Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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The Plaintiffs, purportedly the assignees of certain private insurers (Medicare Advantage Organizations), brought a putative class action against State Farm to recover payments State Farm allegedly should have made to them as reimbursement for certain medical costs. The district court dismissed the action with prejudice, and imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 against one of the plaintiffs, MSP. and its attorneys. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs’ case with prejudice, when the problem was a fundamental lack of Article III standing so that the court lacked jurisdiction to decide the case. However, the court acted within its discretion when it denied plaintiffs a third opportunity to cure the defects in their pleadings. The court’s order, in substance, was a jurisdictional dismissal without prejudice with denial of leave to amend dismissal is without prejudice. The district court exceeded the bounds of its discretion when it imposed Rule 11 sanctions on Recovery Claims and its attorneys. View "MAO-MSO Recovery II, LLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Ahmed co‐owned an LLC that owned a condominium building. Ahmed recruited individuals to pose as buyers for the building's units and to submit fraudulent loan applications to lenders, including Fifth Third. The participants split the loan proceeds; no payments were made on the loans. Kaufman was the seller's attorney for every closing. The closings were conducted by Traditional Title at Kaufman’s law office. Traditional received closing instructions from Fifth Third to notify it immediately of any misrepresentations and to suspend the transaction if “the closing agent has knowledge that the borrower does not intend to occupy the property.” Kaufman concealed the buyers’ misrepresentations and instructed closing agents to complete closings even when buyers were purchasing multiple properties. Ahmed and Kaufman extended the scheme to other buildings. Although Kaufman testified that he was not aware of the fraud, Ahmed testified that Kaufman knew the buyers were part of the scheme. Two closing agents testified that they informed Kaufman about misrepresentations in loan applications. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a fraud judgment for Fifth Third. Kaufman participated individually in each closing as counsel and personally directed Traditional’s employees to conceal the fraud from Fifth Third, for his personal gain. The judgment against Kaufman was not derived solely from Traditional’s liability, based on his membership in the LLC, so the Illinois LLC Act does not bar his liability. Kaufman is not shielded by being the attorney for the seller in the fraudulent transactions. View "Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman" on Justia Law

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Mapes was arrested for trespassing after being refused service at a CVS store. He sued the state, CVS, and several individual defendants asserting a long list of grievances under federal and state law. Mapes asserted the need for pro bono representation based on his poor hearing, social anxiety, a speech disorder, and an unidentified mental disability. The district judge denied Mapes’s request to recruit counsel, dismissed Mapes’s complaint without prejudice for failure to state a claim, and suggested several amendments to the complaint. The judge informed Mapes that his amended complaint “should set forth what happened during the incident and the facts that support his belief that CVS refused to serve him because of his disability.” She explained that Mapes should identify the people who harmed him and describe how they did so. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judge’s refusal to recruit counsel. The inquiry into the plaintiff’s capacity to handle his own case is a practical one, made in light of whatever relevant evidence is available on the question. Mapes demonstrated that he was physically able to file a complaint and mentally able to recall the relevant events. The judge was not required to offer legal guidance. View "Mapes v. Indiana" on Justia Law

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Nutmeg LLC, formerly managed by Goulding, served as an investment advisor and sole general partner of more than a dozen investment funds, each a limited partnership under Illinois or Minnesota law. Goulding’s management of the Funds ended in 2009, when the SEC brought an enforcement action against him, Nutmeg, and others under the Investment Advisors Act of 1940, alleging that Nutmeg misappropriated client assets and failed to maintain proper records. The district court found that the SEC made the showing necessary to warrant the issuance of a restraining order prohibiting Goulding from managing the Funds and granted the SEC’s unopposed motion to appoint attorney Weiss as receiver for Nutmeg. Unsatisfied with Weiss’s performance, Goulding and limited partners from certain funds managed by Nutmeg filed an individual and derivative action on behalf of the Funds, alleging breach of fiduciary duty and legal malpractice. The court dismissed the federal securities law claim, claims against Nutmeg, all legal malpractice claims against Weiss and her firm, and two breach of fiduciary duty claims. The Seventh Circuit Affirmed, holding that even when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, no reasonable jury could find that either Weiss or her firm willfully and deliberately violated any fiduciary duties. View "Goulding v. Weiss" on Justia Law

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RMG sued Harmelech in 2006. Attorney Mac Naughton represented Harmelech in that suit for 10 weeks. The relationship ended in a fee dispute. After he withdrew, the case settled with a consent judgment against Harmelech. Mac Naughton pursued Harmelech by acquiring rights to that judgment. In 2014, Mac Naughton and his company, Casco sued Harmelech to collect the RMG judgment and to set aside a conveyance. In 2015, Judge Holderman disqualified Mac Naughton from attempting to collect the judgment personally and from representing Casco in its collection efforts. Mac Naughton defied that order. In 2018, Judge Feinerman dismissed the 2014 claims predicated on the RMG judgment as a sanction for willful defiance of the Holderman Order. In 2016, Mac Naughton sued third parties to collect for himself money owed to Harmelech. Judge Blakey dismissed that case as a sanction for violating court orders. In 2017, Mac Naughton sued Harmelech to set aside another property conveyance. Judge Durkin dismissed the case on the same grounds. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in the consolidated cases. The Holderman Order disqualified Mac Naughton. It barred him from pursuing his former clients to collect on the RMG judgment. Mac Naughton willfully defied disqualification. The judges were within their discretion in sanctioning Mac Naughton by dismissing the actions he should not have brought. Regardless of whether Mac Naughton agreed with the Holderman Order, he had to follow it until it was undone through proper channels. View "Mac Naughton v. Harmelech" on Justia Law

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Cash Depot underpaid employees for their overtime work. Fast filed suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. 203 (FLSA), on behalf of himself and other Depot employees. Depot hired an accountant to investigate. The accountant tallied Depot’s cumulative underpayments at less than $22,000. Depot issued checks to all underpaid current and former employees covered by the suit and issued checks to Fast for his underpaid wages, for liquidated damages under the FLSA, and for Fast’s disclosed attorney fees to that point. Fast and his attorney never cashed their checks. The district court denied a motion to dismiss because Fast contested whether Depot correctly calculated the amount it owed but granted partial summary judgment for Depot, “to the extent that [it] correctly calculated” what it owed Fast. Eventually, Fast conceded that Depot correctly paid the missing wages and urged that only a dispute over additional attorney fees remained. After Fast’s demand for additional attorney fees went unanswered, he filed a motion for attorney fees. The court determined that because Fast was not a prevailing party for the purposes of the FLSA, he was not entitled to attorney fees, and granted Depot summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Fast never received a favorable judgment. View "Fast v. Cash Depot, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Alden and his ex-wife shared custody of their children. Alden’s ex-wife complained that Alden was trying to turn the children against her. The court-appointed psychologist, Gardner, evaluated the children, concluded that Alden was using “severe alienation tactics,” and recommended that the court limit Alden to supervised visitation and give full custody of the children to their mother. The court terminated Alden’s custody and ordered all of Alden’s visitation to be supervised. The Appellate Court affirmed. After three unsuccessful attempts to change the decision in state court, Alden filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against Gardner, challenging the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act as permitting state courts to take parents’ constitutionally-protected speech into consideration when deciding the best interests of the child and treating parents differently based on whether they are divorced. The district court dismissed for lack of standing. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Alden could challenge the Act in his state custody proceedings. The court stated: “This is abusive litigation. Alden, a lawyer representing himself, seems determined to continue the child-custody litigation in another forum even if that means exposing an innocent person such as Gardner to travail and expense. He concedes—indeed, he trumpets—that he has sued someone who he knows is not responsible for enforcing the state’s child-custody laws” and referred the matter to Illinois authorities for determination of whether Alden’s misuse of the legal process calls into question his fitness to practice law. View "E.A. v. Gardner" on Justia Law

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Orland Park fired police officer McGreal in 2010. McGreal sued, alleging that his termination was retaliation for remarks he made community board meeting. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that McGreal had advanced only speculation to support his claims. McGreal had more than 70 disciplinary complaints on his record. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court granted the defendants’ motion for attorney fees and directed McGreal’s attorney, DeRose, to pay the defendants $66,191.75 to the defendants--the cost incurred because DeRose fought the defense's summary judgment motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Defense counsel had repeatedly requested that DeRose end the litigation, pointing out the lack of evidence, and had threatened Rule 11 sanctions. DeRose’s summary judgment filings were not well grounded in fact or warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law. Discovery revealed an utter lack of evidentiary support for McGreal’s claims, but DeRose defended against summary judgment anyway. View "McGreal v. Village of Orland Park" on Justia Law

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Paz defaulted on a $695 credit card debt. PRA, a debt collector, purchased the debt and attempted to collect but violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by failing to report that Paz disputed the debt. Paz filed suit in June 2014. PRA invoked FRCP 68, offering to eliminate the debt and pay Paz $1,001 plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs as “agreed ... and if no agreement can be made, to be determined by the Court.” The agreement stated that “[t]his … is not to be construed as an admission that ... Plaintiff has suffered any damage.” Paz accepted PRA’s offer. Counsel agreed to attorneys’ fees of $4,500. PRA nonetheless continued to report Paz’s debt to credit reporting agencies, even confirming its validity in response to inquiries. Paz filed another lawsuit and unsuccessfully attempted to add class claims. PRA again invoked Rule 68, offering $3,501 on the same terms as the first settlement. Paz never responded. The court limited the claims allowed to go to trial. Days before trial, PRA offered Paz $25,000 plus attorneys’ fees and costs. Paz rejected the offer. A jury found for Paz but determined that Paz had sustained no actual damages, so his recovery was limited to $1,000 in statutory damages for his FDCPA claim. Paz sought $187,410 in attorneys’ fees and $2,744 in costs, 15 U.S.C. 1692(k)(a)(3). The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of $10,875, reasoning that Paz’s rejection of meaningful settlement offers precluded a fee award so disproportionate to his recovery. View "Paz v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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Abdollahzadeh opened an MBNA credit-card account in 1998. He defaulted on the debt, making his last payment in August 2010. In June 2011 he attempted another payment that never cleared. In April 2013 MBNA sold his account to CACH, which referred Abdollahzadeh’s debt to Mandarich, a debt-collection law firm. CACH identified the later, unsuccessful payment attempt as the last payment on the account. Relying on this date, Mandarich sent Abdollahzadeh a collection letter in December 2015. Mandarich sued when it received no response. The state court dismissed the suit because the last payment to clear occurred outside of Illinois’s five-year statute of limitations. Abdollahzadeh sued Mandarich for attempting to collect a time-barred debt (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692). The court granted Mandarich summary judgment, concluding that the violations were unintentional and occurred despite reasonable procedures aimed at avoiding untimely collection attempts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Abdollahzadeh’s arguments that Mandarich’s continuation of the collection action after it learned the true last-payment date created a factual dispute on the issue of intent; that the firm’s reliance on CACH’s representations about the last-payment date was an abdication of its duty to engage in meaningful review; and that the firm’s procedures for weeding out time-barred debts were insufficient to support the affirmative defense. The bona fide error defense doesn’t require independent verification and procedural perfection. Mandarich had procedures in place that were reasonably adapted to avoid late collection efforts. View "Abdollahzadeh v. Mandarich Law Group, LLP" on Justia Law