Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action challenging the district court's award of attorney's fees and costs. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting the attorneys' rates or in excluding the managing partner's hours as unwarranted. However, the district court abused its discretion by excluding all hours related to plaintiff's three summary judgment motions and 1.6 hours for two oppositions: to a successful motion for extension of time to file the answer, and to a successful motion to continue the trial. Finally, the court need not appoint a new judge for remand where judicial rulings alone almost never constitute a valid basis for a bias or partiality motion, and judicial remarks that are critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to a party ordinarily do not support a bias or partiality challenge. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Burton v. Nilkanth Pizza Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorney's fees to plaintiffs in an action alleging violations of the McKinney-Vento Act (MVA), the Rehabilitation Act (RA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court declined to take up an issue regarding whether the MVA provides a private right of action for students experiencing homelessness and their families for the first time on appeal. The court explained that the State never raised an argument in the district court that the students and their mothers lacked a cause of action or that they could not recover attorneys' fees for time spent pursuing the claim. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in making the State jointly and severally liable for the fees imposed against the district defendants. View "Scott C. v. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of over $3 million in attorney fees and expenses to plaintiffs in a settlement involving Missouri's foster-care system. Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of a group of foster children, alleging that Missouri did not have adequate procedures in place to guard against the overuse of psychotropic drugs. The court concluded that the district court properly placed the burden on plaintiffs to support the hours claimed. The district court then evaluated the billing records, attorney-by-attorney, and disregarded any entries that were excessive or vague, leaving no doubt that plaintiffs had failed to prove their entitlement to all the fees and expenses they had requested. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in setting the fee award and rejected defendants' contentions to reduce the award. View "M.B. v. Tidball" on Justia Law

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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