Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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Static sued Leader in Wisconsin for infringing its D400 design patent. The parties entered into a court-approved protective order, under which they could designate certain material produced during discovery as “Confidential,” to be used solely for the purpose of the litigation, with disclosure limited to certain people. Outside independent persons retained for the Wisconsin action were bound by the protective order because they were obligated to sign a “Written Assurance.” After the parties agreed to the protective order, Static sent a cease-and-desist letter to OJ, also alleging infringement of the D400 patent. OJ’s attorney, Hecht, contacted Leader’s attorney, Lee; the parties entered into a Joint Defense Agreement.Static sued OJ for infringement in Florida. Lee sent Hecht copies of the protective order and Written Assurance from the Wisconsin action. Hecht signed and returned the Written Assurance to Lee. Lee emailed Hecht deposition transcripts and related exhibits from the Wisconsin action; only a few pages were marked confidential, reminding Hecht to “adhere to the protective order.” During settlement negotiations in the Florida action, Hecht improperly used royalty agreements he obtained from Lee to assess a settlement proposal.The court found Leader and Lee in civil contempt for violating the protective order and ordered Leader to pay Static’s attorney’s fees and a $1,000 sanction. The Federal Circuit reversed. The disclosure was not a clear violation of the protective order. View "Static Media LLC v. Leader Accessories LLC" on Justia Law

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Centripetal sued Cisco for the infringement of 10 patents relating to systems that perform computer networking security functions. Centripetal successfully requested that the case be reassigned to Judge Morgan, who had recently presided over a trial involving related technology and five of the same patents. While the case was pending, Judge Morgan sent the parties an email, stating that the previous day, his assistant had discovered that his wife owned 100 shares of Cisco stock valued at $4,687.99. He stated that the “shares did not and could not have influenced [his] opinion.” The disqualification statute, 28 U.S.C. 455, refers to financial interests held by family members. Centripetal had no objection to the judge’s continuing to preside over the case.Cisco sought recusal. Judge Morgan stated that section 455(b)(4) did not apply because he had not discovered his wife’s interest in Cisco until he had decided “virtually” every issue and that placing the Cisco shares in a blind trust “cured” any conflict, then found that Cisco willfully infringed the asserted claims and awarded Centripetal damages of $755,808,545 (enhanced 2.5 times to $1,889,521,362.50), pre-judgment interest ($13,717,925), and “a running royalty."The Federal Circuit reversed the denial of Cisco’s motion for recusal, vacated all orders and opinions of the court entered on or after August 11, 2020, including the final judgment, and remanded for further proceedings before a different district court judge. View "Centripetal Networks, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, Inc." on Justia Law

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While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law

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NPF sued a franchisee, SY Dawgs, which operated a fast-pitch softball team in the National Pro Fastpitch League, alleging violation of a non-competition agreement. Two-and-a-half years of discovery disputes and repeated sanctions motions followed. The district court imposed sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 against NPF’s counsel for failure to produce documents and its engagement in other discovery abuses. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of sanctions against the individual attorneys who represented NPF, but vacated the award against their law firm. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 does not allow for law-firm sanctions where, as here, the firm was not a party to the lawsuit. View "NPF Franchising, LLC v. SY Dawgs, LLC" on Justia Law

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Charles McRae and the McRae Law Firm, PLLC, filed a notice of appeal of a non-final judgment. The Mississippi Supreme Court entered an order that treated the notice of appeal as a petition for an interlocutory appeal, granted the petition, and stayed the proceedings at the trial court. Mississippi appellate rules provided that a petition for an interlocutory appeal had to be filed “within 21 days after the entry of such order in the trial court . . . .” The time for taking an appeal under Rule 5 may not be extended. Because McRae filed the petition for an interlocutory appeal more than twenty-one days after the entry of the order from which he sought an appeal, the petition for an interlocutory appeal was untimely. Therefore, the Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction over the appeal and, accordingly, it was dismissed. View "McRae v. Mitchell" on Justia Law

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Koch Construction, Inc.; Marilyn Koch, Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael P. Koch; and Koch Property Investments, Inc. (collectively “appellants”) appealed the judgment and amended judgment entered in favor of Toman Engineering Company (“Toman”). Michael Koch owned and operated Koch Construction and Koch Property Investments (“KPI”). Toman provided engineering services to Koch Construction on various projects, including designing a stormwater management system for the Koch Meadow Hills residential development project in Dickinson, North Dakota. Michael died in August 2017. The stormwater management system included a detention pond referred to as the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond, which was the detention pond at issue in this case. In 2016, Janet Prchal, Dean Kubas, and Geraldine Kubas, owners of property near the Koch Meadow Hills development, sued the City of Dickinson and KPI for damages, alleging the development of Koch Meadow Hills caused water to drain and collect on their properties. The Prchal lawsuit was settled in September 2018, and the settlement required modifications to be made to the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond before June 30, 2019. The reconstruction work on the detention pond occurred during the summer and fall of 2019. Toman served a summons and complaint on Koch Construction and Marilyn Koch, to collect unpaid amounts for engineering services Toman provided to the defendants in 2017. Toman filed the complaint in the district court in June 2019. The appellants argued the district court erred in deciding they committed intentional spoliation of evidence and dismissing their counterclaim as a sanction. After review of the district court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court abused its discretion when it dismissed the appellants’ counterclaim as a sanction for spoliation of evidence. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Toman Engineering Co. v. Koch Construction, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants Patricia G. Olson and Jimmy Dastur appealed a court order disqualifying Steven Bailey, a former El Dorado County Superior Court judge, from representing them in this lawsuit filed by plaintiff Robert Hassett. The trial court relied on rule 1.12 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, finding Bailey’s participation as a judge was personal and substantial in rendering decisions in two other cases involving the validity of options and a purchase agreement for the same real property at issue in the action brought by Hassett. Defendants argued on appeal that: (1) Hassett lacked standing; (2) the disqualification motion was a tactic designed to disrupt defense; and (3) Bailey did not personally and substantially participate as a judge in a “matter” within the meaning of rule 1.12. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Hassett v. Olson" on Justia Law

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Defendant Mark Bartlett requested the City of Portland to release three city attorney opinions and one legal memorandum. The parties agreed that the documents were public records, were within the scope of the attorney-client privilege, and were more than 25 years old. The city declined to release the documents, arguing that they were exempt from the public records law because of the attorney-client privilege. The specific question presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s consideration in this case was whether the four documents that were prepared more than 25 years ago by the Portland City Attorney for the mayor and two city commissioners and that were subject to the attorney-client privilege had to be disclosed under ORS 192.390. The Court concluded those documents had to be disclosed. View "City of Portland v. Bartlett" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees, concluding that attorney fee awards against a holder are not capped if a separate state law so provides. The court explained that the term "recovery," as used in the Holder Rule provision, is sufficiently broad to include attorney fees. The court also concluded that Civil Code section 1459.5 is not preempted and plaintiffs are entitled to its benefit. In this case, there is no bar to application of section 1459.5 to the matter before the court even though it had not taken effect when the trial court initially ruled on plaintiffs' fee motion. The court further concluded that certain causes of action asserted by plaintiffs fall within the scope of section 1717 whereas others do not. Finally, plaintiffs waived the argument that section 2983.4 entitles them to an award of attorney fees by failing to raise it below in its motion for attorney fees. The court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Reyes v. Beneficial State Bank" on Justia Law

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About seven weeks after the 2020 presidential election, Republican state legislators, individual voters, and organizations representing voters from Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—all states carried by Joseph R. Biden Jr.—sued to prevent Congress from certifying their states’ electoral results. The district court denied their motion to enjoin the counting of electoral votes, and, after the Senate certified Biden as the winner, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case. In a post-dismissal order cataloging the suit’s “numerous shortcomings,” the district court referred plaintiffs’ counsel, Kaardal, to the Committee on Grievances for possible discipline. “When any counsel seeks to target processes at the heart of our democracy,” the district court reasoned, “the Committee may well conclude that they are required to act with far more diligence and good faith than existed here.”The D.C. Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The district court’s referral is not a final order. Rather than fixing Kaardal’s rights and liabilities, the challenged order merely initiated disciplinary proceedings. View "Wisconsin Voters Alliance v. Harris" on Justia Law