited his claim that mandatory state bar association membership violates the First Amendment by compelling him to pay dues and to associate with an organization that engages in political or ideological activities; SBAND's revised fee statement and procedures clearly do not force members to pay non-chargeable dues over their objection; nothing in the summary judgment record suggests that SBAND's revised fee statement is so confusing that it fails to give SBAND members adequate notice of their constitutional right to take the Keller deduction. View "Fleck v. Wetch" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant in an action brought by plaintiffs and Glow Hospitality alleging claims against defendant, an attorney, for fraud and breach of fiduciary duties. Plaintiffs also alleged a vicarious liability claims against defendant's law firm. Count I is premised on a factually-complex relationship and intertwined history and on allegations that defendant failed to disclose information, failed to investigate, made false statements to the state court, and, primarily, engaged in dual representation. The court held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment, because Glow failed to support Count I, which lies outside the jury's common knowledge, with expert testimony. Count II alleged that defendant breached his fiduciary duties to Glow by failing to conduct further investigation into Glow's ownership interests, failing to update his opinion letter to First National, making false representations in his affidavits to the state court, and negligently overseeing the operation of Glow. The court held that Minn. Stat. 544.42 applies to Count II, and Glow's failure to comply with section 544.42's affidavit requirements mandated dismissal of this claim. Finally, the court held that the fraud claims were property dismissed, summary judgment on the aiding and abetting claim was proper, and the vicarious liability claims failed. View "Sandhu v. Kanzler" on Justia Law

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After JetMidwest filed suit against JMG for breaching a loan agreement, the district court granted summary judgment to JetMidwest but denied its motion for reimbursement of its attorneys' fees under the agreement. As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that a Hong Kong limited company is equivalent to a U.S. corporation under 28 U.S.C. 1332. Therefore, the district court properly exercised subject matter jurisdiction under section 1332 and the court had appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291. On the merits, the court disagreed with the district court's interpretation of the agreement, holding that the use of the sweeping language "all costs and expenses" reflects the parties' intent that JMG would pay Jet Midwest's attorneys' fees and other costs for enforcing as well as preparing the agreement. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for consideration of an appropriate award. View "Jet Midwest International Co., Ltd. v. Jet Midwest Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of TJN's 42 U.S.C. 1983 action against defendants, in an action arising from the Craighead County District Judges Boling and Fowler's implementation of an Amnesty Program forgiving all fees that probationers owed to TJN for probation services. The court held that Judges Boling and Fowler were entitled to absolute judicial immunity against all of TJN's claims, because Arkansas judges have authority to suspend the imposition of fines in criminal cases and may modify terms and conditions of supervision. Furthermore, TJN's request for declaratory relief was retrospective and thus it was not entitled to such relief under section 1983. The court also rejected the municipal liability claims and held that the judges are state government officials whose actions are not attributable to the county or city defendants. View "Justice Network Inc. v. Craighead County" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of OGT's motion for attorney's fees in a quiet title action. The court held that North Dakota Century Code 35-24-19 does not provide for an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a quiet title action. The court held that the statute was not ambiguous and the court need not address OGT's public policy arguments. View "Oil & Gas Transfer LLC v. Karr" on Justia Law

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Any authority for judicial approval of Fair Labor Standards Act settlements in 29 U.S.C. 216 does not extend to review of settled attorney fees. Plaintiff appealed the district court's order modifying the attorney fees in the parties' settlement agreement. The Eighth Circuit vacated the portion of the district court's judgment awarding the fees, holding that the district court lacked authority to review the settled attorney fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41. In this case, the parties were entitled to settle the attorney fee issue and no law gave the district court authority to interfere with that unconditional right. View "Barbee v. Big River Steel LLC" on Justia Law

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After Mako acquired a historic building with intentions to restore it using state and federal historic tax credits, it retained the law firm of Winthrop & Weinstine to draft the tax credit bond. CRBT then retained Winthrop to represent it in connection with the building tax credit project. CRBT, through counsel Winthrop, later sought to foreclose on the building. Mako retained separate counsel and moved to dismiss the complaint and to disqualify Winthrop. The district court denied both of Mako's motions and awarded $5.2 million to CRBT. The Eighth Circuit held that the district court did not err by denying Mako's motion to dismiss the action for failure to join Chevron as a necessary party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a)(1); the district court did not err in calculating the money judgment; and, although the district court erred in failing to disqualify Winthrop as counsel for CRBT, the error was harmless. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment for money damages; reversed the district court's denial to disqualify counsel in any future proceedings; and, as proceedings continue and the Winthrop law firm has a conflict of interest necessitating removal as counsel, remanded for further proceedings. View "Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust Co. v. Mako One Corp." on Justia Law