Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
At issue in this appeal of a settlement class action was how the district court allocated the $10 million in fees to plaintiffs' attorneys. The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's allocation order and remanded for elaboration of the trial court's reasoning under the framework set out in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, 488 F.2d 714, 717–19 (5th Cir. 1974), which include: (1) the time and labor involved; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the political "undesirability" of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases. View "Torres v. SGE Management, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Texas answered two certified questions, holding that the time for determining the existence and amount of unpaid commission due under Tex. Bus. & Com. Code section 54.001(1) is the time the jury or trial court determines the liability of the defendant, whether at trial or through another dispositive trial-court process such as a summary judgment; and that a plaintiff may recover attorney's fees and costs under section 54.004(2) even if the plaintiff does not receive treble damages, if the factfinder determines that the fees and costs were reasonably incurred under the circumstances. The Fifth Circuit held that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, and the district court was thus correct to grant summary judgment to Horsburgh on the treble damages claim. In this case, there were no unpaid commissions due at the time of judgment, because Horsburgh had already paid all of its outstanding commissions, plus interest. The court also held that CPTS was eligible for attorney's fees simply by virtue of Horsburgh's breach. Therefore, the district court correctly concluded that CPTS was not entitled to treble damages, but erred by granting summary judgment to Horsburgh without awarding CPTS reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "JCB, Inc. v. The Horsburgh & Scott Co." on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the 28 U.S.C. 1927 sanctions imposed against attorney John Morgan for advancing a meritless, immunity-barred claim against Judge Layne Walker. Morgan represented an attorney in an action alleging that Judge Walker fabricated a perjury accusation against her. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing the sanctions where the district court was best positioned to assess the propriety of Morgan's litigation misconduct. In this case, it could not be seriously disputed that Morgan unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings where he pursued a baseless claim with reckless disregard for his duty to the court. Furthermore, the court upheld the district court's award of Judge Walker's legal expenses. View "Morrison v. Walker" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas relief seeking reinstatement of his earned-release supervision (ERS) and trusty time. The district court dismissed the petition for failure to exhaust state remedies and denied Montalto's unopposed motions for sanctions and contempt, as well as criticized MDOC and its counsel for disregarding orders for production and not properly investigating the circumstances of Montalto's revocations. The Fifth Circuit held that judicial criticism amounting to an actual finding of attorney misconduct is directly appealable. Because the court was unable to determine whether the district court made actual findings of professional misconduct, the court remanded with instructions for the district court to clarify its findings regarding counsel's professional misconduct. View "Montalto v. Mississippi Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit held that the magistrate judge's dual role—generator and administrator of court fees—creates a conflict of interest when the judge sets an arrestee's bail, and therefore violates due process. Like the mayor in Ward v. Monroeville, the court held that because a magistrate judge must manage his chambers to perform the judicial tasks the voters elected him to do, he has a direct and personal interest in the fiscal health of the public institution that benefits from the fees his court generates and that he also helps allocate. Furthermore, the bond fees impact the bottom line of the court to a similar degree that the fines did in Ward. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's determination that the magistrate judge's institutional incentives create a substantial and unconstitutional conflict of interest when he determines the class's ability to pay bail and sets the amount of that bail. View "Caliste v. Cantrell" on Justia Law

by
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in an action against Judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Judges' practices in collecting criminal fines and fees violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court agreed and held that the district court did not err in applying the principles from Tumey v. State of Ohio, which held that officers acting in a judicial or quasi judicial capacity are disqualified by their interest in the controversy to be decided, and Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, which presented a situation in which an official perforce occupies two inconsistent positions and necessarily involves a lack of due process of law in the trial of defendants charged with crimes before him. In this case, the Judges have exclusive authority over how the Judicial Expense Fund is spent, they must account for the OPCDC budget to the New Orleans City Council and New Orleans Mayor, and the fines and fees make up a significant portion of their annual budget. View "Cain v. White" on Justia Law