Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
Veasey v. Abbott
After the en banc court held unlawful a Texas statute requiring voters to present photo ID in order to vote, the only issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs are prevailing parties and thereby entitled to recover attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988(b) and 52 U.S.C. 10310(e).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiffs are prevailing parties under Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 604 (2001), and the district court's award of attorneys' fees. In this case, plaintiffs successfully challenged the Texas photo ID requirement before the en banc court, and used that victory to secure a court order permanently preventing its enforcement during the elections in 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, the court order substituted the photo ID requirement with a mere option—which of course defeats the whole purpose of a mandate, and the state cannot go back in time and re-run the 2016 and 2017 elections under a photo ID requirement. Finally, defendants' claims to the contrary under Sole v. Wyner, 551 U.S. 74, 82 (2007), and Dearmore v. City of Garland, 519 F.3d 517 (5th Cir. 2008), are unavailing. View "Veasey v. Abbott" on Justia Law
Doucette v. Commissioner of Social Security
Attorney Conn represented Plaintiffs and thousands of other claimants in seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Conn bribed doctors to certify false applications and bribed an ALJ to approve those applications. After Conn’s scheme was uncovered, the SSA identified over 1,700 applications for redetermination of eligibility. Years of litigation ensued. Both Plaintiffs sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Both courts awarded fees less than the amounts requested.The Sixth Circuit vacated the awards. Courts can award attorney’s fees for work performed during “all phases of successful civil litigation addressed by” the EAJA; one district court erred by holding that the EAJA does not authorize fees for work performed after the judgment becomes final. Both district courts abused their discretions by awarding below-market hourly rates. Plaintiffs’ unrefuted evidence established a market range of $205-500 but the courts concluded that the relative simplicity of the actions justified rates of only $125 and $150, although there is no evidence that any lawyer in the relevant communities would accept these rates for any kind of service. The complexity of the action is relevant to determine where the particular attorney’s representation lies along the spectrum of the market for legal services. It cannot be invoked to justify a rate below the established spectrum. View "Doucette v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law
Vega v. Chicago Park District
Vega, a Hispanic woman, sued the Park District based on its investigation and termination of her employment for allegedly falsifying her timesheets, citing national origin discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Title VII. A jury returned a verdict for Vega on the discrimination claims, but not the retaliation claims, and awarded $750,000. The judge reduced the award to Title VII’s statutory maximum of $300,000, ordered the District to reinstate Vega, pay backpay, provide her with the cash value of lost benefits, and pay prejudgment interest and a tax component. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except for the tax-component award,Vega submitted a fee petition totaling $1,073,901.25, with a 200-page document listing details. Vega’s counsel submitted evidence to support her current hourly rate of $425 for general tasks and $450 for in-court work. The district court granted Vega’s petition in the amount of $1,006,592, noting the District’s “scorched-earth litigation approach.” Vega filed a second fee petition totaling $254,635.69 for work following the first petition. The district court awarded $218,221.69 and granted Vega a tax-component award of $49,224.30. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the award was “rather high for the type of litigation and monetary and equitable relief that Vega achieved,” but that the district court’s analysis and reasoning demonstrate an appropriate exercise of its discretion. View "Vega v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law
Rozanova v. Uribe
Rozanova, self-represented, sued her neighbors, the respondents, in 2019. Rozanova had previously asserted claims involving the same property in 2013. The respondents unsuccessfully moved to have Rozanova declared a vexatious litigant and to require her to post bond or dismiss the action. The trial court later granted their motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding the action was “barred by res judicata/collateral estoppel and the statute of limitation.”Respondents filed a memorandum of costs, seeking $2,905.69 from Rozanova: $1,080 in filing and motion fees, $90 in court reporter fees, $1,253.04 for preparing photocopies of exhibits, and $482.65 in electronic filing or service fees. Among her objections, Rozanova claimed that recovery for photocopies “is limited to trial exhibits” under Code of Civil Procedure section 1033.5(a)(13). The trial court reduced the amount for electronic filing and service fees and approved an award of $2,743.04. The court found the motions to declare Rozanova a vexatious litigant and for an order restricting discovery “were made in good faith.” The court of appeal affirmed. The costs are recoverable outside the context of trial under section 1033.5(a)(13), View "Rozanova v. Uribe" on Justia Law
Amjadi v. Brown
Plaintiff Sayedeh Sahba Amjadi appealed the dismissal entered after a settlement was entered by her attorney on her behalf and over her objection with defendant Jerrod West Brown, and appealed an order denying her subsequent motion to vacate the judgment. The settlement was entered by plaintiff’s attorney pursuant to a provision in the attorney’s contingent fee agreement, which purported to grant the attorney the right to accept settlement offers on the client’s behalf in the attorney’s “sole discretion,” so long as the attorney believed in good faith that the settlement offer was reasonable and in the client’s best interest. The Court of Appeal determined such a provision violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and was void to the extent it purported to grant an attorney the right to accept a settlement over the client’s objection. Accordingly, the Court held the settlement to be void and reversed the resulting judgment. The Court also referred plaintiff’s former attorneys to the State Bar for potential discipline, as required by law and by Canon 3D(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics. View "Amjadi v. Brown" on Justia Law
Vines v. Welspun Pipes Inc.
After plaintiffs filed a class action against defendants under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act (AMWA), plaintiffs negotiated a settlement agreement with Welspun for the wage claim and attorneys' fees. However, the district court did not approve the settlement because it determined that the claim and fees were not separately negotiated. When the parties presented the district court with only the wage-claim portion of the settlement, the district court approved it. The district court subsequently partially granted plaintiffs' motion for an award of attorneys' fees and costs, awarding $1.00 in fees. Alternatively, the district court noted that it would award $25,000 in fees if $1.00 was improper.The Eighth Circuit concluded that the district court did not clearly err when it denied the parties' joint motion for approval of the settlement based on its conclusion that the FLSA claims and the attorneys' fees were not separately negotiated. However, because the record contains no lodestar calculation, the court vacated the award of attorneys' fees. In this case, plaintiffs' claim was not frivolous or groundless, and it is unlikely that a $1.00 attorneys' fee is reasonable. Furthermore, the court cannot conduct a meaningful review of the district court's alternative award. The court declined to reassign the case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Vines v. Welspun Pipes Inc." on Justia Law
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