Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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After plaintiffs filed a class action against defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA), plaintiffs negotiated a settlement agreement with Welspun for the wage claim and attorneys' fees. However, the district court did not approve the settlement because it determined that the claim and fees were not separately negotiated. When the parties presented the district court with only the wage-claim portion of the settlement, the district court approved it. The district court subsequently partially granted plaintiffs' motion for an award of attorneys' fees and costs, awarding $1.00 in fees. Alternatively, the district court noted that it would award $25,000 in fees if $1.00 was improper.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not clearly err when it denied the parties' joint motion for approval of the settlement based on its conclusion that the FLSA claims and the attorneys' fees were not separately negotiated. However, because the record contains no lodestar calculation, the court vacated the award of attorneys' fees. In this case, plaintiffs' claim was not frivolous or groundless, and it is unlikely that a $1.00 attorneys' fee is reasonable. Furthermore, the court cannot conduct a meaningful review of the district court's alternative award. The court declined to reassign the case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vines v. Welspun Pipes Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of $283,609.15 in attorneys' fees to Manning in this action arising out of a contract dispute between Kinder, a general contractor, and Manning, a subcontractor.The court concluded that the district court properly applied Arkansas state law to decide the matter because the issue of attorneys' fees is a procedural matter governed by Arkansas law. The court also concluded that the subcontract's silence as to Manning's ability to recover attorneys' fees as the prevailing party does not operate as a waiver of its right to recover such fees under Ark. Code Ann.16-22-308. The court further concluded that because the requested attorneys' fees were incurred by Manning, Manning's recovery of such attorneys' fees is not prohibited under Ark. Code Ann. 23-79-208. View "Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Union, Welfare Plan, and Pension Plan filed suit against Anderson Excavating, requesting that the district court order Anderson Excavating to pay the contributions it allegedly owes to the Welfare Plan and Pension Plan, along with interest, liquidated damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. The district court found Anderson Excavating liable to plaintiffs for delinquent contributions and entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs. Anderson Excavating appealed, and the Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court legally erred in applying the alter-ego doctrine to justify an award of unpaid contributions for an alleged employee's work.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on remand, concluding that the district court did not err in calculating the prejudgment interest at the rate set by the Delinquent Policy and Procedure document adopted by the Plan Trustees as part of the trust agreement, which Anderson had agreed to; the district court properly calculated the amount of liquidated damages, which was based on the amount of prejudgment interest; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees. View "Marshall v. Anderson Excavating & Wrecking Co." on Justia Law

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In 2018, plaintiffs filed suit against Missouri under Section 5 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Plaintiffs ultimately obtained a preliminary injunction requiring Missouri to send voter registration forms to thousands of Missouri citizens and to make certain changes to its voter registration procedures in time for the 2018 midterm elections. In 2019, the parties entered into a settlement agreement that resolved all remaining issues except for attorney's fees. The district court noted that Missouri did not dispute plaintiffs' status as the prevailing party, and therefore granted plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees a few months later and awarded plaintiffs $1,143,627.96 in fees and $27,484.15 in litigation expenses.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that plaintiffs reasonably expended 3,251.38 hours on this matter. The court also concluded that the district court sufficiently considered the Johnson factors in determining the reasonableness of the lodestar amount and did not abuse its discretion. View "League of Women Voters of Missouri v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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After the parties resolved a dispute involving a challenge by Native American residents of North Dakota to portions of the States elections statutes with a consent decree, the district court granted plaintiffs' motions for attorney's fees.The Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that, although plaintiffs' motion was untimely under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54, plaintiffs' failure to meet the filing deadline was the result of excusable neglect. In this case, there is no evidence that plaintiffs acted in bad faith; there are defensible reasons for their delay; and the Secretary could have factored the uncertainty in the law into his decision whether to appeal the injunction. View "Spirit Lake Tribe v. Jaeger" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to HHW and DKH in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging professional malpractice and negligence. The court concluded that the district court did not err in ruling that the "Q" deduction did not apply to the estate return in January 2013, and DKH was not professionally negligent in failing to claim the deduction. Furthermore, the district court did not err in ruling that a certified public accountant was not negligent in failing to wait to file the return until the amendment was enacted.The court also concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment on plaintiff's legal malpractice claim; the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to sua sponte extend discovery deadlines to allow plaintiff to submit another expert affidavit; and the district court properly granted summary judgment on the aiding and abetting claim, as well as the RICO claim. Finally, the district court did not err in ruling that questions -- regarding whether an individual, who was not a party in this case, breached a fiduciary duty and whether the district court should declare specific rental rates -- were not at issue and denying summary judgment. View "Schreier v. Drealan Kvilhaug Hoefker & Co." on Justia Law

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Azarax filed suit against defendant and his law firm, alleging legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. Azarax claimed that defendant and his firm were negligent in their representation of Convey Mexico and that Azarax had claims against defendant and his firm as a successor by merger to Convey Mexico.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint and agreed with the district court that Azarax was not a valid successor in interest to Convey Mexico. In this case, the summary judgment record established that the shareholders of Convey Mexico did not unanimously provide written consent for the merger with Azarax Holding, so the merger was not valid. Therefore, Azarax lacked standing to sue defendant and his law firm. The court modified the judgment to dismiss the complaint without prejudice. View "Azarax, Inc. v. Syverson" on Justia Law

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Dat was born in a Kenyan refugee camp in 1993. Admitted to the U.S. around 1994, he became a lawful permanent resident. Dat pled guilty to robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951, and was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment. Dat’s robbery conviction is a deportable offense, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Dat moved to vacate his guilty plea, claiming that his attorney, Allen, assured him that his immigration status would not be affected by his plea. Allen testified that she repeatedly told Dat the charges were “deportable offenses,” that she never told him, his mother, or his fiancée that he would not be deported. that she encouraged Dat to hire an immigration attorney, and that they reviewed the Plea Petition, which says that non-citizens would be permanently removed from the U.S. if found guilty of most felony offenses. The Plea Agreement refers to immigration consequences. Dat and Allen also reviewed the PSR, which stated that immigration proceedings would commence after his release from custody.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding that Dat was not denied effective assistance of counsel. It was objectively reasonable for Allen to tell Dat that he “could” face immigration ramifications that “could” result in deportation. An alien with a deportable conviction may still seek “relief from removal. These “immigration law complexities” should caution any defense attorney not to advise a defendant considering a guilty plea that the result of a post-conviction, contested removal proceeding is certain. View "Dat v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the Estate's motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A). This action stemmed from a legal malpractice action against DLG, alleging that DLG had failed to fully advise the deceased of the consequences of filing for judicial dissolution.The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting defendant's expert's responses to defense counsel's hypothetical questions regarding standard of care. The court explained that the expert's testimony did not add factual bases to support his opinion beyond what his supplemental expert opinion disclosed. Furthermore, any error in admitting the testimony was harmless in light of its minimal prejudice. View "Estate of Douglas M. West v. Domina Law Group, PC LLO" on Justia Law

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A.C.'s Westside eighth-grade class watched a video about athletes kneeling during the national anthem. During a “critical thinking” discussion, the teacher insisted that A.C. share her ideas. A.C. stated that “kneeling was disrespectful to law enforcement and military," and questioned that violence could have stemmed from music lyrics including "F-the Police, and the use of the N-word.’” A.C. stayed home the next day due to illness. The teacher allegedly told students that A.C. was a racist and was on suspension. A.C. was subjected to bullying. After meeting with school officials, her parents removed A.C. from school. A.C. attempted suicide. Her parents contacted eight lawyers. but were unable to retain one.On behalf of A.C., they filed the pro se 42 U.S.C. 1983 lawsuit. The court ruled that they could not serve pro se as A.C.’s representatives and lacked standing to bring individual claims that only derive from alleged violations of their child’s constitutional rights. They contacted 27 more lawyers and organizations. They refiled, requesting court-appointed counsel. The district court refused, reasoning that the claims were “not likely to be of substance,” and that A.C. lacked standing for declaratory and injunctive relief, as she was no longer a student at Westside. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that the parents may not represent A.C. pro se but remanded with directions to appoint counsel. The court did not err in considering the potential merit of the claims and other relevant factors in deciding whether to request counsel but the allegation of First Amendment retaliation is a serious claim on which the plaintiffs and the court would benefit from the assistance of counsel. View "Crozier v. Westside Community School District" on Justia Law