Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Matthew Kezhaya v. City of Belle Plaine
Appellant Attorney Kezhaya represented The Satanic Temple, Inc., in its lawsuits against the City of Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The Temple sued the City, claiming that the City opened a limited public forum for a Christian monument, but closed the forum to exclude a Satanic monument. The City sought $33,886.80 in attorney’s fees incurred by responding to the complaint in the second lawsuit and preparing the motion for sanctions. The court determined that the rates charged by the City’s counsel were reasonable but observed that a portion of the work was duplicative of the first lawsuit and that the issues unique to the second lawsuit were not complex, novel, or difficult. The court thus reduced the requested amount by fifty percent and ordered the Temple’s counsel to pay the City $16,943.40 under Rule 11(c). Kezhaya appealed the sanctions order. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by (i) imposing sanctions, (ii) failing to consider non-monetary sanctions, and (iii) granting an arbitrary amount of sanctions. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the circumstances, it disagreed with Kezhaya’s contention about the righteousness of a second lawsuit. For the claims dismissed “without prejudice” in the first lawsuit, Kezhaya and the Temple made a strategic choice to seek leave to amend the complaint to correct the deficiencies identified in the dismissal order. Further, the court found that even if the City’s insurance carrier ultimately paid the fees, the fees were “incurred” for the motion and could be awarded under Rule 11(c)(2). View "Matthew Kezhaya v. City of Belle Plaine" on Justia Law
Eric Sorenson v. Joanne Sorenson
After (Decedent) died, two of his three adult children brought a pro se diversity action in the District of Minnesota against Defendant, Decedent’s second wife. They asserted multiple claims arising from Defendant’s alleged use of her power as Decedent’s attorney-in-fact to close two Certificates of Deposit and keep funds that Decedent intended would benefit his children. Defendant moved to dismiss, alleging lack of diversity jurisdiction because Decedent’s third child, like Defendant, is a resident of California and is an indispensable, non-diverse party. Defendant filed a second motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiffs’ incomplete assignment did not establish diversity jurisdiction. The district court determined it has diversity subject matter jurisdiction and dismissed the FAC claims with prejudice because they fail to state a claim and Plaintiffs are not real parties in interest. Plaintiffs appealed the district court’s dismissal. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court found that the district court properly granted Defendant’s Rule 12(b)(6) motion because Plaintiffs’ FAC failed to state plausible claims of fraudulent misrepresentation and civil theft. Therefore, the court wrote it need not separately consider the district court’s alternative ruling that Plaintiffs are not “real parties in interest” under Rule 17(a). Further, the court concluded the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing with prejudice the claims asserted in the FAC. The court explained it does not agree that additional claims regarding Defendant’s use of the CD proceeds after she was done acting as Attorney-in-Fact would necessarily have been futile. But without a proposed amended complaint to consider, the district court did not abuse its discretion by assuming they would be. View "Eric Sorenson v. Joanne Sorenson" on Justia Law
Teresa Thompson v. William Harrie
Plaintiff, individually and as special administrator of the Estate of her father (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), appealed following the district court’s dismissal of her claims for legal malpractice, fraud, and deceit against attorneys (collectively, “the law firm”). The Eighth Circuit granted Plaintiff’s motion to supplement the record. However, the court affirmed, reasoning that the court predicts the South Dakota Supreme Court would prohibit the assignment of legal malpractice claims and the district court did not err in dismissing the remaining claims. The court explained that Plaintiff asserts the district court erred when it dismissed her fraud and deceit claims against the law firm. To the extent Plaintiff intended to state a claim for fraud or deceit claim, no such claim actually appears in the amended complaint— especially in light of South Dakota’s requirement that fraud and deceit be pled with particularity. While the original complaint contained an allegation of fraud and deceit, the failure to retain that allegation in the amended complaint is dispositive. The only remaining allegations pertain to punitive damages, but an assertion of punitive damages is not a free-standing cause of action under South Dakota law. View "Teresa Thompson v. William Harrie" on Justia Law
Herbert Igbanugo v. Minnesota OLPR
Plaintiff, an attorney, sued the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, associated government officials, and lawyers and other private defendants alleging, among other claims, they violated his constitutional rights by pursuing an ethics complaint against him. The district court granted the state defendants' motion to dismiss under Younger v. Harris and found that Plaintiff waived his abuse-of-process claim against the private defendants. The court also held that Plaintiff lacked standing to seek sanctions based on the private defendants' alleged violations of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in any of its determinations, the Eighth Circuit affirmed. View "Herbert Igbanugo v. Minnesota OLPR" on Justia Law
Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP v. Neal Lewis
Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP (Wagstaff) filed a declaratory-judgment action against the Defendant-Attorney, seeking a declaration that Wagstaff owed nothing to Defendant for any work on a wrongful death lawsuit or, in the alternative, a determination of the amount it owed to Defendant. Defendant filed counterclaims against Wagstaff, including a counterclaim under the theory of quantum meruit. The district court entered judgment in Wagstaff’s favor. On appeal, Defendant argued that the district court erred in (1) denying his motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction (2) denying his motion for leave to dismiss counterclaims without prejudice and motions for leave to file his second amended answer (3) denying his motion to dismiss the declaratory-judgment action without prejudice under the abstention doctrine and motion to reconsider the denial of that dismissal motion and (4) denying, in part, his motion to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, relief from judgment.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in Plaintiff’s favor. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion to alter or amend the judgment or, in the alternative, relief from judgment. The court held that the district court reasonably interpreted Defendant’s response to Wagstaff’s third summary judgment motion as an abandonment of his quantum meruit claim. In addition, Defendant had not sustained his burden of proving that Wagstaff has engaged in misconduct that prevented him from fully and fairly presenting his case. View "Wagstaff & Cartmell, LLP v. Neal Lewis" on Justia Law
United States v. David Garner
Defendant is an inmate serving a sentence in federal custody after he was convicted in 2007 for unlawful possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. After a hearing, the district court ordered Defendant committed to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment of a mental disease or defect at the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri. Defendant filed a notice of appeal on his own without counsel, and the clerk of this court appointed the federal public defender to represent Defendant on appeal. Counsel filed a motion to withdraw from representing Defendant and a separate motion to file counsel’s motion to withdraw under seal. The Eighth Circuit denied the motion to file under seal as overbroad. The court explained that a proper motion to seal should be narrowly drawn and accompanied by a proposed redacted filing for the public docket. Here, counsel’s present motion seeks to seal the entire motion to withdraw without any proffered justification. Further, counsel failed to state any cited authority or developed an argument as to why a court’s decision to commit a person against his will for mental health treatment should be made and reviewed in secret. However, the court granted the the motion to withdraw and will not require a brief of the sort described in Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967). The court wrote that on review of the motion and the record, the court is satisfied that counsel’s ethical obligation to refrain from prosecuting a frivolous appeal justifies his motion to withdraw. View "United States v. David Garner" on Justia Law
Gerber Products Co. v. Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard, PLLC
The Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the law firm in a legal malpractice action brought by Gerber, alleging that the firm disclosed privileged documents. Applying the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers, the court concluded that Gerber will have to show that the attorneys' negligence led, in a natural and continuous sequence, to the extra fees paid, and that it would not have incurred the fees in the absence of the firm's negligence. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. The court also concluded that corrective fees are available, even without an underlying judgment. The court agreed with the district court that the action was not barred by the applicable statute of limitations. View "Gerber Products Co. v. Mitchell Williams Selig Gates & Woodyard, PLLC" on Justia Law
Oden v. Shane Smith Enterprises, Inc.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's reduction of SLF's request for an award of attorneys' fees. The court also affirmed the denial of SLF's motion to recuse, concluding that the unsupported and self-serving affidavit submitted by an SLF employee was not enough to leave the court with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake occurred. The court stated that recognizing SLF's practices for what they are—overbilling— does not call a judge's ability to render a fair judgment into question. The court rejected SLF's argument that the district court abused its discretion by excluding some of SLF's work from its fee calculation and imposing a 20% reduction on SLF's requested fees. Rather, SLF engaged in negotiating tactics that unreasonably extended the litigation, wasting the district court's time and resources. Therefore, the district court was entitled to reduce the lodestar calculation by considering appropriate factors, including unprofessional conduct. View "Oden v. Shane Smith Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law
ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Legacy Steel Building, Inc.
In 2015, Elite sued Legacy for breach of contract. Attorney Bredahl received a $5,000 check from Legacy. On December 30, 2015, and February 26, 2016, he appeared on behalf of Legacy in the Elite suit. Bredahl did not respond to discovery, resulting in an order banning Legacy from putting on evidence at trial. Legacy later retained Hankey Law but neither Legacy nor any defense counsel attended the March 2017 trial. Elite won a $1 million judgment. Elite and Legacy settled the suit for $575,000 in 2018.In October 2017, ALPS issued an insurance policy to Bredahl with loss inclusion starting October 1, 2016. In January 2018, Legacy notified ALPS of a potential claim. Legacy sued Bredahl in April 2019. Bredahl notified ALPS, which indicated that it would defend that suit subject to a complete reservation of rights, then sought a declaratory judgment that the Policy did not apply to the Legacy suit.The district court held that ALPS had no duty to indemnify or defend Bredahl. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Policy does not apply to the Legacy suit if the “Insured” knew or reasonably should have known, as of the October 1, 2017 effective date, that his conduct during the Elite suit might be the basis for a “demand for money” against him. Before that date, Bredahl knew of acts or omissions in the Elite suit and reasonably should have known Legacy might bring a claim against him, View "ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Legacy Steel Building, Inc." on Justia Law
Crutcher v. MultiPlan, Inc.
Plaintiff, the owner of TLDI, filed suit against MultiPlan and PHCS, alleging numerous causes of action, including those relevant to this appeal—breach of contract and a right to an award of attorneys' fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of attorneys' fees, concluding that the Network Agreement's indemnity clause does not permit recovery of attorneys' fees in this dispute between the contracting parties.However, the court reversed the district court's holding that plaintiff's conduct waived the contractual amendment-in-writing requirement, concluding that waiver and modification have been pleaded adequately. Furthermore, even assuming arguendo that Multiplan presented evidence sufficient to establish the presumption of receipt, plaintiffs countered with evidence that it was not received. Finally, the court concluded that alterations in position suffice as to consideration. In this case, the revised fee schedule together with the increased potential patient pool changed the obligations of both parties. View "Crutcher v. MultiPlan, Inc." on Justia Law