Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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After the merger of NationsBank and BankAmerica, shareholders filed class actions alleging violations of securities laws. The district court appointed Oetting as lead plaintiff and the Green law firm, as lead counsel. The litigation resulted in a $333 million settlement for the NationsBank class. The Eighth Circuit affirmed approval of the settlement over Oetting’s objection. On the recommendation of Green, the court appointed Heffler as claims administrator. A Heffler employee conspired to submit false claims, resulting in fraudulent payment of $5.87 million. The court denied Green leave to file a supplemental complaint against Heffler. Oetting filed a separate action against Heffler that is pending. After distributions, $2.4 million remained. Green moved for distribution cy pres and requested an additional award of $98,114.34 in attorney’s fees for post-settlement work. Oetting opposed both, argued that Green should disgorge fees for abandoning the class, and filed a separate class action, alleging malpractice by negligently hiring and failing to supervise Heffler and abandonment of the class. The court granted Green’s motion for a cy pres distribution and for a supplemental fee award and denied disgorgement. The Eighth Circuit reversed the cy pres award, ordering additional distribution to the class, and vacated the supplemental fee award as premature. The district court then dismissed the malpractice complaint, concluding that Oetting lacked standing. The Eighth Circuit affirmed that collateral estoppel precluded the rejected disgorgement and class-abandonment claims; pendency of an appeal did not suspend preclusive effects. View "Oetting v. Norton" on Justia Law

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Taylor was injured while attempting to secure a vehicle on a Cottrell car-hauling trailer. Dr. Odor operated on Taylor to complete a two-level cervical fusion. More than two years later, Taylor was again injured when he fell approximately 10 feet from a Cottrell trailer. He was taken to the emergency room and was discharged home with pain medication. The same month, Taylor reported to Dr. Odor with neck and back pain. After testing, Dr. Odor observed several disc protrusions and a disc desiccation. These injuries led to another complex spinal surgery with Dr. Odor, the cost of which exceeded $450,000. Two weeks before trial Cottrell claimed it had uncovered copies of agreements between Taylor's counsel and Dr. Odor which evidenced an impermissible contingent-fee agreement. The court found there was a contingency agreement and excluded Odor’s testimony as an expert witness, dismissed claims for Taylor's neck and back injuries, and stayed claims related to shoulder injuries. The Eighth Circuit reversed; the district court failed to articulate the precise interest Odor had in the outcome of the litigation and failed to explain why any such interest overcomes the general rule that Odor's bias and credibility should be resolved by the jury. View "Taylor v. Cottrell, Inc." on Justia Law

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When Bloodman withdrew as Haynes’s attorney in a criminal case, the judge ordered her to return discovery material “as soon as possible” and emailed the order, instructing her “to turn over to the United States Attorney’s Office any and all discovery material previously provided her by the Government.” After 20 days, she had not returned the material. The judge issued an order to return it within a week, or risk a show-cause order and sanctions. Bloodman, no longer on the electronic filing system, did not receive the email; the clerk mailed her a hard copy. She still had not returned the material 11 days later. The judge emailed her a show-cause order. Bloodman sent the material the next day via overnight mail, though delivery was delayed due to weather. At the show-cause hearing, Bloodman apologized. She claimed not to receive the second order, the only one to set an exact date and to have had medical issues. The judge did not find bad faith or hold her in contempt, but ordered her to pay $250 for the government’s “time and effort and energy.” The Eighth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction because Haynes’s criminal case is still pending. View "United States v. Bloodman" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the governors of Cedar Rapids Lodge obtained the rights to build an AmericInn franchise. The company used Lightowler as the project architect. Lightowler used a standard form agreement that specified that its terms would be governed by the law of North Dakota. After changes requested by the Fire Marshal and for compliance with franchise standards, Lightowler submitted revised plans in February, 2004. Construction began in January 2004. In July, 2004, Lidberg of AmericInn led a construction site visit attended by the governors, and Olson, a Lightowler engineer. Lidberg and Olson prepared reports detailing deficiencies. The last act performed by Lightowler on the project was a response to the contractor in September, 2004. Lidberg led a second site visit in October, 2004, produced a report identifying additional deficiencies, and sent it to Siebert and Lightowler. The hotel opened for business in December, 2004, but problems continued. In December, 2009 Cedar Rapids Lodge brought claims against its former governors and others involved in the hotel project and alleging professional negligence by Lightowler. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Lightowler, concluding that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations under either North Dakota or Iowa law. View "Cedar Rapids Lodge & Suites, LLC v. Lightowler Johnson Assocs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Rosemann hired attorney Sigillito after Sigillito falsely informed Rosemann that he was an expert in international investments. In 2007, Rosemann received a $15.6 million buyout from the sale of his family’s company. Sigillito instructed Rosemann to loan $5 million of the buyout to Metis, a Turkish contractor. When Rosemann resisted, Sigillito told him “the loan was guaranteed by [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] contracts and that Sigillito would structure the deal to protect Rosemann and defer taxes.” Rosemann transferred $15.6 million to Sigillito, who wrote a $5 million check to Metis. For that service, Sigillito charged Rosemann $100,000. Sigillito took some money for his own use and loaned $10.8 million to another party in England. Approximately $2.75 million was repaid. In 2009, Metis defaulted and filed for bankruptcy protection in Turkey. Sigillito filed suit against Metis but the suit eventually was dismissed. The loan remains in default. In 2012, Sigillito was convicted of nine counts of wire fraud, four counts of mail fraud, six counts of money laundering, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 480 months’ imprisonment. Rosemann sued for legal malpractice. The Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal because Rosemann failed to name an expert who would testify about the appropriate standard of care. View "Rosemann v. Sigillito" on Justia Law

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In 2005 E3’s predecessor began construction of an ethanol plant, to be powered, in part, by methane, and contracted with Biothane for a boiler system. Biothane, an expert in systems integration but not in boilers specifically, subcontracted with PEI to install and integrate the boilers. Biothane retained overall responsibility. Both are engineering companies. In 2007, PEI’s engineer repeatedly tried and failed to light the main flame of one of the boilers. The repeated attempts caused gas to build up and explode. E3 claims that the boiler never worked properly afterward and that the plant failed as a result. The plant’s owners eventually reorganized in bankruptcy. In 2011 (3 years and 364 days after the explosion) E3 sued, alleging torts against both companies and breach of contract against Biothane. The district court granted defendants summary judgment, finding all of E3’s claims time-barred under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-222, Nebraska’s two-year limitations period for actions based on professional negligence. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Regardless of whether the chain of events ultimately led to the breach of a contract, E3 still sued Biothane “for an action performed in a professional capacity.” View "E3 Biofuels, LLC v. Biothane, LLC" on Justia Law

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Homeowners challenged the validity of the foreclosure of their home mortgages. The district court dismissed the suit under Rule 12(b)(6). The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the law firm as fraudulently joined and concluded that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal because the doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction was inapplicable. The court concluded that Homeowners' pleadings mirrored those in Karnatcheva v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and affirmed the district court's dismissal. Homeowners have failed to plead factual content that permitted the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct where the pleadings contained nothing but naked assertions that one or more of the named defendants suspected that Wells Fargo lacked legal title to the mortgages yet chose to publish statements to the contrary. The district court was well within its discretion to file sanctions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Dunbar, et al v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was the president and owner of Company. Plaintiff and Company were sued by an employee for sexual harassment, among other claims. Plaintiff retained Law Firm to represent him and Company. The district court entered judgment against Company. The court later granted Company's motion for a new trial, and the parties subsequently settled. Plaintiff was the personal guarantor on the loans and credit lines provided by lenders to Company. After the original jury verdict, banks and lenders refused to continue extending credit to Plaintiff. As a result, Plaintiff's real estate holdings crumbled, causing Plaintiff to lose dozens of commercial and residential properties. Plainiff then sued the attorney who acted as lead defense counsel and Law Firm (collectively, Appellees), contending that Appellees committed a series of negligent errors during their representation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Appellees and dismissed Plaintiff's claims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty, holding that Plaintiff failed to show that his loss of net worth was proximately caused by the actions of Appellees. View "Hamilton v. Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye & Simmons, LLP" on Justia Law

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S&A sued Farms.com alleging that Farms.com violated the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), 7 U.S.C. 1 et seq., breached its fiduciary duty, committed negligence, and made misrepresentations. The district court granted Farms.com's motion for summary judgment and S&A appealed. The court found that S&A did not sufficiently plead a fraudulent-inducement claim under 7 U.S.C. 6, but only alleged that Farms.com engaged in a fraudulent scheme under 7 U.S.C. 6o(1)(B). The court concluded that the district court did not err by granting Farms.com's motion for summary judgment on S&A's fraud claim where S&A's complaint alleged only a fraudulent scheme, not that Farms.com's failure to register caused it damages. The court also concluded that the district court did not err in granting Farms.com's motion for summary judgment on S&A's breach of fiduciary duty claim where S&A presented no evidence describing a commodity-trading advisor's standard of care or how Farms.com breached that standard of care.

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Plaintiffs are shareholders of nine mutual funds that were registered investment companies under the Investment Company Act of 1940 (ICA), 15 U.S.C. 80(a)-35(b). The Funds were managed and distributed by affiliates of the defendants (collectively, Ameriprise). At issue was whether plaintiffs have set forth sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on their claim that Ameriprise breached its fiduciary duty under section 36(b) of the ICA. In light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Jones v. Harris Associates L.P., the court concluded that plaintiffs have not met their burden, and thus the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants.