Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The parties appealed the district court's award of attorney's fees in a class action settlement brought by banks against Home Depot to recover resulting losses from a data breach. The Eleventh Circuit held that this was a contractual fee-shifting case, and the constructive common-fund doctrine did not apply. The court held that the district court erred by enhancing class counsel's lodestar based on risk; the district court did not abuse its discretion in compensating class counsel for time on the card-brand recovery process and for time spent finding and vetting class representatives; and there was no merit to Home Depot's contention that the district court's order did not allow for meaningful review. The court also held that the district court properly excluded attorney's fees from the class benefit, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by including the $14.5 million premiums in the class benefit. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Northeastern Engineers Federal Credit Union v. Home Depot, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against the State in 1991 on behalf of a statewide class of children with intellectual disabilities for failing to comply with the requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), that children with disabilities be educated in the "least restrictive environment" that meets their needs. After the parties negotiated a settlement, and near the end of the agreement's term, plaintiffs' counsel moved for additional attorneys' fees. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of attorneys' fees in part, holding that counsel was not barred from further attorneys' fees by the text of the settlement agreement or the definition of "prevailing party" contained in Buckhannon Board & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598 (2001). However, the court reversed in part, holding that the district court misapplied the Delaware Valley standard in awarding several categories of work. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "P.J. v. Connecticut State Board of Education" on Justia Law

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A 2004 Ohio statute regulated the "off-label" prescription of mifepristone (RU-486), which is commonly used in conjunction with misoprostol, to induce first-trimester abortions without surgery. Planned Parenthood challenged the statute under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction “insofar as it prohibits unconstitutional applications of the [statute].” In 2006, the district court entered a permanent injunction. After the Ohio Supreme Court answered certified questions, the Sixth Circuit remanded for a determination regarding the injunction’s scope. In 2011, the district court clarified that the statute was enjoined only as it applied to instances where the health of the patient was at risk and denied broader relief, leaving one remaining claim. In 2016, the FDA amended its approval and label for mifepristone, authorizing the off-label uses at issue. The statute remains in force, requiring physicians to prescribe medication abortion according to the FDA’s updated approval. Planned Parenthood sought $10,365.35 to cover costs for litigation on the merits and attorneys’ fees at 2016 rates to offset lost interest. Using this rate, the requested fees for the preliminary injunction litigation totaled $372,164.63. The district court granted that request, finding the requested hours and rates reasonable. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Planned Parenthood does not properly qualify as a “prevailing party” because its relief was narrow and preliminary; that the court erred in refusing to apply a blanket fee reduction based on the degree of success; and that the court erred in applying 2016 rates rather than 2006 rates The court properly engaged in a contextual, case-specific review, considered the aims of section 1988, and adequately explained its rationale. View "Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for extraordinary relief asking the Court to order his admission to the Utah State Bar by waiving one of the rules governing the Utah Bar, holding that, while Petitioner raised important questions about the way in which the Utah Bar interacts with those requesting accommodation, Petitioner did not convince the Court that it should exercise its discretionary authority to grant the relief he sought. Petitioner suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and initially sought accommodation for the July 2018 Bar Examination in Utah. Petitioner later rescinded his accommodation request and took the Bar Exam without any accommodation. Petitioner fell just short of a passing score. Petitioner then brought this petition for extraordinary relief asking the Court to waive one of three rules governing the Utah Bar. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that while Petitioner gave the Court reason to think about ways in which the Bar can provide more transparent and responsive service to those seeking accommodation, Petitioner did not meet his burden of demonstrating that the Court should grant him the relief he sought. View "Durbano v. Utah State Bar" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance (the “Commission”) recommended that the Mississippi Supreme Court publicly reprimand and assess a $500 fine against Judge Frank Sutton, a justice court judge for Post Three in Hinds County, Mississippi. Based on complaints against Judge Sutton, the Commission initiated an inquiry into his role in two matters. This investigation led to the Commission’s filing a formal complaint. Judge Sutton did not file an answer to the complaint; instead, he and the Commission stipulated to agreed facts. The Commission then unanimously adopted those facts in its findings of fact and recommendation. The Commission made this recommendation after finding by clear and convincing evidence that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. The Supreme Court agreed with the Commission that Judge Sutton’s conduct constituted misconduct. The Court disagreed, however, with the Commission’s imposition of sanctions. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered a public reprimand, fined Judge Sutton $500 and suspended Judge Sutton for thirty days without pay. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Sutton" on Justia Law

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Jared Karstetter worked for labor organizations representing King County, Washington corrections officers for over 20 years. In 1987, Karstetter began working directly for the King County Corrections Officers Guild (Guild). Throughout his employment with the Guild, Karstetter operated under successive 5-year contracts that provided for just cause termination. Eventually, Karstetter formed his own law firm and worked primarily for the Guild. He offered services to at least one other client. His employment contracts remained substantially the same. Karstetter's wife, Julie, also worked for the Guild as Karstetter's office assistant. In 2016, the King County ombudsman's office contacted Karstetter regarding a whistleblower complaint concerning parking reimbursements to Guild members. The Guild's vice-president directed Karstetter to cooperate with the investigation. The Guild sought advice from an outside law firm, which advised the Guild to immediately terminate Karstetter. In April 2016, the Guild took this advice and, without providing the remedial options listed in his contract, fired Karstetter. In response, Karstetter and his wife filed suit against the Guild, alleging, among other things, breach of contract and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. The Guild moved to dismiss the suit for failure to state a claim. The trial court partially granted the motion but allowed Karstetter's claims for breach of contract and wrongful termination to proceed. On interlocutory review, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case, directing the trial court to dismiss Karstetter's remaining breach of contract and wrongful termination claims. The Washington Supreme Court found that “the evolution in legal practice has uniquely affected the in-house attorney employee and generated unique legal and ethical questions unlike anything contemplated by our Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs).” In this case, the Court found in-house employee attorneys should be treated differently from traditional private practice lawyers under the RPCs. “Solely in the narrow context of in-house employee attorneys, contract and wrongful discharge suits are available, provided these suits can be brought without violence to the integrity of the attorney-client relationship.”Karstetter alleged legally cognizable claims and pleaded sufficient facts to overcome a CR 12(b)(6) motion of dismissal. The Court of Appeals' ruling was reversed. View "Karstetter v. King County Corr. Guild" 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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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice denying Petitioner's document entitled "Abuse of Authority: Judicial Misconduct" arising from the alleged misconduct of an assistant clerk-magistrate of the Boston Municipal Court who presided over a small claims proceeding to which Petitioner was a party, holding that the single justice properly denied relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3. The single justice treated Petitioner's filings as a petition for extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 and later denied a motion for reconsideration. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed and took the opportunity of this case to clarify the process for lodging complaints against clerks and assistant clerks pursuant to S.J.C. Rule 3:13, as appearing in 471 Mass. 1301, holding that Petitioner lacked standing to bring a private action in court to obtain discipline of a clerk. View "White v. Chief Justice of Boston Municipal Court" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of OGT's motion for attorney's fees in a quiet title action. The court held that North Dakota Century Code 35-24-19 does not provide for an award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a quiet title action. The court held that the statute was not ambiguous and the court need not address OGT's public policy arguments. View "Oil & Gas Transfer LLC v. Karr" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the judicial misconduct of the Honorable Leonard D. Kachinsky, a former municipal judge for the Village of Fox Crossing Municipal Court, warranted a three-year suspension of eligibility for the position of reserve municipal judge and ordered that Kachinsky petition to the Supreme Court and successfully demonstrate that he is fit to serve as a reserve municipal judge before he may request an appointment to serve as a reserve municipal judge. The Judicial Commission filed a formal complaint against Judge Kachinsky alleging multiple violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct in his interactions with M.B. Following an evidentiary hearing, a panel of the court of appeals issued its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation regarding discipline. The Supreme Court agreed with the Judicial Conduct Panel that, in light of the fact that Judge Kachinsky is no longer an active municipal court judge, an appropriate form of discipline for his misconduct is to suspend his eligibility to serve as a reserve municipal judge. The Court then imposed its sentence, holding that Judge Kachinsky currently lacked the judicial temperament and insight into his actions that are required for a judge to preside over and manage a court. View "Wisconsin Judicial Commission v. Kachinsky" on Justia Law