Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Cottingham sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, 42 U.S.C. 300aa-10, alleging that a Gardasil® vaccination received by her minor daughter, K.C., in 2012, for the prevention of HPV, caused K.C. injuries. The claim was filed immediately before the limitations period ran out.The government stated argued that a "reasonable basis for bringing the case may not be present.” Cottingham’s counsel was granted additional time but was unable to submit an expert opinion supporting her claim. The Special Master denied compensation. Cottingham sought attorneys’ fees and litigation costs ($11,468.77), 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1). The Master found no evidence to support the "vaguely asserted claims" that the vaccination caused K.C.’s headaches, fainting, or menstrual problems." While remand was pending the Federal Circuit held (Simmons) that although a looming statute of limitations deadline may impact the question of whether good faith existed to bring a claim, that deadline does not provide a reasonable basis for asserting a claim. The Master decided that Simmons did not impact his analysis, applied a “totality of the circumstances” standard, and awarded attorneys’ fees. The Claims Court vacated and affirmed the Special Master’s third decision, finding no reasonable basis for Cottingham’s claim.The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that there is no dispute that Cottingham filed her claim in good faith. Simmons did not abrogate the “totality of the circumstances inquiry.” K.C.’s medical records paired with the Gardasil® package insert constitute circumstantial, objective evidence supporting causation. View "Cottingham v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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This case was one of several similarly situated capital appeals involving former Chief Justice Ronald Castille’s role as the elected District Attorney of Philadelphia. In 2017, the Honorable Leon Tucker, Supervising Judge of the Criminal Division, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (“PCRA court”), granted appellant Anthony Reid relief under the Post-Conviction Relief Act in the form of nunc pro tunc reinstatement of his right to appeal the order denying his first timely PCRA petition. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously affirmed the order denying appellant’s first PCRA petition; however, the PCRA court concluded the Supreme Court had to reconsider appellant’s PCRA appeal again, this time without the participation of Chief Justice Castille, pursuant to Williams v. Pennsylvania, 136 S.Ct. 1899 (2016). While the Pennsylvania Court agreed Chief Justice Castille’s participation in appellant’s prior PCRA appeal implicated the same due process concerns at issue in Williams, the Supreme Court concluded the lower court lacked jurisdiction under the PCRA to reinstate appellant’s nunc pro tunc right to appeal. Consequently, the Supreme Court also lacked jurisdiction, and was compelled to quash this serial appeal as untimely. View "Pennsylvania v. Reid" on Justia Law

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Attorney Ruston Welch received approximately $350,000 in fees for representing David and Terry Stewart in their Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. This appeal stemmed from Welch's failure to disclose his fee arrangements and payments until ordered to do so by the bankruptcy court more than two years after he should have disclosed his fee agreement, and more than a year after he should have disclosed the payments. For these violations the bankruptcy court sanctioned Welch, requiring him to pay $25,000 to the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP) affirmed the sanction after the Stewarts’ largest creditor, SE Property Holdings (SEPH), which had initiated the proceedings as an involuntary bankruptcy, challenged the sanction as so inadequate as to constitute an abuse of discretion. SEPH appealed that decision. The Tenth Circuit concurred, reversed and remanded the matter for further consideration. "The presumptive sanction ... is forfeiture of the entire fee. For good reason the bankruptcy court can impose a lesser sanction. But the court thus far has not provided good reason. It assumed facts that were not in evidence and, most importantly, apparently assumed good faith without examining the possible motives for nondisclosure." View "SE Property Holdings v. Stewart" 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 1998, Bay and Oxbow entered into a limestone supply contract, agreeing to resolve any disputes according to specified “Dispute Resolution Procedures.” Oxbow began to provide lower quality limestone that posed a danger to Bay’s equipment. Bay agreed to pay—under protest—a price in excess of that permitted by the contract for adequate limestone. Negotiations and mediation failed. Bay filed a demand for arbitration. An arbitration panel unanimously held that Oxbow had breached the contract and awarded nearly $5 million in damages, costs, and interest. The panel did not award attorneys’ fees, concluding that the Dispute Procedures expressly deny it the jurisdiction to do so. The district court confirmed the award, agreeing that the contract did not permit the prevailing party to recover its attorneys’ fees.The Sixth Circuit reversed. The Procedure authorizing the allocation of costs states,“(but excluding attorneys’ fees which shall be borne by each party individually). The provision immediately following that grants the prevailing party a right to attorneys’ fees and another provision refers to attorneys’ fees. Those provisions can either be read together to permit the recovery of attorneys’ fees in court but not before an arbitration panel, or they are hopelessly contradictory and unenforceable. Bay presents a reasonable construction of the terms to harmonize them. View "Bay Shore Power Co. v. Oxbow Energy Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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Some Vita-Mix blenders contained tiny flecks of polytetrafluoroethylene, a substance commonly used in kitchen appliances and used in the blenders' seals. Normal wear-and-tear caused tiny pieces to rub off from the seal into the blender container. Blender owners filed this class action. The parties entered into a settlement for two classes of plaintiffs: a household class and a commercial class. Household class members could request either a $70 gift card or a replacement blade assembly. Commercial class members could request only a replacement blade assembly. The court preliminarily approved this settlement.The court calculated attorneys' fees by multiplying the hours class counsel reasonably worked on the case by a reasonable hourly rate, resulting in an award of about $2.2 million. Based on the purportedly exceptional nature of the litigation, the court enhanced that figure by 75% for a final award of about $4 million, plus post-judgment interest.The Sixth Circuit vacated. The district court correctly used the lodestar method of calculation and correctly interpreted the settlement agreement but erred when it determined the billing rates based on class counsel’s affidavits. A lawyer seeking fees has the burden to show the reasonableness of his billing rate with something in addition to the attorney’s own affidavits” The district court abused its discretion when it used an upward multiplier, without addressing a crucial question: whether this case involves “rare and exceptional circumstances.” The court upheld the award of post-judgment interest. View "Vicki Linneman v. Vita-Mix Corp." on Justia Law

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Congress enacted an appropriations rider in 2009 prohibiting the District of Columbia from paying more than $4,000 in attorneys' fees for any past proceeding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At issue in these 11 consolidated cases was whether the District must pay interest on amounts that exceed the payment cap.After determining that the District did not forfeit the interest issue, the court held that the District cannot be compelled to pay interest on the portion of fee awards that it has been legally prohibited from paying off. The court explained that this case implicates a well-established common-law principle: If the law makes a debt unpayable, then interest on the debt is also unpayable. Furthermore, the court had no basis to conclude that 28 U.S.C. 1961(a) abrogated this background rule. The court reversed the district court's judgment requiring payment of interest on above-cap fees, affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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A confidential source, “Bonz” told Champaign Police that he knew a crack cocaine dealer named Moe. Over a few months, the department conducted five controlled buys from Moe, consistent with information from Bonz. After reviewing the video of the transactions, officers identified Moe as Orr, who was on parole after being convicted of unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Bonz identified a picture of Orr. Officers tied the involved vehicle and apartment to Orr. Pursuant to a warrant, officers searched Orr’s apartment. They found a semi-automatic pistol with ammunition, approximately 22 grams of crack cocaine, approximately 15 grams of powdered cocaine, and drug paraphernalia. Orr voluntarily admitted that the gun and cocaine were his. Indicted for possessing a firearm as a felon, 18 U.S.C. 922(g), Orr unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence, asserting Bonz was an unreliable source.Orr testified that he had no reason to possess a firearm. The prosecutor presented evidence of Orr’s drug involvement. The jury found Orr guilty. Before sentencing, the Judicial Council of the Seventh Circuit determined that Judge Bruce had breached the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges by engaging in improper ex parte communications in other cases with members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Although the Council found no evidence that those communications affected the outcome of any case, it suspended Bruce from all criminal matters involving the U.S. Attorney’s Office for one year. Orr’s case was transferred to another judge. The Seventh Circuit vacated Orr’s conviction. Judge Bruce’s conduct “cast a pall over certain decisions" that "required the exercise of substantial discretion.” This was not harmless error. View "United States v. Orr" on Justia Law

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After Sanmina claimed a worthless stock deduction on its federal tax return, the IRS issued a summons for the memoranda authored by Sanmina in-house counsel. Sanmina objected on the basis that they were protected both by attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine. On subsequent remand, the district court determined that the memoranda were covered by both attorney-client privilege and work-product protection, but that those privileges had been waived.The Ninth Circuit held that Sanmina waived the attorney-client privilege when it disclosed the Attorney Memos to DLA Piper. However, the panel held that such disclosure did not automatically waive work-product protection over the Attorney Memos and, rather, waiver of work-product immunity requires either disclosure to an adversary or conduct that is inconsistent with the maintenance of secrecy against its adversary. In this case, the panel held that Sanmina did not expressly waive work-product immunity merely by providing the Attorney Memos to DLA Piper, but its subsequent use of the DLA Piper Report to support its tax deduction in an audit by the IRS was inconsistent with the maintenance of secrecy against its adversary. Therefore, the panel explained that Sanmina's implied waiver of the work-product protection only extends to the factual portions of the Attorney Memos. The panel granted in part and denied in part the IRS's petition to enforce its summons. View "United States v. Sanmina Corp." on Justia Law

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While living in California, Jefri and Debbie Davis sought to purchase a home in northern Idaho, and hired Charles Tuma and Tuma’s broker, Donald McCanlies, to help them. Tuma and McCanlies both worked for Johnson House Company, which in turn was doing business as Coldwell Banker Resort Realty. Some years after purchasing the property in question, the Davises learned that the road they believed provided access to their home, did not in fact do so. The Davises filed suit against Tuma, McCanlies, and Coldwell Banker Resort Realty (collectively, the Defendants), alleging fraud and constructive fraud. The Defendants moved for summary judgment against the Davises. The Davises responded, filing several declarations, portions of which the Defendants moved to strike. The Davises also sought to amend their complaint to add claims for unlicensed practice of law, surveying, or abstracting; and breach of contract and violation of contractual duties. The district court granted the Defendants’ motions for summary judgment and to strike, but did not specifically identify which statements were being stricken. The district court also denied the Davises’ motion to amend their complaint without explanation of the reasoning behind the decision. The Idaho Supreme Court found genuine issues of material facts to preclude the grant of summary judgment to Defendants. Further, the Court concluded the district court abused its discretion in denying the Davises' motion to amend their complaint. The Court vacated the trial court judgment entered and remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Tuma" on Justia Law