Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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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

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In an action arising out of a fee dispute between a law firm and two clients, the action was removed to federal court and then the unpaid-fees claims proceeded to arbitration. The district court granted the firm relief from the stay and issued an order dividing the counterclaims into two categories: those the clients could raise in arbitration and those they could not. Determining that it had jurisdiction, the Eighth Circuit held that the clients' counterclaims were within the scope of what the parties agreed to arbitrate and the counterclaims seeking something else -- like money from the firm -- were not. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment, with one exception. The court held that the district court should not have decided that the clients terminated the relationship, because the arbitrator should decide the issue. View "Meierhenry Sargent LLP v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Estate appealed the district court's order denying its motion for reconsideration of an adverse grant of summary judgment. SPV cross-appealed the denial of its 28 U.S.C. 1927 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(g)(3) sanctions against the Estate's attorneys. The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering the Estate's motion for reconsideration because the Estate sought to use its motion for reconsideration for the impermissible purpose of introducing new arguments it could have raised earlier and failed to support those arguments with any evidence even after receiving additional time for discovery. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying 28 U.S.C. 1927 sanctions. The court reversed in part, holding that the district court erred by denying the Estate's request for sanctions under Rule 26(g)(1) with respect to Attorney Kroll. However, the district court did not abuse its discretion denying sanctions against Attorney Donahoe. View "SPV-LS, LLC v. The Estate of Nancy Bergman" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order limiting the scope of plaintiff's general causation phase discovery in this products liability suit alleging that plaintiff's husband's use of Enbrel caused his myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) which resulted in his death. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the scope of plaintiff's general causation discovery; the district court's basis for weighing proportionality was based on common sense and the search conducted by plaintiff's counsel during the discovery hearing; the district court did not rely on misrepresented facts by Amgen in issuing its discovery orders; any error in failing to provide plaintiff an opportunity to cross-examine Amgen's expert was harmless; the district court was under no obligation to order Amgen to provide plaintiff with materials the FDA requests—but does not require—from pharmaceutical companies when the agency evaluates safety risks; and plaintiff's assertion that the district court's order limiting the scope of her discovery prejudiced her case was rejected. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions under Rule 11 and by imposing sanctions under 28 U.S.C. 1927. Finally, the district court properly exercised its inherent power to sanction plaintiff's counsel, and here was no abuse of discretion View "Vallejo v. Amgen, Inc." on Justia Law

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Employees of a chicken processing plant filed a class action lawsuit, alleging their employer failed to pay certain wages in violation of Arkansas state law and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201. More than 1,000 workers opted in. The class was subsequently decertified and claims were subjected to the two-year FLSA limitations period. The parties eventually settled their dispute out-of-court for a confidential amount made known to the court, which approved the agreement but declined to award the agreed-upon $87,500.00 in attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses. The district court, sua sponte, reduced the fees awarded to $22,500.00. The Eighth Circuit remanded with instructions to award the agreed-upon fees. The attorneys’ fees-to-recovery ratio alone is not the sole determining factor. In light of the need to focus on multiple factors and not just one, and in light of the strong likelihood that the parties’ agreement is reasonable, any required review by the district court is light and the agreed-upon award is not outside the range of what would be approved. View "Melgar v. OK Foods" on Justia Law