Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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In 2001-2013, Ridgeway worked for Stryker, which believed that Ridgeway intended to use its confidential business information at his next job. Stryker sued Ridgeway. A jury found that Ridgeway had breached his contractual obligations, breached his fiduciary duty, and violated Michigan’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA) and that the MUTSA violation was willful and malicious for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees. Ridgeway filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The automatic stay caused by the filing of the petition prevented Stryker from making an attorney’s fee request in the Michigan proceedings. Stryker filed a proof of claim for $2,272,369.54, supported by hundreds of pages of time entries; the amount claimed and the corresponding time entries do not just relate to the lawyers’ work on the MUTSA claim. Stryker argued that, under the “Common Core” doctrine, its win on the MUTSA claim entitles it to attorney’s fees for all of its claims. Ridgeway argued that fee recovery under the Common Core doctrine “is reserved for fee awards in civil rights cases.”The bankruptcy court allowed Stryker’s proof of claim, including fees claimed under the Common Core doctrine. The district court and Fifth Circuit affirmed. Ridgeway has not shown that Michigan law requires statutory attorney’s fees to be “proved at trial.” The court upheld the striking of Ridgeway's "Common Core" objection as a sanction. Ridgeway did not comply with a court order to specify to which charges his objection applied. View "Ridgeway v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the law firms in an action brought by the firms against a former client, seeking to enforce the terms of the parties' contingency fee agreement.After determining that it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the court held that the parties' contingency fee agreement violates Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(a). The court held that a contingency fee arrangement resulting in an attorney owning part of the client's business is a business transaction under Rule 1.8(a). The court explained that, because the terms of the contingency fee agreement in this case give the firms an ownership interest in the client's holding company, Rule 1.8(a) applies, and the firms were required to advise the client to seek the advice of independent counsel. Because the firms failed to do so, the contingency fee award is void. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Wiener Weiss & Madison v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees incurred at trial and during the first appeal to this court. This appeal arose from a bench trial where plaintiff, a former Austin city councilman, prevailed on some but not all of his First Amendment claims against the City of Austin.As a preliminary matter, the court held that the district court's ancillary enforcement jurisdiction covered the "collateral issue" of plaintiff's attorney fee request. On the merits, the court held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiff's fee request because plaintiff waived his right to request fees incurred at trial. Even if the district court had discretion to excuse the delay in filing, no error occurred by failing to exercise the discretion. Furthermore, the district court did not err when it denied plaintiff's request for fees incurred on appeal where he made no request within the 14-day time period after the district court entered its initial judgment, and there also was no new judgment entered following a reversal or remand from this court. View "Zimmerman v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs, African-American voters and the Terrebonne Parish NAACP, filed suit to challenge the electoral method for Louisiana's 32nd Judicial District Court (JDC), alleging that at-large elections for the judges produce discriminatory results, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and have been maintained for a discriminatory purpose in violation of that statute and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court upheld both claims and ordered a remedial plan breaking the 32nd JDC into five single-member electoral subdistricts.The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court clearly erred in its finding of minority vote dilution in the election of judges for Terrebonne Parish's 32nd JDC. The court held that the district court erred in holding that weak evidence of vote dilution could overcome the state's substantial interest in linking judicial positions to the judges' parish-wide jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court erroneously equated failed legislative attempts to create subdistricts for the 32nd JDC with a racially discriminatory intent. View "Fusilier v. Landry" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The court held that 29 U.S.C. 1132(g)(1) does not provide unfettered discretion to courts to award fees. The court explained that a fees claimant whose only victory was an interlocutory ruling by the Court of Appeals that his complaint should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim has not received any relief on the merits. In this case, plaintiff persuaded the court to reverse the district court's summary judgment ruling in favor of Humana. If plaintiff achieves some success on the merits on remand, she may then ask for fees. View "Katherine P. v. Humana Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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The IRS served a John Doe summons on the Texas Law Firm, which provides tax-planning advice, seeking documents for “U.S. taxpayers," who, during specified years, used the Firm's services "to acquire, establish, maintain, operate, or control" a foreign financial account, asset, or entity or any foreign or domestic financial account or assets in the name of such foreign entity. A John Doe summons, described in 26 U.S.C. 7609(c)(1), does not identify the person with respect to whose liability the summons is issued. The government made the required showings that the summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class, there is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of internal revenue law, and the information sought and the identity of the person or persons is not readily available from other sources. The Firm moved to quash, claiming that, despite the general rule a lawyer’s clients’ identities are not covered by the attorney-client privilege, an exception exists where disclosure would result in the disclosure of confidential communication.The Fifth Circuit affirmed in favor of the government. Blanket assertions of privilege are disfavored. The Firm's clients’ identities are not connected inextricably with privileged communication. If the Firm wishes to assert privilege as to any responsive documents, it may do so, using a privilege log to detail the foundation for each claim. View "Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm. P.L.L.C. v. United States" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff filed suit against Portfolio under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and state law, the parties reached a settlement that forgave plaintiff's debt and awarded him $1,000 in damages. The district court then determined that plaintiff's attorneys did not settle his lawsuit quickly enough and consequently sanctioned them.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's sanction order, holding that the district court abused its discretion by awarding attorney's fees sua sponte under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Furthermore, the reasons the district court proffered for sanctions were meritless. Because the district court judge was not biased against plaintiff, the court affirmed the denial of plaintiff's recusal motion. In this case, the judge's ire was clearly directed at the attorneys, not plaintiff. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, remanding for further proceedings. View "Tejero v. Portfolio Recovery Assoc., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Board for its refusal to waive the active practice requirement to accommodate his disability. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claim as barred by sovereign immunity.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims under the first prong of United States v. Georgia, because plaintiff did not allege any conduct that violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court explained that the active practice requirement ensures that applicants have both achieved and maintained the skill and knowledge required to practice law in Texas. By waiving this requirement to admit a lawyer who has neither passed the Texas bar exam nor practiced law for thirteen years would not inform the Board of whether plaintiff currently has the necessary knowledge and skill to practice law. Therefore, the modification plaintiff sought was not reasonable. The court did not reach the issue relied on by the district court. However, plaintiff's claims should have been dismissed without prejudice and thus the court modified the district court's dismissal. View "Block v. Texas Board of Law Examiners" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees to both parties, because both parties prevailed in this case. The court found two prevailing parties where Genesis obtained the $722,346.35 that materially alters the relationship between the parties and placed Hornbeck in Genesis's debt. Furthermore, Hornbeck obtained a $117,284.54 judgment that forced Genesis to pay an amount of money it otherwise would not pay. View "Genesis Marine, LLC v. Hornbeck Offshore Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff successfully challenged in bankruptcy court a tax penalty assessed against him by the IRS that exceeded $40 million, plaintiff filed suit against the IRS and three IRS agents, in their individual capacities, pleading a claim for damages against the individual defendants under Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), for allegedly violating his Fifth Amendment right to procedural due process. Plaintiff also sought attorney's fees he incurred litigating the penalty issue in his Chapter 11 bankruptcy case under 26 U.S.C. 7430 and the Equal Access to Justice Act.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion and dismissal of the action with prejudice. The court held that the district court properly concluded that this case was a new Bivens context and that special factors existed under Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S. Ct. 1843 (2017). The court also held that plaintiff was not entitled to recover attorney's fees because his request was untimely under 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(B) and he was not a "prevailing party" under 26 U.S.C. 7430(c)(4)(A)(ii). View "Canada, Jr. v. United States (Internal Revenue Service)" on Justia Law