Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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This case arose out of a dispute between two sets of lawyers who provided legal work for a mutual client. Thomas Tufts and the Tufts Law Firm, PLLC appealed the district court's order granting a motion to dismiss on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. Edward Hay and Pitts, Hay & Hugenschmidt, P.A. also filed a second motion to dismiss Tufts's action against them on the additional ground that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. After the district court found personal jurisdiction, Hay and his firm cross appealed.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Barton Doctrine. In this case, Tufts counsel initiated their action against Hay—court-approved counsel—and Tufts did not obtain leave of the bankruptcy court before doing so. The court held that the Barton doctrine has no application when jurisdiction over a matter no longer exists in the bankruptcy court. Thus, the bankruptcy court was properly vested with jurisdiction to consider this action if it could conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate. Here, the action could not conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate and thus the Barton doctrine does not apply. The court also held that the district court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Hay. The court reversed the district court's ruling on subject matter jurisdiction and remanded. View "Tufts v. Hay" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit dismissed bankruptcy appeals filed by attorney Breuer of Moffa & Breuer, who purported to represent the Trust. The bankruptcy court disqualified attorney Moffa and Moffa & Breuer from representing the Trust. Because the Trust was a 50 percent shareholder of the debtor created to ensure that Moffa & Breuer would collect its legal fees, the bankruptcy court concluded that Moffa & Breuer’s representation of a shareholder in which it had a business interest conflicted with its simultaneous representation of the debtor. Moffa & Breuer repeatedly ignored the disqualification order. Moffa, purportedly pro se in his capacity as trustee of the Trust and as an attorney for related entities, filed a competing plan of reorganization that would have released the debtor’s claims against his firm and made him president of the reorganized debtor.There has been no indication of an intent to appeal from any qualified agent of the Trust, only from disqualified attorneys. Moffa had no authority to act pro se in the bankruptcy court, so his filings do not suggest that the Trust intended to appeal. There is no justification for excusing these defective notices of appeal. When an appeal is taken on behalf of an artificial entity by someone without legal authority to do so, the appeal should be dismissed. View "J.J. Rissell, Allentown PA, Trust v. Kapila" on Justia Law

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The parties appealed the district court's award of attorney's fees in a class action settlement brought by banks against Home Depot to recover resulting losses from a data breach.The Eleventh Circuit held that this was a contractual fee-shifting case, and the constructive common-fund doctrine did not apply. The court held that the district court erred by enhancing class counsel's lodestar based on risk; the district court did not abuse its discretion in compensating class counsel for time on the card-brand recovery process and for time spent finding and vetting class representatives; and there was no merit to Home Depot's contention that the district court's order did not allow for meaningful review. The court also held that the district court properly excluded attorney's fees from the class benefit, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by including the $14.5 million premiums in the class benefit. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Northeastern Engineers Federal Credit Union v. Home Depot, Inc." on Justia Law

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Americaribe, a general contractor, appealed the district court's award of attorney's fees to Fidelity, the surety on a performance bond issued for a construction subcontract between Americaribe and the subcontractor CPM. The Eleventh Circuit reversed and held that Fidelity was not entitled to recover the attorney's fees it incurred in this litigation because neither the performance bond nor the subcontract provided for such an award of prevailing party attorney's fees. Because the district court abused its discretion in awarding Fidelity attorney's fees, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "International Fidelity Insurance Co. v. Americaribe-Moriarity JV" on Justia Law

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Objectors challenged a class action settlement between plaintiff and Godiva for claims under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA). Over the objections, the district court approved the settlement, class counsel's request for attorney's fees, and an incentive award for plaintiff.The Eleventh Circuit held that class members who objected to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3) class settlements but did not opt out were "parties" for purposes of appeal. Determining that Article III standing requirements were satisfied, the court held on the merits that the district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding attorney's fees despite a Rule 23(h) violation; the district court properly assessed the risks faced by the class and the compensation secured by class counsel, and did not abuse its discretion by awarding an above-benchmark percentage of the common fund; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting a $10,000 incentive award to plaintiff as class representative. View "Muransky v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction of a federal narcotics conspiracy offense, contending that his trial counsel had a conflict of interest that had an adverse effect on his performance at trial. The Eleventh Circuit held that counsel did have a conflict of interest when he represented a government witness who was then appealing his own sentence after pleading guilty to federal narcotics charges. Although counsel knew that the witness had been found to have obstructed justice in his own criminal case, counsel did not ask the witness about the obstruction scheme at defendant's trial. Therefore, the court remanded for the limited purpose of having the district court conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether counsel's conflict resulted in an adverse effect. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's award of sanctions against plaintiff and his attorneys in an action against Pro Transport and its owners, seeking to recover unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The court held that Slater v. U.S. Steel Corp., 871 F.3d 1174 (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc), made clear that plaintiff and his attorneys did not act in bad faith or took legal action that had no reasonable chance of success in litigating the FLSA claim. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion by imposing sanctions. View "Antonio Silva v. Pro Transport, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of petitioner in an action under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act to recover fees and costs. The court held that respondent failed to establish under the Act that an award of necessary expenses could be clearly inappropriate. In this case, the record developed on the merits of the wrongful removal petition was replete with evidence contradicting respondent's good faith argument. Therefore, the court affirmed the award of attorney fees, costs and expenses in the total amount of $89,490.26. View "Rath v. Marcoski" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case with prejudice for failure to state a claim, but on an alternative ground. The court held that counsel for homeowners filed a multi-count, incomprehensible complaint that flouted the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Circuit's well-established precedent. The court found that plaintiffs obstructed the due administration of justice in the district court by attempting to prosecute an incomprehensible pleading to judgment. Furthermore, plaintiffs were doing the same here by urging this court to uphold the sufficiency of their amended complaint. The court instructed counsel to show cause why the court should not order him to pay defendants double costs and their expenses, including the attorney's fees they incurred in defending these appeals. View "Jackson v. Specialized Loan Servicing LLC" on Justia Law

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C&S sought interlocutory review of the district court’s order concluding that the crime-fraud exception could defeat a law firm and its partner's assertions in discovery of attorney-client privilege and attorney work product protection. The Eleventh Circuit held that interlocutory review was appropriate to address only one aspect of the district court's order; vacated as improvidently granted the motion panel's order in part and elected not to exercise the court's discretion to review the question posed in that part: whether the district court erred in applying agency principles to conclude that C&S intended to commit a crime or fraud and created attorney work product or made communications in furtherance of the crime or fraud; declined to review this issue because it did not present a pure question of law suitable for review on an interlocutory basis under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b); and thus vacated the motion panel's earlier order in part and denied C&S's petition in part. The court held that the crime-fraud exception may defeat work product protection in this circumstance and thus affirmed the part of the district court's order determining that the crime-fraud exception could be applied in this case. View "Drummond Co. v. Conrad & Scherer, LLP" on Justia Law