Justia U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Dat v. United States
Dat was born in a Kenyan refugee camp in 1993. Admitted to the U.S. around 1994, he became a lawful permanent resident. Dat pled guilty to robbery, 18 U.S.C. 1951, and was sentenced to 78 months' imprisonment. Dat’s robbery conviction is a deportable offense, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Dat moved to vacate his guilty plea, claiming that his attorney, Allen, assured him that his immigration status would not be affected by his plea. Allen testified that she repeatedly told Dat the charges were “deportable offenses,” that she never told him, his mother, or his fiancée that he would not be deported. that she encouraged Dat to hire an immigration attorney, and that they reviewed the Plea Petition, which says that non-citizens would be permanently removed from the U.S. if found guilty of most felony offenses. The Plea Agreement refers to immigration consequences. Dat and Allen also reviewed the PSR, which stated that immigration proceedings would commence after his release from custody.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief, finding that Dat was not denied effective assistance of counsel. It was objectively reasonable for Allen to tell Dat that he “could” face immigration ramifications that “could” result in deportation. An alien with a deportable conviction may still seek “relief from removal. These “immigration law complexities” should caution any defense attorney not to advise a defendant considering a guilty plea that the result of a post-conviction, contested removal proceeding is certain. View "Dat v. United States" on Justia Law
Estate of Joyce R. Petersen v. Bitters
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's entry of a $356,619.30 judgment in favor of the Estate of Joyce Rosamond Peterson against Defendants Bitters and Henry. Bitters, a financial advisor, advised Petersen to withdraw $150,000 from her annuities and to loan it to another client of his, Henry.The court rejected Bitters' assertion that the Estate's fraud and breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims were time-barred, and that the district court erred by instead instructing the jury to apply the four-year limitations period for claims of negligence and fraud. The court held that any potential error did not affect Bitters' substantial rights. The court also held that the district court had a duty to make the damages award conform to the law, and did not abuse its discretion by preventing the Estate from recovering twice for a single, indivisible injury; the evidence was insufficient to provide the jury with a reasonably certain basis for calculating pain-and-suffering damages; because it was clear at the Rule 50 hearing that the claims for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty under Nebraska law were identical, the district court did not err by dismissing the Estate's negligence claim; and summary judgment to Defendant Boland was not erroneous because there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Bitters and Boland had entered into a partnership. View "Estate of Joyce R. Petersen v. Bitters" on Justia Law
Sandhu v. Kanzler
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendant in an action brought by plaintiffs and Glow Hospitality alleging claims against defendant, an attorney, for fraud and breach of fiduciary duties. Plaintiffs also alleged a vicarious liability claims against defendant's law firm.Count I is premised on a factually-complex relationship and intertwined history and on allegations that defendant failed to disclose information, failed to investigate, made false statements to the state court, and, primarily, engaged in dual representation. The court held that the district court correctly granted summary judgment, because Glow failed to support Count I, which lies outside the jury's common knowledge, with expert testimony. Count II alleged that defendant breached his fiduciary duties to Glow by failing to conduct further investigation into Glow's ownership interests, failing to update his opinion letter to First National, making false representations in his affidavits to the state court, and negligently overseeing the operation of Glow. The court held that Minn. Stat. 544.42 applies to Count II, and Glow's failure to comply with section 544.42's affidavit requirements mandated dismissal of this claim. Finally, the court held that the fraud claims were property dismissed, summary judgment on the aiding and abetting claim was proper, and the vicarious liability claims failed. View "Sandhu v. Kanzler" on Justia Law
Grussing v. Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, Inc.
Dr. Solman performed arthroscopic surgery on Grussing’s knee in June 2014. At her July 9 appointment, Grussing reported swelling in her knee to a physician's assistant, who recommended physical therapy. Dr. Solman did not examine Grussing. Grussing returned to Dr. Solman’s office on July 18, again reporting pain and swelling. Dr. Solman aspirated Grussing’s knee, observed that the synovial fluid looked normal, and did not test the fluid for infection. Grussing continued to experience pain and swelling. In October, a different physician aspirated Grussing’s knee and sent the fluid for analysis. The knee was chronically infected. Grussing underwent a total knee replacement. The primary issue in Grussing’s malpractice suit was whether Dr. Solman breached the standard of care when he decided not to test the synovial fluid aspirated during her July 18, appointment. Grussing opened her case with Dr. Solman’s deposition testimony; he acknowledged that fluid that does not appear cloudy can test positive for bacterial infection. The defense’s expert, Dr. Matava testified that there was no way to confirm that Grussing’s knee was infected on July 18. The Eighth Circuit affirmed a defense verdict, rejecting arguments that the district court erroneously limited Grussing’s cross-examination of Matava during an attempt to elicit testimony that fluid that is not cloudy can test positive for bacterial infection and that it failed to correct defense counsel’s misstatement of law during closing argument. The correct burden of proof was properly emphasized throughout trial. View "Grussing v. Orthopedic and Sports Medicine, Inc." on Justia Law
Oetting v. Norton
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
Taylor v. Cottrell, Inc.
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
United States v. Bloodman
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
Cedar Rapids Lodge & Suites, LLC v. Lightowler Johnson Assocs., Inc.
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
Rosemann v. Sigillito
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
E3 Biofuels, LLC v. Biothane, LLC
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