Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Day was indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud after participating in a fraudulent “credit repair” scheme. The government offered Day a plea deal that would have yielded a probable sentencing range of 51-63 months’ imprisonment. Day’s federal defender advised him to accept the deal. His father urged him to consult a private lawyer—an acquaintance with no experience in criminal law. That lawyer brought in an attorney experienced in federal criminal law. The two told Day that he was not guilty and should reject the offer. Day hired the two lawyers. The federal defender withdrew and offered to make her file available. The government extended the same offer six weeks before trial. Though they had not yet reviewed the case materials, Day’s new lawyers advised him to reject it. Day declined the deal. At the final pretrial hearing, Day again rejected the plea offer. The lawyers later told Day he would lose at trial. Day told them to get the best deal they could. They instead advised him to throw himself on the mercy of the court. Day pleaded guilty without an agreement, facing a sentencing range of 87-108 months. The district judge imposed a 92-month sentence. Day sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that his attorneys were constitutionally ineffective. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The government conceded the deficient-performance element of Day’s Sixth Amendment claim. The facts set forth in his motion, if proven, could establish prejudice. View "Day v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Cartwright sued his former employer, alleging discrimination based on his race and sex under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; discrimination based on race, 42 U.S.C. 1981; and age discrimination, 29 U.S.C. 623. The judge appointed counsel for the limited purpose of settlement negotiations. The parties did not reach an agreement. The attorney was relieved of the limited representation. Cartwright failed to respond to discovery requests and filed many motions. The judge recruited a lawyer to represent him pro bono but later permitted the attorney to withdraw. The judge recruited another pro bono lawyer. After 14 months and more than 530 hours of work, the third attorney moved to withdraw citing substantial, irreconcilable disagreements with Cartwright. The judge granted the defendants partial summary judgment. Cartwright responded with multiple motions, accusing the judge of bias. The defendants moved to dismiss the case with prejudice for failure to prosecute. The judge recruited another pro bono attorney, then denied the motion as moot. Counsel later was allowed to withdraw. After four years and repeated warnings, the judge dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reminding "judges that they need not and should not recruit volunteer lawyers for civil claimants who won’t cooperate ... Pro bono representation of indigent civil litigants is a venerable tradition ... courts must be careful stewards of this limited resource.” View "Cartwright v. Silver Cross Hospital" on Justia Law

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Apple owns Madison, Wisconsin vitamin stores. Knott, a former Apple employee, was fired in 2017. Knott founded his own vitamin shop, Embrace Wellness, in Middleton, Wisconsin. Embrace allegedly shared design features and a similar layout with Apple’s locations and carried comparable products. Apple sued, alleging infringement of its trademark, trade dress, and copyrights. The defendants filed counterclaims for tortious interference and retaliation. Apple sought a preliminary injunction on the trademark and trade dress claims, which the court denied, explaining that Apple had failed to show a likelihood of irreparable harm. Apple then moved to dismiss its own claims without prejudice. Because the defendants had already expended resources litigating an injunction, the court ordered Apple to withdraw its motion or accept dismissal with prejudice, expressing its opinion that no party’s claim was strong. Apple agreed to dismiss its claims with prejudice. The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for fees; they appealed with respect to the copyright claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Apple’s copyright claims were frivolous—common-law copyright was abolished in 1976—but the totality of the circumstances did not warrant fees. There was no evidence that Apple had filed suit with an improper motive, and no need to deter future frivolous filings. The case was primarily about trademark and trade dress. no motions were filed related to copyright. Apple dismissed the copyright claims voluntarily before defendants had to argue against them. View "Timothy B. O'Brien LLC v. Knott" on Justia Law

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After filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition, Bastani asked the judge to stay a pending state court foreclosure procedure. Bastani’s previous bankruptcy petition had been dismissed less than a year earlier, creating a presumption that the new filing was not in good faith, 11 U.S.C. 362(c)(3)(C)(i), and meaning that the automatic stay would end 30 days after the new proceeding began. The bankruptcy and district courts denied Bastani’s motion. The Seventh Circuit denied relief and also denied Bastani’s motion for leave to file in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. 1915. Chapter 13 is designed for people who can pay most of their debts; someone eligible for Chapter 13 relief cannot establish that she cannot pay judicial fees in the absence of extraordinary circumstances. The court further concluded that Bastani’s second bankruptcy petition was filed in actual bad faith; Bastani appeared to be trying to achieve a Chapter 13 benefit (keeping her home) without the detriment of having to pay her debts. View "Bastanipour v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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IMC mailed Peck, regarding a debt that Peck allegedly owed. The envelope's clear pane revealed a barcode containing Peck’s personal information. Peck sued IMC for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by revealing his personal information on the envelope and by failing to verify that Peck owed the debt after he disputed it. IMC made an offer of judgment of “$1,101, plus costs under Rule 68. Peck accepted. By email, Peck indicated he believed “costs” included damages under the Act. IMC explained that its offer accounted for $1,101 in statutory damages with interest, plus the costs typically recoverable by the prevailing party. The court ultimately entered judgment consistent with the Rule 68 offer and instructed Peck to file a bill of costs, limited to those contemplated by Federal Rule 54(d). Peck demanded $24,137.50 (reimbursement for the hundreds of hours he spent litigating) and $47,425.02 in punitive damages. Citing 28 U.S.C. 1920, the court denied his bill of costs and awarded $1,101.00. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that it lacked jurisdiction because the district court had not sufficiently articulated a rationale. The “costs” recoverable under Rule 54(d) include clerk and marshal fees; printed or electronically recorded transcripts; disbursements for printing and witnesses; fees for exemplification and making copies; docket fees; and compensation of court-appointed experts, interpreters, and for special interpretation services They do not include damages, nor the compensation Peck sought for his time and mailing expenses. View "Peck v. IMC Credit Services" on Justia Law

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Quincy’s Prevagen® dietary supplement is sold at stores and online. Quincy registered its Prevagen® trademark in 2007. Ellishbooks, which was not authorized to sell Prevagen®, sold supplements identified as Prevagen® on Amazon.com, including items that were in altered or damaged packaging; lacked the appropriate purchase codes or other markings that identify the authorized retail seller; and contained tags from retail stores. Quincy sued under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114. Ellishbooks did not respond. The court entered default judgment. Ellishbooks identified no circumstances capable of establishing good cause for default. The district court entered a $480,968.13 judgment in favor of Quincy, plus costs, and permanently enjoined Ellishbooks from infringing upon the PREVAGEN® trademark and selling stolen products bearing the PREVAGEN® trademark. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and subsequently awarded Rule 38 sanctions. Ellishbooks’ appellate arguments had virtually no likelihood of success and its conduct during the course of the appeal was marked by several failures to timely respond and significant deficiencies in its filings. These shortcomings cannot be attributed entirely to counsel’s lack of experience in litigating federal appeals. A review of the dockets suggests that Ellishbooks has attempted to draw out the proceedings as long as possible while knowing that it had no viable substantive defense. View "Quincy Bioscience, LLC v. Ellishbooks" on Justia Law

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The $8.5 million proposed settlement of a class action that claimed that Western Union violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending unsolicited text messages, 47 U.S.C. 227(b)(1)(A)(iii). defined the class as: “All Persons in the United States who received one or more unsolicited text messages sent by or on behalf of Western Union.” Price, thinking she was a class member because she had received two text messages from Western, objected, arguing that the settlement inadequately compensated the class; class counsel’s fee request was too high; the plaintiff’s incentive award was too high; the class definition was imprecise; and the list of class members had errors. Western’s records confirmed that Price had enrolled in its loyalty program, checking a disclaimer box consenting to receive text messages. The judge certified the class, ruled that Price was not a member, approved the settlement, and reduced class counsel’s fees. Price did not appeal her exclusion from the class and did not seek to intervene but sought attorney’s fees and an incentive award. Her motion was denied because Price had cited “no authority for the highly questionable proposition that a non‐class member can recover fees and an incentive award under Rule 23.” The Seventh Circuit dismissed her appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Price is not a party and lacks standing to appeal. View "Douglas v. Price" on Justia Law

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The Center lodged a FOIA request with the Department of Justice (DOJ) for records of communications between the Attorney General, the Office of the Attorney General and any Office of Immigration Litigation or Office of the Solicitor General lawyers related to 11 certified cases decided in 2002-2009. DOJ produced about 1,000 pages but withheld 4,000 pages, citing FOIA Exemption 5, which allows the withholding of agency memoranda not subject to disclosure in the ordinary course of litigation, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5). Exemption 5 encompasses the attorney work product, attorney-client, and deliberative process privileges. DOJ submitted a Vaughn index describing each document withheld, identifying documents reflecting discussions between attorneys working within different offices of issues related to immigration cases under consideration or on certification for decision by the Attorney General. The Center unsuccessfully argued that the documents contained ex parte communications outside Exemption 5's scope because the DOJ attorneys’ eventual litigation role taints the advice they provide the Attorney General at the certification stage; removal proceedings end in federal court litigation where those same attorneys are opposite the immigrant. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Office of Immigration Litigation and Solicitor General attorneys do not hold interests adverse to the noncitizen at the stage at which the Attorney General certifies a case for decision. “ To conclude otherwise would chill the deliberations that department and agency heads like the Attorney General undertake in confidence to execute the weighty responsibilities of their offices.” View "National Immigrant Justice Center v. United States Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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Spiegel served as a homeowners’ association directed until the members voted him out. The association sued Spiegel in Illinois state court, alleging that he falsely held himself out as president, attempted to unilaterally terminate another board member, froze the association’s bank accounts, sent unapproved budgets to unit owners, and filed unwarranted lawsuits on behalf of the association. The association sought to enjoin Spiegel from interfering with board decisions or holding himself out as a director and to recover damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. A declaration that Spiegel signed when he bought his unit provided that owners who violated the board’s rules or obligations would pay any damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees that the association incurred as a result. Spiegel filed complaints and motions against the association, its lawyers, and other residents. The state court dismissed his claims and enjoined him from interfering with the board’s activities, characterizing Spiegel’s filings as “a pattern of abuse, committed for an improper purpose to harass, delay and increase the cost of litigation.” The court ordered Spiegel to pay $700,000 in fees and sanctions. Spiegel filed this federal suit against the association’s counsel, citing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(5). The district court dismissed, concluding that the attorneys’ fees Kim requested were not a “debt” within the meaning of the FDCPA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. An award of attorneys' fees does not constitute a “debt” under the FDCPA’s limited, consumer-protection-focused definition. View "Spiegel v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Alvarez-Espino, born in Mexico in 1970, entered the U.S. in 1996 without permission. Since then he and his wife have had four children, and he supports his family by running an upholstery business. In 2002, two men robbed him at gunpoint at a Chicago gas station. Five years later, he was arrested for drunk driving and, following a probation violation, ended up with a one-year prison term. In removal proceedings, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(A)(i), his lawyer failed to realize that Alvarez-Espino had a chance at receiving a U visa for his assistance in solving the 2002 robbery. Alvarez-Espino changed lawyers, but after protracted proceedings, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied multiple requests for relief, leaving Alvarez-Espino at risk of removal and having to await a decision on his U visa application from Mexico. The Seventh Circuit denied his petition for review. In denying relief, the Board held Alvarez-Espino to an unduly demanding burden on his allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel but the law is equally clear that Alvarez-Espino’s ability to continue pursuing a U visa means that he cannot show prejudice from his attorney’s performance. View "Alvarez-Espino v. Barr" on Justia Law