Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
Gilbert v. Radnovich
This appeal arose from a district court’s decision denying a motion for sanctions and attorney fees against Roy Gilbert’s former attorney, William Mitchell. The underlying litigation giving rise to the sanctions request stemmed from a dispute over a medical transport business and the business relationship between Gilbert and Richard Radnovich. Gilbert was the sole member of two LLCs: Resilient Transportation Leasing, LLC, and Resilient Transport LLC. According to Gilbert’s complaint, Radnovich was allegedly the owner of two business entities: Injury Care Emergency Medical Services (ICEMS) LLC and “Injury Care EMS,” as well as other entities not at issue in this appeal. In 2017, Gilbert executed an agreement purporting to sell Resilient Transport, LLC, to Injury Care EMS, LLC. According to Gilbert, Injury Care EMS, LLC, was never formed. Gilbert alleged that this “fictitious” LLC was an alter ego of Radnovich. The parties signed a supplement to the agreement which amended the business name for ICEMS, LLC to ICEMS, P.C, and clarified that Resilient Transport, LLC, would be subsumed by ICEMS, P.C. into another fictitious business called “Resilient Transport Operated by Injury Care EMS,” and that Resilient Transport, LLC would later be dissolved. Following a breakdown in both the agreement and the relationship, Gilbert sued Radnovich and the business entities. Mitchell filed the initial and amended complaint on behalf of Gilbert against Radnovich. Later in the proceedings, a second attorney substituted for Mitchell and soon after, both sides stipulated to dismiss the case with prejudice. A few weeks later, Radnovich filed a motion for sanctions and attorney fees against Mitchell. The district court denied the motion. Radnovich appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion in denying sanctions and attorney fees against Mitchell. Finding no reversible error or abuse of discretion, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Gilbert v. Radnovich" on Justia Law
Chen v. BMW of North America
Chen sued BMW for breach of warranty and for violating the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code 1790) and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (section 1750). After the suit was pending for about a year, the defendants communicated an offer under Code of Civil Procedure Section 998, to have a $160,000 judgment entered against them; the defendants would pay Chen’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, as determined by the court. Chen would return the vehicle. Chen rejected the offer as “fatally vague and uncertain. The litigation continued for another two years. The parties settled on the day of the trial. The terms of the settlement were essentially identical to the section 998 offer.Chen moved as a prevailing party for attorney fees and costs of $436,071.82. The trial court awarded only $53,509.51, including only fees and costs accrued through July 2017, 45 days after the section 998 offer was made. The court of appeal affirmed. BMW’s offer complied with the statutory requirements and Chen did not achieve a result more favorable than its terms. The statute, therefore, disallowed recovery of attorney fees and costs accrued after the offer was made. View "Chen v. BMW of North America" on Justia Law
Pettis v. Simrall
This case presented an issue of first impression for the Mississippi Supreme Court: whether an attorney’s representation of a general partnership created an implied attorney-client relationship between the attorney and the individual members of the general partnership, and, if so, whether the Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct prohibiting communication by a lawyer with an individual represented by other legal counsel was violated. James Pettis, III, attorney for the plaintiff, appealed a chancery court order disqualifying him for a violation of Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, which prohibited a lawyer from communicating with a person they know to be represented about the subject of the representation. After a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s order, rendered judgment in favor of Pettis, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pettis v. Simrall" on Justia Law
Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley
The Jenkinses bought a one-bedroom home, built in 1909, with a small accessory cottage in San Anselmo. Following conversations with an architect, contractors, and the Town Planning Director, they sought permits to demolish the existing structures and build a new home with a detached studio. The Planning Commission approved the project. The Jenkinses nevertheless worked with neighbors to accommodate their concerns and submitted revised plans, which were also approved. Four individuals unsuccessfully appealed to the Town Council. Attorney Brandt-Hawley filed a mandamus petition on behalf of an unincorporated association and an individual, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although the appeal did not include any CEQA claim and CEQA has a categorical exemption for single-family homes, and “violation of the Town Municipal Code,” without citation.The trial judge denied the petition, criticizing aspects of Brandt-Hawley’s briefing and advocacy. Petitioners appealed, then offered to dismiss the appeal for a waiver of fees and costs. The Jenkinses rejected the offer. On the day the opening brief was due, Brandt-Hawley dismissed the appeal. The Jenkinses sued Brandt-Hawley for malicious prosecution. The court denied Brandt-Hawley’s special anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Jenkinses met their burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP procedure demonstrating a probability of success on their complaint. View "Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley" on Justia Law
Herbert Igbanugo v. Minnesota OLPR
Plaintiff, an attorney, sued the Minnesota Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board, associated government officials, and lawyers and other private defendants alleging, among other claims, they violated his constitutional rights by pursuing an ethics complaint against him. The district court granted the state defendants' motion to dismiss under Younger v. Harris and found that Plaintiff waived his abuse-of-process claim against the private defendants. The court also held that Plaintiff lacked standing to seek sanctions based on the private defendants' alleged violations of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct.Finding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in any of its determinations, the Eighth Circuit affirmed. View "Herbert Igbanugo v. Minnesota OLPR" on Justia Law
Farnum v. Iris Biotechnologies Inc.
Iris, incorporated in 1999, went public in 2007. In 2019, the SEC revoked the registration of Iris’s securities. Since its incorporation, Chin has been chairman of Iris’s three-member board of directors, its president, secretary, CEO, CFO, and majority shareholder. Chin’s sister was also a board member. Farnum was a board member, 2003-2014, and owned eight percent of Iris’s stock. In 2014, Farnum requested inspection of corporate minutes, documents relating to the acquisition of Iris’s subsidiary, and cash flow statements, then, in his capacity as a board member and shareholder, sought a writ of mandate. Before the hearing on Farnum’s petition, Farnum was voted off Iris’s board. The court denied Farnum’s petition (Corporations Code 1602) because Farnum no longer had standing to inspect corporate records due to his ejection from the board, and his request was “overbroad and lack[ed] a statement of purpose reasonably related to his interests as a shareholder.”Weeks later, Farnum served 31 inspection requests on Iris and subsequently filed another mandamus petition. The superior court denied the petition and Farnum’s associated request for attorney fees. On remand with respect to certain records, Farnum sought reimbursement of his expenses in enforcing his rights as a shareholder ($91,000). The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the request. Farnum scored “only a partial victory” given the scope of what he sought; there was no showing that on the whole, Iris acted without justification in refusing Farnum’s inspection demands. View "Farnum v. Iris Biotechnologies Inc." on Justia Law
Haupt, et al. v. Triggs, et al.
This appeal stemmed from third-party claims in a legal-malpractice action. Plaintiffs Gail Haupt and Thomas Raftery filed suit against defendant, attorney Daniel Triggs, who represented plaintiffs in a property dispute. Triggs filed a third-party complaint for contribution and indemnification against third-party defendants, Liam Murphy, Elizabeth Filosa, and MSK Attorneys, who succeeded Triggs as counsel to plaintiffs in the property matter. Plaintiffs hired Triggs to represent them in a land-ownership dispute with their neighbors. Triggs took certain actions on behalf of plaintiffs, including sending a letter in 2016 to neighbors asserting that neighbors were encroaching on plaintiffs’ land and threatening litigation against neighbors, but never filed a lawsuit on plaintiffs’ behalf. In 2018, neighbors filed a lawsuit against plaintiffs asserting ownership over the disputed land by adverse possession, and plaintiffs hired third-party defendants to represent them. The adverse-possession lawsuit eventually settled. Plaintiffs then filed this malpractice action against Triggs, alleging that he was liable for legal malpractice by allowing 12 V.S.A. § 501’s statute of limitations for recovery of lands to run without filing an ejectment suit against neighbors, thereby enabling neighbors to bring an adverse-possession claim. Third-party defendants moved to dismiss Triggs’s complaint, and the civil division granted their motion. Triggs appealed this dismissal. The Vermont Supreme Court determined Triggs did not allege that any legal relationship—contractual or otherwise— existed between him and third-party defendants, and the civil division found that no legal relationship existed between the two parties. Instead, Triggs alleged that third-party defendants’ independent actions caused plaintiffs’ injury. The Court determined this is not a basis for implied indemnity. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Haupt, et al. v. Triggs, et al." on Justia Law
Gilmer v. McRae, et al.
In April 2012, Bobby Gibson signed a contingency fee contract with Barry Wade Gilmer and the Gilmer Law Firm regarding a legal malpractice case. When the contract was signed, Seth Little, an associate of the Gilmer Law Firm, was assigned to the case. During the summer of 2013, Little left the Gilmer Law Firm and began working for Chuck McRae at the McRae Law Firm. Little continued to work on Gibson’s case while employed at the McRae Law Firm. A settlement was ultimately reached in Gibson’s case, but the McRae Law Firm never received any money. McRae hired Michelle Biegel and Bettie Ruth Johnson to sue Gilmer over the attorneys’ fees generated by the settlement of the legal malpractice case. Later, Gilmer filed a lawsuit against McRae, Little, Biegel, and Johnson, alleging, among other claims, that McRae, Biegel, and Johnson committed civil conspiracy. Gilmer’s suit was ultimately dismissed, and this appeal followed. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of Gilmer’s October 2, 2017 complaint and the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees. The Court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Gilmer’s amended motion to amend. Finally, the Supreme Court found that Gilmer was procedurally barred from raising the issue of whether the trial court abused its discretion by assigning the costs of the interlocutory appeal to Gilmer. View "Gilmer v. McRae, et al." on Justia Law
Cole v. Bank of America
Daniel Cole, after a favorable appellate ruling vacating judgment against him, filed this action including claims for malicious prosecution action against Bank of America, N.A. (Bank) and its legal counsel, Shapiro & Cejda, LLC, Kirk J. Cejda, and Lesli J. Peterson (Attorneys). Cole alleged that Bank and Attorneys acted with malice and without probable cause when they filed a foreclosure action against him and obtained judgment for a loan modification agreement defendants knew he had not signed. Cole alleged that not only was the prior foreclosure action spurious; but Bank intentionally or recklessly hid the fact of a subsequent loan modification by Cole's former wife, until after judgment was obtained against him. He further alleged that Bank and Attorneys made false and misleading statements in their summary judgment motion when they withheld their knowledge of the loan modification and provided only a copy of the original note which Cole and his former wife had signed. Cole pointed out that Bank and Attorneys repeatedly misled him as well as the trial court to believe that there was only a single operative note. Cole stated that he prevailed on appeal and the trial court was directed to vacate the judgment against him. On the same day the trial court vacated judgment, Bank filed a dismissal without prejudice stating that "said defendant not being a necessary party herein." Cole claimed he was entitled to recover compensatory damages to include attorney fees, time missed from work, damage to his credit score, as well as emotional distress and punitive damages. A district court dismissed the claims for malicious prosecution; Cole appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the original action was terminated in Cole's favor where (1) he succeeded on appeal in vacating judgment; (2) the law of the case established that foreclosure judgment against him was inherently defective; and (3) on remand, bank dismissed Cole from foreclosure action, then amended petition continuing the action against a different party. View "Cole v. Bank of America" on Justia Law
In re Jonathan Andry
Appellant a Louisiana attorney representing oil spill claimants in the settlement program, was accused of funneling money to a settlement program staff attorney through improper referral payments. In a disciplinary proceeding, the en banc Eastern District of Louisiana found that Appellant’s actions violated the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and suspended him from practicing law before the Eastern District of Louisiana for one year. Appellant appealed, arguing that the en banc court misapplied the Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct and abused its discretion by imposing an excessive sanction. The Fifth Circuit found that the en banc court misapplied Louisiana Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a) but not Rule 8.4(d). Additionally, the en banc court did not abuse its discretion by imposing a one-year suspension on Appellant for his violation of 8.4(d). Accordingly, the court reversed the en banc court’s order suspending Appellant from the practice of law for one year each for violations of Rule 1.5(e) and 8.4(a). The court affirmed the en banc court’s holding that Appellant violated Rule 8.4(d). Finally, the court remanded to the en banc court for further proceedings. On remand, the court is free to impose on Appellant whatever sanction it sees fit for the 8.4(d) violation, including but not limited to its previous one-year suspension. View "In re Jonathan Andry" on Justia Law