Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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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

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to alter the distribution of attorney's fees set forth in a contingency fee sharing agreement between two law firms in a products liability case. The court noted that it is unusual for the courts to revise fee-sharing agreements between lawyers, negotiated at arm's length, based upon the perceived fairness of the agreements. However, the court explained that this was not a typical personal injury litigation matter, which the district court presided over for more than seven years.Reviewing the matter in light of the construct of the Minnesota Code of Professional Conduct, the court found that the district court correctly analyzed the proportionality prong of Minnesota Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(e) and did not abuse its discretion in altering the fee agreement and awarding the Padden Firm 15% of the disputed fee. The court also held that the district court did not err in finding that the Padden Firm did not take financial and ethical responsibility for the case within the meaning of Rule 1.5(e). View "Padden Law Firm, PLLC v. Trice" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying Napoli's quantum meruit request for attorney's fees. The court held that the district court did not fail to balance all factors and equities as required under Minnesota law when determining the reasonable value of Napoli's legal services. In this case, Napoli's services harmed, rather than helped, its clients. Therefore, the district court's consideration of additional factors would not have disturbed the district court's conclusion. The court also held that the district court applied the correct legal standard to consider the quantum meruit claims, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by considering allegations of misconduct, including Napoli's harm to its clients. View "Napoli Shkolnik PLLC v. Trice" on Justia Law

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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