Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
Hyatt v. Hirshfeld
Hyatt is a prolific patent filer and litigant. In 1995, Hyatt filed “hundreds of extraordinarily lengthy and complex patent applications,” including the four at issue; he adopted an approach "that all but guaranteed indefinite prosecution delay” in an effort to submarine his patent applications and receive lengthy patent terms. The examination of these patents has cost the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) millions of dollars. After adverse results regarding the patents at issue, Hyatt sued the PTO under 35 U.S.C. 145. The PTO moved to dismiss the actions for prosecution laches. The district court ordered the PTO to issue a patent covering some of the claims.While an appeal was pending, Hyatt sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act as a “prevailing party” 28 U.S.C. 2412(b). The district court granted this motion in part. The Sixth Circuit vacated, holding that the PTO had carried its initial burden of demonstrating prosecution laches. The PTO sought reimbursement of its expert witness fees. Under 35 U.S.C. 145, “[a]ll the expenses of the proceedings shall be paid by the applicant.” The district court noted the American Rule presumption against fee-shifting and denied expert fees. The Federal Circuit vacated. Hyatt is not entitled to attorney’s fees under 28 U.S.C. 2412(b) and cannot be considered a prevailing party. The court affirmed the denial of expert fees because section 145 does not specifically and explicitly shift expert witness fees. View "Hyatt v. Hirshfeld" on Justia Law
Johnson v. 27th Avenue Caraf, Inc.
Johnson, who is hearing-impaired, filed two lawsuits against gas station owners, asserting failure to provide closed captioning or a similar capability that would allow him to comprehend the television media features on gasoline pumps, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12101, (ADA) and the Florida Civil Rights Act. Johnson had filed 26 other identical cases against gas station owners located throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Dinin represented Johnson in each case.The district court found that Johnson and Dinin were running an illicit joint enterprise, consisting of filing frivolous claims, knowingly misrepresenting the time they counted as billable, making misrepresentations to the court, and improperly sharing attorney’s fees. The court imposed sanctions, including monetary penalties, community service, and an injunction prohibiting them from filing future ADA claims without approval. The Eleventh Circuit dismissed an appeal by Dinin, who lacked standing because he has not shown how he has suffered an injury in fact. The court affirmed as to Johnson, In the majority of his cases, Johnson did not seek injunctive relief fixing the accessibility problem, but only sought payment of legal fees which he split with his lawyer. Johnson never stopped filing claims for damages under Florida law, although he knew them to be objectively frivolous since he had not exhausted his administrative remedies. View "Johnson v. 27th Avenue Caraf, Inc." on Justia Law
Allison v. Tinder, Inc.
The dating app Tinder offered reduced pricing for those under 29. Kim, in her thirties, paid more for her monthly subscription than those in their twenties. Kim filed suit, citing California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act and its unfair competition statute. The parties reached a settlement, before class certification, that applied to a putative class, including all California-based Tinder users who were at least 29 years old when they subscribed. Tinder agreed to eliminate age-based pricing in California for new subscribers. Class members with Tinder accounts would automatically receive 50 “Super Likes” for which Tinder would ordinarily have charged $50. Class members who submitted a valid claim form would also receive their choice of $25 in cash, 25 Super Likes, or a one-month free subscription.Class members, whose attorneys represent the lead plaintiff in a competing age discrimination class action against Tinder in California state court, objected to the proposed settlement. The district court certified the class, granted final approval of the proposed settlement, and awarded Kim a $5,000 incentive payment and awarded $1.2 million in attorneys’ fees. The Ninth Circuit reversed. While the district court correctly recited the fairness factors under Fed. R. Civ. P. 23(e)(2), it materially underrated the strength of the plaintiff’s claims, substantially overstated the settlement’s worth, and failed to take the required hard look at indicia of collusion, including a request for attorneys’ fees that dwarfed the anticipated monetary payout to the class. View "Allison v. Tinder, Inc." on Justia Law
The Mitchell Law Firm, LP v. Bessie Jeanne Worthy Revocable Trust
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to vacate its judgment in a breach-of-fiduciary-duty action based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. In this case, after the firm filed suit to recover its fees, the parties reached an agreed judgment. The district court then discovered that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.The court concluded that the district court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1332 because the firm is a Texas plaintiff suing a Texas defendant, and the combination of the firm's misleading citizenship allegations and the district court's lack of knowledge about it rendered the judgment void and properly vacated under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(4). The court read Picco v. Global Marine Drilling Co., 900 F.2d 846 (5th Cir. 1990), fairly and holistically, finding that Picco accords with the court's decision here. The court also concluded that the firm forfeited its standing argument. Finally, the court concluded that the district court had jurisdiction to direct the firm to return fees paid pursuant to a void judgment. View "The Mitchell Law Firm, LP v. Bessie Jeanne Worthy Revocable Trust" on Justia Law
Alston & Bird, LLP v. Hatcher Management Holdings, LLC
The version of the apportionment statute at issue in this appeal, OCGA 51-12-33, was enacted as part of the Tort Reform Act of 2005. Subsection (b) required damages to be apportioned “among the persons who are liable according to the percentages of fault of each person.” Subsection (b) had a critical textual difference from subsection (a): although subsection (a) applied “[w]here an action is brought against one or more persons,” subsection (b) applied only “[w]here an action is brought against more than one person . . . .” Although the Georgia Supreme Court previously decided at least one case in which the provisions of subsection (b) were applied in single-defendant cases, the Court expressly left open the question of whether such an application was proper. In this case, the Court of Appeals answered that open question by determining that the apportionment by percentage of fault directed by subsection (b) did not apply in single-defendant cases. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether subsection (b) applied in single-defendant cases and also on the question of whether an expenses-of-litigation award under OCGA 13-6-11 was subject to apportionment. Although the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on the latter question and held that such expenses were not categorically excluded from apportionment, the Court concluded the Court of Appeals was correct on the scope of application of the apportionment directed by subsection (b): it applied only in cases “brought against more than one person,” not in single-defendant lawsuits like this one. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings regarding the trial court’s apportionment of the expenses-of-litigation award. View "Alston & Bird, LLP v. Hatcher Management Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law
United States v. Glover
Before pleading guilty, Glover attempted to hire an attorney. The attorney sent thousands of dollars sent by Glover's family to the DEA, believing the funds were drug proceeds. The government seized the funds under 21 U.S.C. 881(a)(6). Glover began filing pro se motions concerning the seized funds. Glover and his second appointed counsel (Ehlies) requested a “Farmer” hearing on the subject of the seized funds. The government acknowledged that a hearing pursuant to Farmer "might be necessary.” Instead of setting such a hearing, the court focused on Glover’s frequent pro se motions and whether Glover wanted to continue to be represented by counsel. The court stated that it would not appoint new counsel and indicated that it would not address the “Farmer” issue unless Glover chose to represent himself.Glover pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a drug containing cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and marijuana; and conspiracy to conduct financial transactions involving proceeds of unlawful activity. Before sentencing, Glover filed a pro se motion requesting to withdraw his plea, making numerous allegations of misconduct by Ehlies. The court declined to appoint new counsel, determining that Glover could either proceed pro se (he again declined) or be represented by Ehlies, and denied the motion.The Fourth Circuit vacated. Precedent precluded Glover’s argument that the government wrongly seized untainted assets needed to hire the counsel of his choice but Glover’s attorney had a conflict of interest at his plea withdrawal hearing and substitute counsel should have represented him there. View "United States v. Glover" on Justia Law
Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Construction Company, Inc.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of $283,609.15 in attorneys' fees to Manning in this action arising out of a contract dispute between Kinder, a general contractor, and Manning, a subcontractor.The court concluded that the district court properly applied Arkansas state law to decide the matter because the issue of attorneys' fees is a procedural matter governed by Arkansas law. The court also concluded that the subcontract's silence as to Manning's ability to recover attorneys' fees as the prevailing party does not operate as a waiver of its right to recover such fees under Ark. Code Ann.16-22-308. The court further concluded that because the requested attorneys' fees were incurred by Manning, Manning's recovery of such attorneys' fees is not prohibited under Ark. Code Ann. 23-79-208. View "Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law
Marshall v. Anderson Excavating & Wrecking Co.
The Union, Welfare Plan, and Pension Plan filed suit against Anderson Excavating, requesting that the district court order Anderson Excavating to pay the contributions it allegedly owes to the Welfare Plan and Pension Plan, along with interest, liquidated damages, and attorneys' fees and costs. The district court found Anderson Excavating liable to plaintiffs for delinquent contributions and entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs. Anderson Excavating appealed, and the Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court legally erred in applying the alter-ego doctrine to justify an award of unpaid contributions for an alleged employee's work.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment on remand, concluding that the district court did not err in calculating the prejudgment interest at the rate set by the Delinquent Policy and Procedure document adopted by the Plan Trustees as part of the trust agreement, which Anderson had agreed to; the district court properly calculated the amount of liquidated damages, which was based on the amount of prejudgment interest; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees. View "Marshall v. Anderson Excavating & Wrecking Co." on Justia Law
Knapp v. Ginsberg
Plaintiff and her late husband, Grant Tinker, signed a premarital agreement (PMA) that in relevant part governed the ownership and testamentary disposition of their marital home. Respondents, Larry Ginsberg and his law firm, represented plaintiff in connection with the PMA and approved the PMA as to form on her behalf. Non-attorney Sidney Tessler, Tinker's longtime accountant and business manager, negotiated terms and approved the PMA as to form on Tinker's behalf. Plaintiff, the estate, and Tinker's children subsequently litigated plaintiff's and the children's claims, which were ultimately resolved in a global settlement.Plaintiff then filed suit against Ginsberg for legal malpractice in connection with the preparation and execution of the PMA, alleging that the PMA was unenforceable due to Ginsberg’s failure to ensure that Tinker signed a waiver of legal representation. The trial court granted Ginsberg's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Tinker ratified the PMA.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that there is a triable issue of material fact as to the threshold issue of whether Tinker satisfied the requirements of Family Code section 1615 when he executed the PMA. The court explained that, if the factfinder determines that Tinker did not comply with section 1615, and the PMA was therefore not enforceable, the question becomes whether Tinker's subsequent amendments to his estate plan could ratify the PMA and thereby rectify the statutory violation. The court concluded that the trial court erred by concluding that they could and did. The court held that a premarital agreement that is not enforceable under section 1615 is void, not voidable, and accordingly cannot be ratified. Because none of the other grounds asserted in the summary judgment motion support the trial court's ruling, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings on plaintiff's malpractice claim. The court denied plaintiff's request for judicial notice as moot. View "Knapp v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law
Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland
The Fourth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion seeking to recover reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses from Montgomery County. Plaintiff's case stems from her action against the county for failure to reasonably accommodate her disability. The district court held that plaintiff is not eligible for such an award because she is not a "prevailing party" under 29 U.S.C. 794a(b).In this case, plaintiff won a jury verdict that found the county liable for discrimination and entitled plaintiff to equitable relief—at least until the county capitulated by transferring her to a call center called MC 311. The court thought that this case is more like Parham v. Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., 433 F.2d 421 (8th Cir. 1970), and concluded that plaintiff is not a prevailing party because she catalyzed the county to change its behavior by filing a lawsuit; rather, she is a prevailing party because she proved her claim to a jury before the county capitulated by transferring her to MC 311. The court noted that its holding is narrow, and that it would be unjust to hold that plaintiff did not prevail simply because the county's timely capitulation rendered unnecessary equitable relief that she would have otherwise been entitled to. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Reyazuddin v. Montgomery County, Maryland" on Justia Law